Devices (38)

12 Oct 2017


What is the value of simplicity? Take the Apple store as an example. Not too many places to sit and browse but just simple table in the center and then devices off to the side. Of course there is the glass front which enables everything to be seen.

But imagine creating a medical device that people touch and feel. We were designing our medical device that is a prototype for research into pain and we went with the same principles.

We designed the simple device as you see here. It has only one switch that is not visible and everything else is about function and making it simple. Also just one light that tells you when it is on or off. Do you, the insightful reader see the similarity?

Now software that is a different thing.

Engineers want to build in complicated features that are multifunctional. Wonder how can software be simplified till you can see just the tools that you want and everything else disappears till you want to see it.

Would that work?

08 Oct 2017

Team "Notify" from Usin'Life won the Hackathon Prize4Life and is moving on to the next level for qualification.



The idea was to create a notification system that informs the care-giver or family about two needs - 1. Small needs, like a drink of water and 2.Emergency, like help me breathe.

One  cloudy but warm day in Boston



The hackathon had a lot of people


Including, many people with ALS



Some ideas were complicated.



Usin'Life's Notify team's idea started with drawing on paper.





And created the notification button and camera response system  in less than 24 hours to a functioning prototype that is moving to the next level !



04 Oct 2017

Usin’Life presented a concept of Pervasive computing and intelligent healthcare monitoring devices at the Maker Faire from  Sept 23rd to Sept 24th  in New York, NY and was awarded the BEST IN CLASS 2017.

The Wikipedia defines Pervasive Computing as “Embedding computational capability into everyday objects to make them effectively communicate and perform useful tasks”. The healthcare perspective is that objects around the house can be made intelligent and will silently monitor us without being obtrusive. These smart devices will only notify us if they spot a change. These devices will not only be clever but will also need to be made into beautiful objects that beautify your environment and serve a valuable aesthetic function too while being unobtrusive.

This is easy to understand with an example. Let’s imagine that we consider weight as an important parameter that sums up the general health of the person. We would like to measure the weight of the person regularly, say once a day. This is possible very easily today by asking the person to stand on a balance and record his weight. This weight then gets uploaded to the cloud someplace or it gets recorded in a diary that is monitored. However, this requires several steps. The balance needs to be placed somewhere that it is easy to use (as opposed to storage), the subjects needs to remember to take his weight everyday using some reminder strategy and made significant effort to record and manage his weight. Instead, imagine a weighing balance that is embedded in a chair and silently measures the weight everyday as the subject sits on it for your various activities. The balance silently records the weight and compares it from day to day. If, for instance, over a week period, the balance notices that the weight has been steadily decreasing and the subject has not been dieting, then the balance observes the change and believes that there is something amiss. It notifies the person that it has observed something unusual and then asks them to take action. It could also notify the caregiver or the family. Similarly, a refrigerator could monitor how you open the door. The speed at which you open, how long you keep it open and other parameters. However, if you start coming home drunk and then grab for more bottles inside the fridge, then your pattern changes subtly and you might swing on the door with more enthusiasm! This change if persistent, signifies a change and can get notified or recorded

For the Maker Faire, Usin’Life equipped a beautiful porcelain box with sensors to make it “smart”. This box could be a place where a person kept their keys or stored earrings or their watch. They typically, would use this box everyday as part of their activities for daily living. (ADL). This box served as a intelligent object that silently measured your activity of approaching the box with your hand.

The attendees were encouraged to reach for the box with their hand. The porcelain box measured the speed and the distance of the approaching hand and showed it to the participants.

However, at the Maker Faire the objective of the display was to also entertain the attendees and challenge them with sound and light.  Thus, the distance of the hand was translated to a musical note and a tone was played dependent on the distance from the box. This distance of the hand from the box was also plotted on the screen with a red line on a real-time graph.  To challenge the attendees, the computer drew a blue line that the participants were told to follow by moving their hand either towards the box or away from the box. The participants then got two cues to move their hand in response – the pitch of the sound and the blue line on the graph. Thus, this measured the reaction time of the attendees as well as ability to listen to sound cues. The complexity of the pattern that the participant was being challenged with could be changed and different attendees were given a chance to play with different music and graph challenges.

