EINDHOVEN, The Netherlands. Philips Research is exploring the horizon for wearable sensors that measure an increasing number of vital signs. Their goal is to deliver devices that make meaningful predictions about health care while keeping a lid on the power consumption of devices.
The work is part of a broad trend to define new consumer systems and services that can both lower the cost and improve the quality of health care by monitoring conditions continuously at home.
The MyHeart program uses a belt of sensors worn around the waist to measure heart beat. It also sends electric signals through the torso to detect fluid in the lungs. The program also uses copper sensors woven into pillow cases and bed mats to measure heart, breath and movements during sleep
A study of the device involving 150 patients is expected to conclude at the end of the year. "We know we can capture this data, the question is whether it has clinical benefit," said Steve Klink, a spokesman for the medical group at Philips Research.
A separate program called HeartCycle uses a device to take and analyze blood samples, reporting results back to patients via a portable device. It aims to make assessments of heart conditions and the impact of drugs such as beta blockers, ultimately replacing lab tests.
The project is a partnership with BioMerieux of France that has developed data about the significance of changes in specific proteins and antibodies to help measure those changes. Philips has developed a handheld lab tool and nanoparticles to help isolate the proteins.
The two hope to have initial products on the market in 2013 aimed for use in clinics. Long term the aim is to develop versions for home use.
A separate program called Auto Alert has already delivered two generations of products to market. Researchers are now focused on ways to lower power consumption of the device that tracks falls of elderly patients.
The initial device was a necklace with a button users could press to call for help after a fall. A second-generation version built in an accelerometer and other sensors to determine whether the patient had fallen and to automatically call for help if the patient did not do so.
The new device, in the market since late March, includes a 16-bit microcontroller and sensors that measure acceleration, speed, orientation, altitude and impact. However the additional processing load cut the device's battery life in half to 18 months.
|Heribert Baldus, a principal scientist at Philips Research, shows the two generations of the Auto Alert necklace|
"We use an escalation approach, trying to run the system in the most minimal mode, then increasing computing and sampling rates as needed," said Heribert Baldus, a principal scientist in distributed sensor systems at Philips Research. "One lesson we have learned is that doing co-development of the algorithm, signal processing and hardware design helps to make a real step forward," he added
To date, the group has recorded 25,000 hours of elderly patient's movements as well as several hundred falls in its lab.