Embedding intelligence in medicine and sports

June 01, 2014

Embedding intelligence in medicine and sports

Embedded systems for medical and sports wearable (and ingestible) devices are adding intelligence to how we track our health and wellness.

Spurred on by the unstoppable and exciting progression of the Internet of Things (IoT) throughout the embedded arena, the medical vertical market is awash with new innovation to harness this increased level of intelligence to help people.

I stopped short of using the term "altruism" there, as of course this innovation must be commercially viable; the falling cost of often miniature embedded cores has now enabled this specific segment of our industry to really take off.

Two particular new applications have really inspired me recently, owing to their personal relevance and their locality. The first is the Proteus Digital Health (www.proteus.com) "digital" pill, which I've kept an enthusiastic eye on since its inception. Their announcement earlier this month that they are porting manufacturing facilities to the UK was exciting news and signals the start of a rollout across Europe.

The idea is simple: A sensor-enabled ingestible pill, combined with a peel-and-stick biometric sensor patch, provides an abundance of raw data that is fed into a smartphone application and monitored by medical professionals via the cloud. The usefulness of such data and medical conditions it can aid is unquantifiable.

With an ever-aging population, the propensity of a predisposition to memory impairment disorders is also increasing. Individuals affected are often expected to take complex combinations of ingestible medicines, multiple times per day; the sensors employed in these smart pills are able to determine if that has occurred correctly, which is vital information for the patient themselves and for their healthcare professional.

For those with debilitating maladies managed by ingestible concoctions, this intelligent platform is not only able to monitor their consumption, but also how one's body is responding to the treatment, enabling the medical practitioner to tweak dosages accordingly instantly, without employing the comparatively snail-like pace of traditional tests and visual observation.

Even those without life-threatening ailments will be able to benefit; for those suffering with insomnia the system can accurately track sleep patterns – critical information and usually incredibly difficult to monitor in the home. The planned UK manufacturing facility is geared up to produce up to 10 billion units per annum, so expect to see this technology deployed en masse as time progresses.

The second application I've been lucky enough to have some personal involvement with, albeit in terms of improving yield and manufacturability rather than contributing to the innovative nature of the application itself, is the Codamotion (www.codamotion.com) from Charnwood Dynamics. To best describe how groundbreaking the application is, I must first describe the inherent issues of the old method.

Typically, biomechanic real-time motion capture utilizes either multiple infrared LEDs or reflective markers placed on specific points of the body, which are tracked in three dimensions and plotted into graphical software, basically importing a wireframe model of detected movement in x, y, and z axis.

The issue with identical "active" markers is caused when the subject twists their body or limbs such that these markers cross over, and the software struggles to properly keep track of which marker is attached to which body segment. The Codamotion System addresses this problem by each marker having its own intrinsic identity, characterized by the length of delay between a trigger signal sent from the central measurement unit and the LED marker flashing. By this methodology, the system always knows which marker is which and can track even the most complex movements with complete accuracy.

Additionally, such systems historically have been strictly indoor-only, where conditions can be tightly controlled – outdoors, the sun pumps out radiation that interferes with the optoelectronics used in recording 3D measurements. The Codamotion outdoor capture system is the only system in existence suitable for even the hottest summer day by employing clever infrared filtering and advanced data stream algorithms.

Applications for this technology range from clinical analysis of physical disabilities, monitoring patients' motor movements, to virtual reality and ergonomics. The application that most caught my eye is the athlete injury recovery programs it frequently finds itself assisting in. Sports clubs have monumental budgets to spend on getting injured players back quickly, so a player returning to action from injury even a few days earlier can have huge positive consequences on their next game, and even their season.

It's truly exciting to live in times where embedded technology is helping people like never before.


Rory Dear (Technical Contributor)