PORTLAND, Ore. ó Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) chips have already revolutionized automotive safety -- by triggering airbags -- and put the "smart" into smartphones -- by sensing orientation. MEMS are enabling whole new categories of products, from motion-sensing remote controls to the MooMonitor that tracks herds of farm animals.
Now a new device from ICEdot, in Tulsa, Okla., combines an emergency location transmitter function with a MEMS-based head-trauma detection system to enable anyone wearing a sports helmet to more easily receive the emergency treatment he or she needs if knocked unconsciousness.
ICEdot -- which stands for "in case of emergency" -- began as an emergency notification service that instructed anyone who participates in a dangerous sport -- from motocross to skateboarding -- to wear a special wrist-band identification bracelet with a PIN and an emergency telephone number on it. When a person calls that number and supplies the PIN, which can also be put on your helmet with a special sticker, the service sends a notification to the wearer's emergency contact and instructs on-the-scene responders if any special medical conditions exist, such as diabetes or allergies. With the advent of MEMS sensors, however, that service has become proactive -- automatically sending out a message to an emergency contact in the event the wearer is knocked unconscious.
ICEdot's CEO Chris Zenthoefer said in an interview with EE Times:
The way our sensor works is you preregister with us who your emergency contacts are -- usually a spouse or family member -- then whenever you have been in an incident that knocks you unconscious, they get a message. The message, which can be either a text message or an email, gives your GPS coordinates and instructs them to try and contact you by phone. If you are unresponsive, then they can send an ambulance, or go there themselves if its nearby.
The palm-sized ICEdot has a single mini-USB port for charging and houses an accelerometer and gyroscope.
ICEdot leverages the global positioning system (GPS) chip in the user's smartphone to determine their location, and uses the cellular connection in the user's phone to send the emergency message, thus simplifying the ICEdot device itself. The palm-sized ICEdot, which is waterproof, is deceptively simple with no buttons and just a single USB port for charging. It connects to the wearer's smartphone using low-power Bluetooth where all configuration selections are made.
Inside the device is the Bluetooth radio, a polymer-lithium battery and both a three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyroscope, both by STMicroelectronics. By using both an accelerometer and a gyro, algorithms running on the integral Texas Instruments microcontroller can measure both the severity of the impact -- from the accelerometer -- as well as whether the head was twisted before or after impact -- from the gyroscope. As a result, the ICEdot is capable of telling the difference between just falling off a bike, with no probable injury, and a serious fall likely causing a concussion or other brain trauma. Zenthoefer said:
We are measuring the forces and mimicking what your brain experienced. Based on the fluids in your head and the way your brain moves about, this is what we think your brain has experienced. We don't say unequivocally that you have had a concussion. But rather that you have experienced forces consistent with major head trauma and that you probably need help.
The ICEdot personal crash detector mounts on any helmet to detect possible head traumas.
ICEdot is mainly used by bikers, but can be used by almost any sport using a helmet, such as motorcycling, skiing, and equestrian (but is not recommended for football, since the app is not currently geared for it). After a crash, the smartphone app counts down before sending out a message to the emergency contact, to give the user time to cancel the automatic notification. The app also records the acceleration and rotational velocity experienced during the event as well as the overall G-force.
For the future, ICEdot plans to upgrade its app to provide advanced tracking capabilities for better power control, aiming for a month of battery lifetime on a single charge (currently set at only about a day before a four-hour charging period is required). Currently an iPhone 4s or later is required, but an Android version is in the works.