Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Arm lays out vision for connected healthcare

Steve Rogerson
March 13, 2108

UK-based chip designer Arm believes the technology that has made it a dominant force in mobile devices can lead the way to a new range of medical equipment, according to Rhonda Dirvin (pictured), director for marketing and programmes, speaking last month at Embedded World in Nuremberg.
“The same technology that goes into smart watches is very applicable to medical wearables such as blood pressure monitors, insulin pumps and so on,” she said. “We are also in healthcare for some of the home gateways.”
For example, one of the on-going problems with asthma medicine it that patients do not always take it correctly.
“So we have been involved with an inhaler that analyses how the patient takes the medicine,” she said.
The Respiro smart inhalers, developed by Amiko, can monitor inhalation technique and frequency, capturing parameters such as inhalation flow rate, flow acceleration, inhalation volume and inspiration time, as well as the patient’s handling of the inhaler.
At the heart of each sensor is a low-power Arm Cortex-M processor. That enables intelligence and connectivity to be deployed in the sensor, and allows it to run a real-time machine-learning algorithm. Without this, it would not be able to perform advanced monitoring and insight gathering.
She also said that Arm was looking seriously at preventative medicine and compared it with the preventative maintenance programmes being introduced in factories.
“It is a lot cheaper to treat someone before they are sick,” she said. “With preventative medicine, you might not end up in hospital. The way the medical world works today is very reactive; you get sick, you go to the doctor. So now the industry is looking more at preventative medicine. This is a vision and we are working for this to happen.”
This could take people’s genetic profiles to decide to which illnesses they are more likely to be susceptible and monitor signs that could point to an occurrence.
“You don’t monitor everything,” she said. “You look for telltale signs. The genetic make-up shows what they are more likely to get so you know what you should be monitoring.”
She said low-power technology was enabling the collection and analysis of the data stream that human bodies provided. Accessing new, richer, real-time information that couldn’t be collected before, and being able to act on that in a timely fashion, could equip the healthcare industry to deliver faster, more effective treatment.
Last year, Arm collaborated with the Seattle-based  Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) on a research project whereby the CSNE will develop a brain-implantable system-on-a-chip for bidirectional brain-computer interfaces. The chip aims to tackle a raft of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and paralysis. The long-term goal is to assist people affected by neurological conditions by engineering neuro-technology that will help the body heal, feel and move again.
“We hope that some of our low-power chips could be implanted in a brain,” said Dirvin. “It is still at an experimental stage, but it is really exciting.”
One of healthcare’s biggest challenges is ensuring that medication is not wasted or ignored, but instead taken properly as prescribed. Imagine a patient with ill mental health or dementia who could benefit from healthcare professionals knowing when treatment is being followed or not, and therefore when it is appropriate to intervene. Now, the ability to support the patient in their treatment is closer. In January, the world’s first digital pill was approved by the FDA. The Abilify MyCite pill is fitted with a sensor that communicates with an Arm Cortex-M4 based on a body patch worn by the patient. The patch then sends data to a smartphone app when the pill is digested, enabling remote monitoring by clinicians once the patient uploads the data to a database.