Medical tech surging with the Internet of Things

Medical devices are proliferating at a bewildering pace. My pal Frank Fowler sent this YouTube video of how you can use your smartphone to take an EKG or monitor your vitals. Of course, we engineers know that the phone is just a passive display, the real action is in the sensors, signal conditioning and wireless tech used to get the signals to the cloud. It’s an embedded world and consumers are going to be blown away by all the useful products that we engineers will be bringing them. In addition to the pillars of microcontrollers and wireless, Atmel is committed to bringing security chips to market too. For medical applications like this, security is more than a nice feature; it may be a regulatory requirement to insure your data remains private.

The video demonstrates a little misunderstanding that the iPhone is in any way central to this. All it is doing is displaying data. It is the sensors and signal conditioning that are the real revolution. The late Jim Williams designed a scale so accurate it can measure your heartbeat (Fig 11). So a buddy of his quit Apple and did a startup where you put a pad under your mattress and it measures your heart-rate while you sleep. Once the embedded system gets the data, you can send it wirelessly to your TV or your phone or to the cloud cloud cloud. To think the iPhone is central to this is like thinking the box on your wall is the central part of making a TV program.

What is fascinating to me is how things just seem to work out. We will need storage for all this, and how convenient that Hitachi Data Systems, where my buddy Fowler used to work, makes boxes full of spinners that will hold all this information. In fact, when considering the cloud cloud cloud, it occurred to me that the suitable analogy is electricity production. Data is good. Electricity is good. We used to have a little generator in the basement. We used to have a little server in the basement. That was a pain, so we moved all the generators and servers to one central location. All that the cloud cloud cloud is doing is combining all the little generators into one big one, something the electricity people did 100 years ago. Soon the data people will go back to the mainframe, since why do all this dynamic load balancing across 5000 machines when you can do it across 50? And this is the great brilliant progress of our modern age. Indeed the cloud cloud cloud is almost irrelevant to the user. I don’t care if Dreamhost has one machine or a million, as long as they send out the pages quickly. The cloud cloud cloud helps that to a point, but it also lessens reliability and adds overhead. We live in wondrous times.

While stuffing blades into a web server and dynamically balancing them is neat, of far more interest to me is the embedded world. Here there is a delightful design challenge, getting low power to balance with high performance. My programmer pal John Haggis was showing off his Omron blood pressure monitor the other day;


This Omron blood pressure monitor can take your vitals in less than a minute.

The next task will be to connect the monitor to you phone via Bluetooth or Wi-fi. Now your phone can send the data up to the internet where it can be stored, analyzed, and shared with your doctor. You can envision the network effects taking hold, where your blood pressure results will dynamically modify the shopping list at your grocery store. If your blood pressure is low enough, maybe you can have some salty snacks this week. Keep it low and you might get a rebate on your health or life insurance. If your blood pressure shoots up the IoT can correlate it to that restaurant where you had a meal that caused it.


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