Crowdfunding and 3D Printing for Vital Signs Monitoring
Scanadu emerges with the largest step in home healthcare innovation since the thermometer, championing an elite field of medical device companies utilizing crowdfunding and early 3D printing. This article features an interview with Walter De Brouwer, CEO of the company, who offers his comments on the topics impacting medical device development.
“Liberating” is the term Walter De Brouwer, CEO of Scanadu, uses to define the moment the medical equipment in his son’s hospital room became comprehensible. The health of his son was in the hands of mysterious medical electronics and doctors. Until his son’s accident, De Brouwer’s experience was limited on both accounts. In a monumental effort to liberate average non-medical consumers from the dreary world of whizzing and beeping hospital machines, De Brouwer formed Scanadu. The goal of this venture was to invent a palm-sized electronic at-home health monitor. Called Scanadu Scout, this miniature “nurse” can read blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen level, and general vital signs. It can then share the information with a smartphone, leaving the patient’s healthcare up to him or her.
Vital Signs Monitoring at Home
Scanadu Scout reads temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and even emotional stress and blood oxygenation. The patient simply holds the device to his or her temple for a moment and the electronic “nurse” takes care of the rest. The data Scanadu Scout records is sent to a smartphone over a Bluetooth connection, allowing patients to store information about their body and track their vitals over time. It’s essentially recording the same information the nurse does when a patient first enters a clinic.
“The Scanadu Scout utilizes a unique blend of software and algorithms that allow the handheld device to read a variety of vital signs quickly from only one spot on the body,” explains De Brouwer. “The fusion of data from various sensors works thanks to finely tuned algorithms that interpret interference from the body and calculate readings to ensure accuracy.”
Consumers, De Brouwer stresses, should have accurate readings of their bodies’ vital signs; accurate readings they can individually interpret. “You’ll better understand your vital signs and personal ranges; see how diet, exercise, and medicine affect your body,” says De Brouwer. “For those with chronic disease or kids who are always sick, this kind of information is valuable to both patient and physician.”
Perhaps De Brouwer’s strongest argument for better at-home healthcare is that there has been “no innovation in home medicine since the thermometer; we don’t have the tools we need to monitor and make decisions about our own health at home.”
While bold, his assessment feels rather poignant in that Scanadu Scout affords something beyond a specialized device adapted from the hospital environment; rather, Scout is purposefully changing at-home health regulation and examination over time through one compact, multi-functional, and intuitive device.
Scanadu Scout had a phenomenally successful Indiegogo campaign run. With a goal of $100k, the company finished at over $1.6 million. It’s partnered with some big names, conducting research at the NASA Ames research lab and collecting engineers and scientists alike.
So why crowdfunding? They aren’t the first medical company to turn to crowdfunding, but the choice was a highly appropriate one. The field of medical devices (it really goes without saying) is secretive, proprietary, and involved. Since most of the general population is not made up of biomedical engineers, Scanadu saw its opportunity. Its end-user is the average consumer, and that’s who they’re targeting. So why not go straight to the source, the average consumer (and technology enthusiast), to begin the funding of this project.
To build the device, Scanadu began with prototyping via 3D printing. 3D printing lends itself well to crowdfunding projects where a working prototype model is vital to convince and prove the capability of the design before large amounts of overhead funding is available – especially with a project like the Scanadu Scout. Sure, the Tricorder from the 1960s Star Trek TV series looked snazzy, but translating that technology to a 21st century palm-sized instrument is another matter (De Brouwer will happily tell you the Tricorder was an inspiration).
For Scanadu, 3D printing came at a tetra-fold advantage. “Having 3D printed prototypes from Solid Concepts of Scanadu Scout along the way was very valuable. We were able to use them in our research labs to finely tune our algorithms, finalize product design, enhance user experience, and give demos,” says De Brouwer. “Having a tangible product in hand helped show our future customers, advocates, and partners that Scanadu Scout was on its way to becoming a reality.” With a public unveiling at CES 2014 and Series A funding of $10.5 million, it’s very much on its way to becoming a reality.
It’s daunting to fathom taking stronger, more conscientious agency over our own health, especially in a culture where at the first sign of a fever, many are wont to turn to the ER. What are our bodies really doing? How does our health fluctuate with the idiosyncratic changes of our diet, aging, and exercise (or lack of)? Can we really, as health-wary individuals, take better control of the most familiar and yet mysterious object in our lives – ourselves? Come the end of 2014, we just might be put to the test.