This simple porcelain box could be used to measure coordination ability, test cerebellar ataxia, alcohol based coordination ability, besides being a pervasive computing device

10 Jan 2017

Sound as we listen is made up of multiple frequencies. The typical way of separating them has been computationally using an algorithm called a Fourier transform. However, researchers in Switzerland have managed to split sound into different frequency by way of a device – a 40cm aluminum case with 10 holes on its sides – almost like a recorder or a flute. The inner area is divided into chambers separated by a membrane that impedes a few frequencies.

The interesting application of this device could be to non-electrically isolate a specific frequency or make an "antenna" like device that would selectively listen to only one band of frequencies. This would be important in problem detection within machinery or other applications like that...

Any other application?

09 Jan 2017

Vibration sensing is important for sensing failure of instrumentation or found sound and vibration measurements. Technology for detecting sound has existed for a long time and usually employs a variety of microphones. However, vibration is difficult to measure easily. There have been many reports of utilization of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) based technology such as this one from Analog Devices that measures the vibration or strain through mechanically vibrating a component that is then measured accurately.


A group of researchers in Seoul have come up with a new way to measure vibration and strength using the same technology that is embedded in a spider's feet. Vibration is important for a spider not only to detect when a prey has been caught but also to recognize and get the attention of its mate. The spiders feet consists of minute cracks that are embedded with neurons. Any vibration changes the gap in the cracks and thus stimulates the neurons.


The researchers published a paper in Nature that described how they had fractured a platinum layer on top of a flexible substrate to produce a sensor. The cracks on the surface of platinum act as a variable resistor and if the cracks changed in the gap then the resistance of the sensor changed. A simple concept but far reaching in its ability to sense even minute vibrations. They further created a more sensitive sensor by forming an array of these sensors. This sensor thus is flexible so can be put on the skin or on any surface and since sound is also minute vibrations, it can function as a very sensitive microphones.


The next step in the development of the sensor would be to create finished products that can be deployed by device makers.

04 Aug 2014

Picture from Blog

Device companies often try to fulfill a need in the market. For example if the need in the market is irregular heartbeat then the companies are tempted to create pacemakers in collaboration with doctors which enable them to create devices that would regulate that heartbeat electronically. However, last year MDDI online came up with a Dare to Dream contest at the link below. Here the practicality or financial numbers were not considered but rather the requirement was to come up with a device that would serve a purpose.

There were several entries that were judged to be really useful.

Third place: This was a device that was a Cerebrospinal fluid pressure regulator. This was created by Bob Paddock who had a very simple design as shown in the picture above. It did not have to be very practical but it had to have the components that were plausible. In Bob’s case there was a personal story since his wife had committed suicide from the pain of leaky Cerebrospinal fluid. This would almost be possible depending on whether there is big enough market for such devices that would correctly diagnose a bad continuous headache.

Second place: Myosense, a tape to collect data on the muscle movement and record that data to enable movement disorders. Again hopefully, there is a big enough market for this but this could have potential utility for a small group of people.

First place: This was an smart phone app that measures the heart activity around the clock. There have been several startups that have targeted this area, from wrist monitors to those that measure the heart with an attachment on the chest, near the heart. It would be interesting to see which of those devices are used every day.

Competitions like this encourage a lot of thought and target need. These are great to determine the market need, though they need to be balanced with seeing the cost impact. For example, you could wear a heart monitor if you are likely to have heart attacks or are in the category that has a potential to develop one, but it will be interesting to see how many people benefit from such devices. It is also worth asking that if you are such a patient, will you trust your cell phone, or would you be more comfortable using a device that has been FDA approved for your security. However, FDA is deregulating several devices as this article discusses in greater detail.

31 Jul 2014

A very concise description of automated blood pressure measurement.

When new medical doctors are taught to take blood pressure, they are taught to listen to the sounds through their stethoscope while inflating and then slowly deflating the arm cuff. This instrument is called the sphygmomanometer. There are distinct sounds that one hears as the artery is occluded by the cuff and then slowly opens when the cuff pressure is increased. Listen to the video below to listen to the sound. These sounds are in 5 phases and are called Korotkoff sounds. They represent blood pulsing past the occluded artery as the artery is opened. This method of blood pressure measurement was colled

Automatic instrumentation to measure blood pressure was being developed and in the earlier generation of machines, they used an audio microphone to measure the sounds. This sometimes led to issues since if the microphone was not in the correct place then the sound could be missed and leading to failed measurements.

