Take This Sensor and Call Me in the Morning

The Scandu Scout — A scanner packed with sensors that enables anyone to capture important physiological data.

It turns out Star Trek was more than a pioneer in space, but also in seeing the future of healthcare devices to come decades later. The famous Tricorder ‘Bones’ has shown up in this century as the Scanadu Scout, a hand-held scanning device that gives almost real-time readings on health vitals including blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and blood oxidation levels. And you don’t need Dr. McCoy …or any doctor for that matter. The Scout’s multiple sensors read data from a mild electrical current that’s generated when you hold the scanner to your forehead for just seconds. The data is sent to your smartphone using Bluetooth low energy technology.

Says Scanadu Co-Founder Sam De Brouwer, “We all use search engines for medical info. But these answers can often apply to anyone – they’re not customized. I don’t know if I have a headache or cancer. And when the doctor asks us how we feel, our answers are often very emotional. That’s where the value of quantifiable data comes in.”

Attention has been moving to healthcare devices to provide this data. Many medical device companies use Bluetooth to send data because that’s what many consumer devices use, making any data exchange easy between a device and an app. Bluetooth is low power, making it popular for devices and also operates at low transfer rates. That’s why we’re not yet sending huge ultrasound files to our phones.

Wearables to Invisibles

Where it really gets interesting is how devices are now going invisible and inside us to collect data. Harry Rowland is co-founder and CEO of Endotronix, which makes a tiny sensor the size of a drug capsule that’s implanted into the pulmonary artery, the size of a roll of quarters. It measures pulmonary artery pressure inside the heart, which starts to rise weeks before a heart failure event. The real-time data gets sent to a secure cloud-based server, and can tip off a doctor to a problem. The sensor stays in the body forever.

Says Rowland, “We’ve seen how mobile healthcare is evolving:  First it’s been apps, then wearable and apps, and now the invisible and apps – what’s planted inside. This is where you can get the most clinically relevant information for the most difficult diseases, like congestive heart failure.”

Rowland adds that some sensors in the future will also be degradable, and that more than one will go inside us so we can learn a lot from each one – working in parallel with one another.

Silicon Valley-based Proteus Digital Health makes an “ingestible sensor” – a tiny sensor the size of a grain of sand that’s embedded into a pill and ingested at the same time as your medicine. The metals in the sensor react with the natural acids in our stomach to create an energy current that transmits data to a wearable monitor, or skin patch. The patch sends this data, via Bluetooth, to a secure app telling caregivers if a patient actually took their medicine, and when. Says Proteus CEO Andrew Thompson, “We can turn taking a medicine into a digital event.”

And how will healthcare devices evolve our behavior? Stuart Karten owns Karten Design in LA that has designed medical and healthcare devices for 30 years. “Let human behavior drive the design of devices, not the other way around,” says Karten. “Developing a successful product requires bringing people information and services that are meaningful.” As examples, he points to a Halo iPhone hearing aid that features smart geo-tagging, a ‘bionic eye’ by Second Sight that enables visual perception in blind people, and a monitor by Bruin Biometrics that senses early signs of joint deterioration by capturing data from joints.

Scanadu’s De Brouwer says that with recent advances in technology, including Bluetooth, companies are able to build medical devices that weren’t possible just a decade ago ….at an affordable price using the existing infrastructure of Smartphone telecoms. De Brouwer says, “As a patient, I now have the choice to share mobile data with my doctor in real-time.”

This ongoing digital mobile revolution is something even Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy would appreciate.

About the author


Mary Gorges

Written by Mary Gorges. Gorges is a former print and TV journalist (contributor to The Huffington Post, CNN) who is now a freelance writer and content creator. She uses her broad interest in technology and entrepreneurship to help companies tell stories that entertain and educate. Used with the permission of