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Sensing a Healthcare Revolution

Fri, 09/06/2013 - 12:06pm
Mark Winter, Senior Director, Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE and the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE

In today’s interconnected world, it’s easier to set a DVR from an airplane seat or remotely watch the kids arrive home than to gather significant data about our health.

Traditional office visits, laboratory tests, and hospital-based equipment are still the primary means of acquiring information about a person’s health. Even simple tests require a physician’s order and results may be delivered to the doctor before the patient. There is no practical way for consumers to proactively monitor our health status and share the data with our physicians and other healthcare providers.

Yet sensors are now everywhere, playing an increasingly important role in monitoring our environment and our interactions with the world. There is much useful data to be collected from our bodies, including biomarkers for diseases, but we haven’t yet harnessed the power of sensors to capture and analyze this data and provide it to the consumer in a usable format. Innovations are needed in painless, non-invasive, and mobile methods for acquiring data from the body.

Sensing technology could lay the foundation for a transformation of healthcare into what forward-thinking doctors and healthcare managers know it must become: highly personalized and instantly accessible. New developments in sensing technologies can help accelerate the trend toward continuous monitoring of patient health, which can result in improved treatment outcomes and reduced healthcare costs.

Readings from sensors can be used in many facets of healthcare and disease prevention. We can use sensors to track the emergence of disease, detect exposure to harmful environmental elements, or even predict the likelihood of developing health problems based on patient medical records, family health history, and public health data.

Using sensors, healthcare data can be continuously captured, interpreted, and relayed to an electronic health record, reducing inefficiencies in management of patient records and providing healthcare providers with the most up-to-date information.

Imagine being able to assess a potential heart condition with an ECG sensor connected to a mobile phone, making critical information instantly available to a person and his or her doctor. Imagine predicting a woman’s ovulation cycle with a continuous, portable sensor that measures subtle changes in body temperature and hormone levels, replacing costly and invasive methods of tracking fertility. These are just some of the possible benefits of sensor-based healthcare diagnostics. But technologists and entrepreneurs need an incentive to get us there sooner.

A new competition, the $2.25 million Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, has set the audacious goal of inspiring the development of the sensor technologies necessary to bring healthcare into the digital era. The Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE is a global competition to develop sensing technologies that can capture and analyze meaningful data about a consumer’s health and surrounding environment.

The Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE consists of two separate and consecutive competitions over two years. Each competition prize purse includes a $525,000 Grand Prize and up to five Distinguished Awards, each valued at $120,000.

The Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE is focused on several aspects of health sensor and sensing technologies, including:

  • Microelectrical mechanical systems (MEMS), imaging, microfluidic and nanofluidic lab-on-a-chip systems that can lead the way to new forms of chemical, optical, thermal, electrical, biological, and genomic sensing and analysis.
  • Non-invasive methods of health sensing that do not breach the skin surface and can be integrated into shoes, clothing, or perhaps even jewelry.
  • Reducing cost and size of devices with advances in electronics and computing that make many types of sensors available for use at home, at work, and on-the-go.
  • Linking sensors to other devices and the cloud, enabling ubiquitous real-time sensing and data transmission.
  • Conserving resources by improving the computing and communications capabilities and energy consumption of sensors.
  • Developing machine learning algorithms and other sophisticated software that can infer complex medical conditions—such as depression or addiction—from data collected by sensors.

Our panel of judges recently selected 12 teams for the final round of the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE. The eventual winners will be the teams and solutions that demonstrate the highest merit in the areas of accuracy and consistency, demonstration quality, technical innovation, human factors, market opportunity, originality, creativity, packaging, and user experience.

The finalists are an international group, with teams from Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They are working on a broad range of technologies derived from other industries or developed especially for healthcare applications. Among the technologies represented are mini-telemetry, spectrometer-on-a-chip, signal processing, CMOS biochips, and environmental sensors. These can be used for many health diagnostic functions that were previously available only in laboratory or clinical settings. All of the applications are designed to be wearable, programmable, and consumer-friendly.

There is more information about the finalists and their technologies at www.nokiasensingxchallenge.org/teams/challenge-1-teams.

Putting Innovations to Work
We are excited about these promising new sensor technologies and expect that some of the solutions engendered by the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE will be utilized in the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. This is another global competition, inspired by the famous portable medical diagnostic device featured in the classic “Star Trek” TV series. Our goal is to give consumers access to portable diagnostic and interpretive devices that deliver meaningful information about their health status. Sensing and sensing technologies are among the most critical components needed for a “tricorder” concept to succeed. Learn more about this competition at www.qualcommtricorderxprize.org.

A revolution in medical diagnostic technologies has begun. It’s going to be a very exciting, innovative time for designers and manufacturers of medical devices. Whether through an XPRIZE competition or your own efforts, we invite you to join us in building a future of personalized healthcare.

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