New instrumentation was then invented that could still measure the occlusion of the artery. But this time it used a very sensitive pressure detector that detected the oscillation of the artery, rather than the sound, to determine when the artery was blocked and then released. It turns out that from the time of occluding the artery to its opening the artery vibrates. This vibration decreases and then increases and can be measured accurately. This is the principle that is used in most automatic blood pressure measurement machines.




30 Jul 2014

Diagnostic Device

There are many companies that develop kits for diagnostics that are primarily made for diagnostic laboratories. There are a smaller range of kits that are available for direct to consumer use. The kits that are available have to be certified and have to be simple enough to use. For example, a pregnancy test is a very simple kit that just shows a line or a cross. However, once there is some amount of blood collection or skin puncture involved then the kits can get very complex.

Most scientists and researchers focus on the kits themselves and forget about the design aspects. The tests work but the workflow can be difficult and the device themselves may have several components. This year, the Medical Design Excellence Award went to an Australian company, AtomoRapid for their HIV and Malaria tests. Their elegant device combined the blood collection, test and display all in one device that was elegant and simple. The science may be complex but the device has been simplified for use in Africa.

There are four things that stand out:

Simplicity: It combines safety with simplicity. Simplicity helps in lower the error rate and also keeps the cost under control. If you are creating a test for the developing world then what you need is a low cost device that does not fail.

Integration: An integrated device means there are less parts to pack and manage – both for the user as well as the company. The management of the device becomes easier and this also affects the ultimate cost of the device.

Designed to lower errors: This device collects blood with a defined capillary. This reduces the error rate simplifies and makes the sample more consistent. The use of common physics phenomenon helps in non-electronic, non-pump, non-battery collection.

Power not required: Yes, one can make a device that uses power and motors but if you need a device to work at all times in all areas, then device that does not require charging, uses power or require batteries is the clear winner.

As we design prototypes for our clients, we keep the design of the device in mind along with its functionality. The key component is obviously the intended use and the user.


29 Jul 2014


There are several methods to detect analytes in the microscale. These vary from characterizing some specific property of the analyte being measured. One interesting method that has been used by Dr Richard Wilson of University of Houston is to create retroreflectors that are bound to specific antibodies or ligands. Retroreflectors normally reflect all the light back to the source but in case the ligand is occupied then the light cannot be reflected back. This extremely simple principle when used in the nano scale enables detection in the Microfluidic chambers as well facilitates the detection of several different analytes. The need to compact several of these detectors in a small space would enable the detection of several different entities. Dr Wilson’s interest is in the detection of pathogens and in that area, rapid and quick detection of several pathogens would make a big difference to the industry – hopefully, the formation of the tricorder: Star Trek / Star Wars detection of disease through a hand held device that scans the person.

Interestingly, retroreflectors are an interesting physics phenomenon wherein all the light from source is turned 180 degrees and sent back to the source. These are commonly used in reflectors used in bicycles, or street signs. See this link for their use after lunar landings.

28 Jul 2014

Image of Prosthetic arm

Dean Kamen is an inventor who has more than 440 patents, has started many successful companies and is an accomplished serial entrepreneur. He probably has started more companies and developed more devices than many other people. His continuing accomplishment is FIRST robotics, that aims to develop robots by school children and help in their development. He has combined the profit required for business with good for society. As an example, when contacted by DARPA to develop an artificial arm for veterans, he was honest enough to tell them that the development does not have more potential because there are not many people out there that need the arms. However, he took on the project for development because of the need – no for-profit company would take the project since they would just look at the business aspect and forget the social aspect. Dean also created Segway which did not become a commercial success but did create a strong model for future engineering since it was so far advanced. Dean has three criteria for choosing projects:

  1. There should be a big need
  2. Improve the quality of Life for people
  3. It raises the bar for devices

These are good criteria for any medical device business and also watch the 60 minute segment on creation of the arm.


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