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As a product, the smartwatches is a type of wearable device, and currently it is the wearable device that holds the greatest promise of becoming popular. Furthermore, the main applications for wearable devices are actually supplying sensors for biological functions and medical services. As a result, medical care services are undoubtedly one of the key applications for smarwatches, and they are simultaneously the most profitable.
In order to develop medical care applications, Apple recruited Sano Intelligence’s head of research and development, Nancy Dougherty, and medical applicance manufacturer Vital Connect’s Vice President of research and development, Ravi Narisimhan. Obviously, medical care services are definetely an important function for smartwatches, and they are not just for answering phone calls and turning on the lights at home.
In another respect, the trend of an ageing society is causing the demand for remote medical care to rapidly increase. This is especially the case in Asia, where remote medical care with smarwatches is gaining popularity in medical care for the elderly. This is also spurring the growth of medical care applications for smartwatches.
The key technologies for medical smartwatches
Smartwatch manufacturers and suppliers of parts and components who are thinking of entering the healthcare market must improve the following key technologies:
Because smartphones come into direct contact with the human body, they are the best mediums for medical care applications. To detect biological functions, smartphones must have built-in high performance sensors, including biological sensors for heartbeat, breathing, blood sugar, and blood oxygen. The these sensors must have functions that range from consumer level to medical use level in order to trigger consumers’ willingness to use them.
Power source design:
battery life is unquestionably smartwatches’ achilles heel. Limited volume and the demands of complex functions ( operations, sensing, networking) make it impossible for smartphones to satisfy demands for usage time. Therefore, finding ways to design charging modes ( energy collection, wireless charging) and better power management is imperitive.
smartphones require seamless connections and are constantly connected, constantly online, and must be compatible with many other devices. As a result, diverse wireless technologies are definitely needed, and standards including 3G, 4G, WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, and even ZigBee must all be taken into account.
Medical Care Platforms are the Key to Profits
Of course selling smartphones is not the primary source of profits for medical care services, and they must bring about genuine benefits to consumers. Service platforms that integrate medical care organizations with insurance companies will produce the greatest value.
Taking Taiwan as an example, there are already a number of companies, including Guidecare, ITRI, Chunghwa Telecom, and Unitech, that are beginning to sell smart bracelets and smartwatches which are specially designed for medical use. In addition to supplying hardware equipment, these companies also link hospitals, medical equipment dealers, and medical service providers (retirement homes or nurses) to supply comprehensive medical care services.
For instance, Guidecare’s smartwatches combine personal safety, health management, and pro-fessional healthcare products. Furthermore, integrated medical service providers have launched programs that include free smartwatches.
Guidecare’s products can effectively be applied for patients with cardiovascular disease, blood sugar disorders, and chronic diseases that are common in elderly patients in order to provide instant healthcare guidance. Moreover, gService can connect with relevant service providers in accordance with users’ health situations and livestyle demands.
Taiwanese Smartwatches for Health Care Providers
Guidecare is a healthcare smartwatch provider, which is famous for the AngelCare series. The newest AngelCare900 was released on December 24 with new functions such as ECG, HRV, and a heart attack risk indicator, which is powered by MediaTek 6572, a dual core processor.
AngelCare is a GSM-based (WCDMA available) smartwatch equipped with GPS and Bluetooth technology that includes features like emergency calling, wearer location tracking, biometric measurements via Bluetooth, possible automatic fall detection, speed dial to connect with care-givers, geofence alert, and clinical and medicine reminders.
The product is aiming to assist the senior citizens with monitoring things such as location, route tracking, activity, vital signs or even setup a safe zone and get alerted in case they get out of range, and it has been designed with elegance to meet most senior citizens’ tastes.
Key features including emergency calling, pre-programmed numbers that are connected twenty-four hours a day and 7 days a week to emergency call center/care givers at the push of a button. The locator utilizes a blend of Assisted-GPS, Wi-Fi hotspot trangulation and GSM Cell Tower to provide he most accurate position both outdoor and indoor.
According to Guidecare, the fall-detector, which functions with a special algorithm and a mix of an Accelerometer and a Gyroscope, can detect brutal falls. It is also easy to use and to recharge, it is waterproof, can be worn in the shower, and it is durable with an easy cradle to place it in for recharging.
Furthermore, AngelCare is using Bluetooth technology to communicate with third party devices and collect data. Once the data is collected, it is sent out to a cloud service and can be accessed by any care-givers from a computer or mobile APP that also can be sent by email to physicians or general practitioner for analysis.
