By: Jonah McLeod, Kilopass Technology Inc.
Modern health care is the one profession that has defied automation and to this day still remains a relic of the 20th Century. This fact has not escaped the suppliers of mobile devices that are eager to develop new sensors besides the array currently on board. And it has spurred apps developers to exploit the functionality of sensors already on board these smart devices.
The long hanging fruit are the wearable devices targeting millennials, ages 18 to 29, the demographic that the Pew Research Institute shows are the most likely consumers. “Exercise is a big part of the lives of most Millennials. More than half say they got some kind of vigorous exercise, such as jogging, biking or working out at a gym…” This is also the demographic most comfortable with technology. “Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multi-tasking hand-held gadgets almost like a body part…”
According to Berg Insight, sales of smart glasses, smart watches and wearable fitness trackers reached 8.3 million units worldwide in 2012, up from 3.1 million devices in the previous year. The analyst firm predicts total shipments of wearable technology devices to reach 64.0 million units in 2017, a compound annual growth rate of 50.6 percent. Aside from smart glasses, the rest of the wearable devices monitor performance, how far, how fast, how many calories burned…
However, new sensors being developed will change what can be monitored and provide even more insight into the way the body works. MC10 in Cambridge, Mass. is pioneering stretchable electronic circuits that can be worn as well as inserted into the body. These circuits—accelerometers and gyros—have found their way into the Reebok CheckLight, a cap worn on the head that will detect the amount of head trauma in contact sports—football, hockey, lacrosse…
Based on technology developed by John Rogers, Swanlund Chair, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these stretchable circuits can provide real time monitoring of a person’s health. MC10’s other product is the Biostamp, which can be applied like a bandage to the user’s wrist to monitor heart rate, body temperature, and hydration levels and relay them to a smartphone in real time.
The Biostamp is pretty technology rich, containing an electroencephalograph, electromyograph, electrocardiograph, temperature sensor, strain gauge, photo detectors, a wireless power coil for energy harvesting, and a WiFi radio for communicating with the smartphone. A video on the MC10 website shows a catheter inserting a small stamp on the outside wall of the heart to monitor this vital organ in real time.
Why is health care a green field for technology developers? Anyone paying attention to the raging debate over universal health care knows that besides covering everyone, cost is the next greatest challenge facing modern society. The health care industry resembles the computing industry circa 1950s, where teams of MIS professionals tended mainframes and anyone wanting access to compute power submitted a batch job that was placed in queue and processed in sequence.
Going to the doctor with an ailment or to the hospital emergency room follows the same model, queue up and get taken by the physician or ER staff as your priority in queue dictates. Just as the advent of the microprocessor made it possible to put computing power in the hands of individuals, the smart phone and the developing sensors mentioned above are combining to put the potential of self-health care in the palm of everyone’s hand.
Self-diagnosis is also being helped by the massive amount of medical information currently on the web. Indeed IBM’s Watson computer is being pressed into service to analyze this on-line warehouse of medical information. With access to Watson, users could determine if physical symptoms and the data gleamed from sensors on or applied to the body warrant a trip to the emergency room or can be treated by over the counter medication in the case of the common cold or flu.
Just as information technology has made information about nearly everything we own—appliances, automobiles, electronic equipment, etc., it is on the brink of doing the same about the physical being. This is indicated by the investment major mobile device semiconductor manufacturers are making. In December 2011, Qualcomm launched Qualcomm Life, a $100 million investment fund and a new gateway platform to improve the connectivity of mobile medical devices in patients’ homes. Its first release, the 2net platform, connects wireless devices sent home with patients, with the hospital or caregiver’s systems.
Qualcomm Life expects to be a profit oriented venture, with a total available market of 860 million individuals worldwide with at least one chronic disease. Qualcomm Life reckons 25 percent of these individuals would immediately benefit from wireless home monitoring solutions and another 50 percent of them would benefit from handset integration of existing medical devices. Increasingly the Internet of Things will include the human being as a terminus.