One of the most exciting things lately about being director of the MEMS Industry Group (MIG) is feeling the slow and powerful build of momentum that precedes a flurry of wins for MEMS technology in health and medical applications. Someday soon many consumers will use MEMS to monitor and maintain their health on a daily basis.
What’s driving this revolution in health and medical devices? Beyond the prevalence of wireless networks -- which is a key enabler -- there is a convergence of factors that bring MEMS into this space. MEMS miniaturizes, and it improve safety and reliability. It also provides an integrated solution. Alone on an armband or embedded in a T-shirt, sensors are just a bunch of sad, lonely chips. But wirelessly connect these sensors (including MEMS) via Bluetooth to a cloud computing network, as well as to social networks such as Facebook, and these sensors open up a huge world of opportunities for health and medical providers, designers, integrators, suppliers, and innovators.
BodyMedia CORE 2 Armband with jewelry accessory. (Source: BodyMedia)
Consumers will be the winners here, with more choices and the ability to monitor and maintain their own health, medical treatment, and drug therapies. They will demand non-intrusive monitoring, which is the main reason that the market for wearable wireless sensors (including MEMS) is expected to grow to 400 million devices by 2014.
The time is right for MEMS. The top two healthcare issues in the US are controllable by lifestyle changes (Type II diabetes and heart disease). These are lifestyle changes that consumers could and will control through intelligent sensors that give them reliable, usable information on which their doctors can also rely. And while they may not know it, by demanding accurate, real-time diagnostics and simpler dosing -- while caring more about their overall health -- consumers are inadvertently creating a path for MEMS to play a bigger role in their suite of medical solutions.
There are already numerous MEMS-based products that blur the line between the consumer and medical markets. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Bodymedia FIT System acts as a “personal GPS” empowering consumers to monitor their overall fitness -- measuring the intensity of their workouts and also the quality of sleep, an important factor in weight loss.
LumoBack, a wearable device that uses sensor and biofeedback to empower consumers to improve their posture, reduce back pain, and improve their overall quality of life.
Proteus Digital Health Feedback System gives consumers the ability to monitor and manage medication and physiologic data.
As we forge ahead with wirelessly connected health and medical apps, we must also grapple with medical privacy. Groups like the XPRIZE Foundation, which is helping lead this revolution of wireless digital, MEMS-enabled health and medical through their Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE and Nokia Sensing X Challenge, is embracing this issue. We also need you -- the design community -- to come up with the next new application of a health/medical product that may not cure cancer, but will help a cancer patient manage her pain as she suffers through radiation treatments. Or maybe you’ll design ______ (fill in the blank with your imagination and your engineering talent).
Excellent post. It's interesting that the really simple user interface is allowing the use of consumer electronics to pervade into the healthcare space. Pretty soon doctors will speak to you via Facetime (if they aren't already). MEMS is definitely oneof the enablers there. Without those senors, a lot of these applications aren't possible.
It's also worth mentioning, Karen, that MEMS is saving a lot of lives in electronic stability control for autos. I've heard estimates that when all vehicles on the road have ESC (many older vehicles still don't have it), we'll be saving 7,000-10,000 lives a year in the U.S.
Science fiction writers have written numerous stories about MEMS in medicine and are not shy about intrusive use of the technology (Asimov's Fantastic Voyage leaps to mind).
Think of something like angioplasty or heart catheterization. Procedures like those are invasive already, and include some degree of risk. Injecting MEMS designed to navigate to the arteries of the heart and scavenge plaque buildups would mean safer procedures.
Hi, Karen, it's great to hear an industry perspective on these devices and hear how they are changing the game for personal healthcare. I've actually written about both the Body Media and Proteus technologies (http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=257818) in an article on a very similar topic. I, too, find this an exciting space.
Thank you all for your fantastic comments re QoL and MEMS! @Rich - I am especially pleased you see the enabling tech of MEMS as a way to bridge the gap between doctors and their patients (especially since you are the Design News Editor). :) I love how MEMS is "taking healthcare to the streets" - and giving it back to "the people, for the people" rather than how technology oftentimes de-humanizes so much of healthcare. I see MEMS as empowering folks to take care of themselves - to LOSE that Weight, to take that medicine and sit up straight (as I adjust my lumbar...eh hem).
Karen, Excellent article. I didn't think about how wireless could be an enabling technology but I can see how that is true. Is that primarily being used as a way to log data collected by the device in health care settings? Thanks.
If I can know the constant "health" of a network or website, I would like the same for my body. It's 2013, I think monitoring all aspects of personal health is key. I hope to see more of this in the near future. The X-Prize tri-corder especially.
The legacy endpoint devices that control our critical infrastructure (utility systems, water treatment plants, military networks, industrial control systems, etc.) are some of the most vulnerable devices on the Internet.
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