Many physiological signal detection technologies rely on skin contact to obtain desired physiological information for home healthcare and clinical diagnosis. Well-known sensing methods include EEG, ECG, EMG, and so on, but these techniques often cause inconvenience and discomfort to users, making them unsuitable for long-term monitoring. To resolve this issue, ITRI has proposed a novel technology based on low power radar technology (Nanosecond Pulse Near-field Sensing, NPNS) with 300MHz radio-frequency to achieve non-contact detection of pulse, heart rate, or respiratory rate.
The R&D team at ITRI's Center for Measurement Standards is experienced in designing micro antennas and high-frequency circuits, processing analog and digital signals, and developing smartphone software. Since 2007, ITRI has been further committed to exploring the potential applications of NPNS in healthcare, with several mature prototypes completed. “We aim to offer the most convenient wearable gadgets and friendly interfaces for users to easily obtain their physiological information,” says Dr. Hong-Tun Lin, Manager of ITRI's Advanced Micro Sensor Laboratory at Center for Measurement Standards.
The NPNS module is used to measure physiological signals from the human body at close distances. Compared to an ultra-wideband sensor that is often bigger and needs to be fixed within a certain area, the tiny, lightweight, and bendable NPNS module has higher mobility and flexibility that allows for diversified wearable designs. It combines features such as sensing, signal processing, and wireless data transmission in one device to accomplish instant, touch-free, and long-term continuous monitoring. Through Bluetooth/Zigbee, this detection system can be combined with a smartphone or other mobile devices, making it convenient for user operation. Data can also be transmitted to a cloud data center for information integration and profile management.
NPNS physiological signal measurement and analysis can be applied for multiple purposes, such as heart rate variance (HRV) monitoring, fatigue and dozing alert, emotional indicator analysis, and sleep quality analysis. Outpacing other research institutes, ITRI has developed many patented NPNS-based wearable prototypes and licensed the applications to industries. Some examples are as follows:
ITRI's NPNS wearable sensors work anytime and anywhere, for people of all ages, and even for users in motion. They can be used for either personal carry-on monitors or medical facility assessments. Validation experiments show that ITRI’s NPNS technology achieves a measurement accuracy of over 95 percent, and the use of low radio frequency in line with current medical regulations poses no health concerns.
Beyond healthcare applications, ITRI is unveiling versatile looks for the NPNS wearable technology so that it seamlessly integrates into home life. Creative designs include a meditation tutorial necklace for one’s breathing pattern regulation and an emotional detector that plays anti-stress music. “These interesting ideas just popped up from our researchers’ needs in their daily life!” added Dr. Lin. He further expressed that ITRI will keep extending the potential of NPNS and seeking more cooperation with companies in 3C products, biomedical devices, and healthcare. The NPNS wearable technology is expected to become a strong bargaining chip in the search for international business opportunities.
Moreover, ITRI offers a workable Android-based exercise and health management system which can connect a variety of vital sign measurement devices such as heart rate monitors, scales and in-depth cameras to help people improve their health conditions.
Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's leading telecom carrier, is set to make major inroads into wearable devices, as the company's smartwatches, developed jointly by Chunghwa Telecom Laboratories and National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, have entered mass production, reported Chairperson Rick Tsai in 2014.
The company will also take part in a smart device project dubbed “Small Apple Orchard” overseen by the National Science Council, which is soon to be upgraded to the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Tsai said that Chunghwa will team up with local consumer electronics firms in developing wearable devices, focusing on those related to health/medical treatment and transportation initially.
During the Smart City Expo 2014, Chunghwa Telecom debuted smartwatches, smart bracelets, and a health-monitoring software, dubbed uCHAMPsys, which was developed jointly with National Chengkung University and is capable of detecting health statuses through a smartwatch and a smart bracelet.
Chunghwa Telecom has entrusted JAGA, a local firm, to mass-produce smartwatches and bracelets, which will be priced at NT$1,500-$5,000 (US$49-$165). The products are scheduled to hit the market in the third quarter.
Chunghwa Telecom will then continue to develop wearable devices capable of monitoring blood pressure, blood glucose, heartbeat, and heart rhythm, according to Tai Min-lun, a research fellow at Chunghwa Telecom Laboratories.
Lin Kuo-feng, president of the mobile business branch of Chunghwa Telecom, said the company will foray into the field of solutions, incorporating cloud-end medical treatment and healthcare services, for the development of a cross-disciplinary health management platform and value-added.