Kyocera Corporation claims to have manufactured one of the smallest known optical blood-flow sensors in the world through its research in mobile health (mHealth) applications.
The Japanese multinational electronics company announced that the sensor – just 1mm high, 1.6mm long and 3.2mm wide – can measure the volume of blood flow in subcutaneous tissue (beneath your skin).
It is designed to be fitted in mobile phones and wearable devices in order to monitor things like stress levels or the prevention of dehydration, heatstroke and altitude sickness.
Kyocera’s research team is currently studying trends or changes in blood-flow volume as alerts for these conditions and developing algorithms for detection. The company will offer sensor module samples from April 2017, and aims to commercialize the technology as a device by March 2018.
Devices equipped with Kyocera’s new sensor will be able to measure blood-flow volume by placing the device in contact with an ear, finger or forehead due to what’s called the ‘Doppler effect’ – i.e. when light is reflected on blood within a blood vessel, the frequency of light varies according to the blood-flow velocity. The sensor uses that shift in frequency and the strength of the reflected light to measure blood-flow volume.
But will people use it?
Recent research suggests that wearable devices are increasingly used in healthcare due to the demand from patients for better digital health information. However, a study by Gartner asserts that the people who use them are abandoning their smartwatches and fitness trackers at a growing rate. Similarly, a poll from Ipsos indicates that adoption of healthcare connected devices is a lot lower than expected.
The bottom line is that wearables have a basic use right now – predominantly fitness tracking – but are not yet realizing their full potential. That’s why some patients have taken to hacking their own devices to get the information they want.
Game changer or have we seen it all before?
Internet of Business asked David Doherty, cofounder of 3G Doctor, whether this was a sensor that could make wearable devices more useful for patients. He quickly noted that it had not yet been implemented, but said “no, we’ve seen this stuff before.”
“The small factor, is that going to be a big difference? I suppose it means you could lader a sensor with it, which means you [the patient] wouldn’t have to specifically touch a point on a device maybe. For example, it could be anywhere on the back of a phone, and this type of thing is very important.”
Doherty did suggest this technology might be used on Doro phones – mobiles and smartphones that are easy to use for the elderly – to track dehydration during major heatwaves.
So perhaps this is an indication that the wearable market is maturing, and devices are now being manufactured with a specific use case in mind, such as mHealth.
“Technical solutions looking for a problem”
Loy Lobo, founder of Wegyanik and former healthcare consultant, agreed with this latter point to a degree.
“To some extent, these are interesting technical solutions looking for a problem,” he told IoB. “To be useful in healthcare, they need to find use cases where the technology can either seamlessly fit into an existing service to make it much easier, or radically transform it to make it 10x better/faster/cheaper.
“Niche products like this might need to be complemented by other products to form a complete solution. For example, can I have a sensor that fits behind my ear (so no one can see it)? It would monitor my heart rate, blood oxygen, activity, gait, temperature and a number of other parameters and draw power from the electrical impulses on my skin. It would gently whisper suggestions into my ear – “Take a walk outside. You have been sitting for 50 minutes. The weather is pleasant and your friend, Fred, just happens to be at the coffee shop nearby. By the way, you have had enough coffee for today, and you might wish to try the camomile tea instead.”
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