A Soft Sell for Sensors

Fitting the device to the body, rather than the body to the device, is what defines the technology developed by MC10.

This privately held company partners with well known brands, like Reebok, to bring its technology into the consumer space. I spoke with Elyse Winer, manager of marketing and communications at MC10, about the companyís innovative products.

These sensors can be woven into clothing, for example, so they can go places where wearables simply can't.

Winer explained that while "high functioning design" usually translates into sensors encased in rigid plastic, biosensor technology really calls for something "soft and pliable," so it interfaces with the body seamlessly and unobtrusively. Itís not just a matter of comfort and convenience but of accuracy and privacy.

"Itís only when you make it truly wearable, comfortable, virtually invisible, and seamless that you get data thatís truly accurate," she told me.

MC10's BioStamp sensor is highly accurate and very easy to conceal.
MC10's BioStamp sensor is highly accurate and very easy to conceal.

Wearable devices that are bulky or disruptive are apt to be removed, says Winer, and that renders the data they collect less than comprehensive. Soft sensors can go anywhere on the body, which enables them to pick up precise information, say, about movement around the elbow or knee, rather than just picking up general signals.

A product that is really comfortable and easy to wear is also ideal for the very old or very young, who may not always be able to speak for themselves. Wireless communication from the sensor can issue alerts and updates to family and caregivers.

For those who monitor themselves, such a device offers the benefit of privacy. While sensors like FitBit may be worn proudly as an emblem of dedication to health and fitness, those who need monitoring for an illness often do not want to advertise their condition to the world or even to be reminded of it themselves every time they see something on their wrist.

Instead, they can be monitored through a BioStamp, a sensor that can be fitted into clothing or applied directly on the body like a temporary tattoo. BioStamp will launch later this year, in fact.

Each sensor is powered by thin-film batteries and connected wirelessly to a receiving device that offers ďsimple and usableĒ insight based on the algorithm set for the particular sensor.

Vital monitors
The Checklight wearable for athletes, which MC10 brought out in partnership with Reebok last summer, has a simple color system, showing a yellow light for moderate impact and a red light for severe impact to alert players and coaches if medical attention is warranted.

Users can also set up customizable reports that will send more detailed information to doctors, though actual medical applications do require FDA approval.

Looking toward the future, MC10 is currently pursuing partners in healthcare for medical applications. One area in which it may prove very helpful is in monitoring movement disorders like Parkinsonís. Currently, caregivers track tremors by keeping a log manually. The sensor would collect data seamlessly, which ought to yield better, more accurate results. Beyond that, MC10 even aspires to "closing the loop" between monitoring and treatment, Winer says, with sensors that will be able to deliver medication.

However, as we said, such products do require regulatory approval and years of testing, so donít expect to see them in the immediate future. What you can expect to see this year is the BioStamp sensor, brought out with a partner in the consumer space.

What do you think, members, will sensors like these render FitBits and other wearables obsolete?

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Ariella Brown,

Ariella Brown is a social media consultant, editor, and freelance writer who frequently writes about the application of technology to business. She holds a PhD in English from the City University of New York. Her Twitter handle is @AriellaBrown.

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Re: Sensor Inconvenience
  • 5/30/2014 5:44:41 PM

@Michael Baby steps, I guess, though this baby seems to make very slow progress!

Re: Targeted wearables
  • 5/30/2014 4:37:15 PM

Well, that'll do it. If they suggested otherwise, they'd be run out of business by the FDA, if the litigators didn't get them first.

Re: Sensor Inconvenience
  • 5/30/2014 4:35:55 PM

I know!! My son was on an apnea monitor (now we're going back to the dark ages of 2010) and the medical equipment rental company had to *roll a truck* to come to my house, collect the SD card from the machine, and "process" it for review by the doctor. I called the company and said, "Have you not heard of WiFi?"

But don't worry, we've made progress. A friend of mine has a CPAP mask for obstructive sleep apnea, and the company sends him self-addressed stamped envelopes in which to mail the SD card for each month's data dump.

Re: Sensor Inconvenience
  • 5/30/2014 4:29:29 PM

The way many elements of healthcare have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century is equal parts frustrating and hilarious.

Re: Targeted wearables
  • 5/30/2014 8:37:33 AM

<So essentially, the information collected by your FitBit and analyzed by its apps is for entertainment purposes only?>

@Michael in a way, yes, though they call it "informational purposes." From their terms of use


Content found on Fitbit.com or through the Fitbit Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the relationship between you and your physician or other medical provider. We are not a licensed medical care provider and have no expertise in diagnosing, examining, or treating medical conditions of any kind, or in determining the effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition. ...

We are not responsible for any health problems that may result from training programs, products, or events you learn about through the Fitbit Services. If you engage in any exercise program you receive or learn about through the Fitbit Services you agree that you do so at your own risk and are voluntarily participating in these activities.

Information on the Fitbit Services

We try to provide helpful and accurate information on the Fitbit Services, but we make no endorsement, representation or warranty of any kind about any information, services or recommendations made available through the Fitbit Services. We are not responsible for the accuracy, reliability, effectiveness, or correct use of information you receive through the Fitbit Services. If you rely on any information provided by Fitbit, Fitbit employees, or others appearing on or contributing content to the Fitbit Services, you do so solely at your own risk.

Re: Sensor Inconvenience
  • 5/30/2014 8:29:52 AM

<Her father had to wear a cardiac monitor vest and then bring it back to the pharmacy every week for a data upload. And this is in 2012!>

@Michael I'm really surprised about that as upload via mobile devices has been aroudn for a while. Also the inconvenience for such a setup is substantial.

Re: Sensor Inconvenience
  • 5/30/2014 7:52:00 AM

2012? And he was asked to come in for weekly downloads? That's just silly. Maybe they should just tether his cardiac vest to an IBM mainframe.

It reminds me of an electric car joke, that nobody will even get anymore. Maybe if you think of electric lawn mowers with 200 foot electric cords, it will help (yes, we really had such things)

Guy in a bar: I hear they're thinking of making electric cars.

Blonde: oh that'll never work. How on earth will we untangle the cords?

Re: Targeted wearables
  • 5/29/2014 10:33:35 PM

Sounds like one of the main arguments against Big Pharma, HH. I think, like most of these situations, the technology will evolve far more quickly than the regulations and guidelines, and enterprising developers will figure out how to get their products into users' hands.

Re: Targeted wearables
  • 5/29/2014 10:31:36 PM

Do you really thing standards are going to help? Haven't we seen how easy it is to circumvent FDA guidelines with questionable supplements, overseas drug orders, and "this substance has not been approved..." disclaimers?

Re: Targeted wearables
  • 5/29/2014 10:30:20 PM

So essentially, the information collected by your FitBit and analyzed by its apps is for entertainment purposes only?

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