Footballers to Wear Sensors

Fabrice Muamba, a 24-year-old professional soccer player in Britain playing for Bolton Wanderers, collapsed during a game last year after suffering cardiac arrest. He’s now up and walking but no more playing football. A 27-year-old Indian soccer player, Venkatesh Dhanraj was not so lucky had a delay in treatment: He died a few days after having cardiac arrest during a match. At least six other professional soccer players around the world have died in the last three years from cardiac-related incidents. As well, not a year goes by now without news of a marathoner who died in a race because of a heart attack or cardiac arrest.

BOOTHNow the US National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell imagines a day in the no distant future when players in the American Football league could be checked to determine whether their genetic makeup leaves them more likely to develop brain disease by light wearing helmet that has sensors. With the information gathered by the sensors they might be told to switch to a less dangerous position – or give up football entirely.

“In talking to the medical experts over several years, I think there’s a predisposition to most injuries, particularly to the brain, or to brain disease,” Goodell said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So we do want to know what those biomarkers are.”

Goodell also envisions players being required – with the union’s OK, of course – to wear helmets containing sensors to detect hits that cause concussions. Those helmets might be lighter and “less of a weapon” than today’s, he said. Those are the kinds of advances the NFL and General Electric are hoping to produce in a partnership that could funnel up to $60 million over four years to research on head injuries and possible improvements to helmets.

This idea will go a long way to answer the questions of massive amount of sensor data with more body-tracking gadgets that can record everything from running blood pressure to respiration to perspiration rates and more.  Their public-friendly product is a clinically-validated armband that gathers physiological information from three small, sensors underneath the armband. For example, when sensors start collecting a flood of 5,000 data points per minute, including measurements of heat flux (the rate at which heat is dissipating from the body), motion, skin temperature and the skin’s electrical conductivity, are then converted into more meaningful measurements such as the number of calories burned, sleep quality and how efficient the body is overall in performing its metabolic duties.

According to Christine Robins, the CEO of BodyMedia, “That manifests itself into accuracy, personalization and more of a health orientation. We are more than an activity tracker or fitness device, we are actually a health management tool,”

“The challenge is establishing what people should do with this large volume of new health data, because a lot of consumers don’t think health is their responsibility and that it’s in the realm of their doctor. For some companies, to sell a device and track health is not resonating with people.” says Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

brainThe Brain Activity Map initiative, a group of prominent researchers is proposing a large-scale effort to create new tools to map the human brain in unprecedented detail. This could lead to treatments for brain disorders such as epilepsy, autism, dementia, depression and schizophrenia, as well as ways to restore movement in paralyzed patients.  According to John Donoghue of Brown University’s department of neuroscience “We don’t actually understand (how circuits of neurons) generate all these interesting behaviours we have, like speech and language and thoughts and memory,”

Apple is not left behind as we have heard in the past weeks, the Apple iWatch has made the jump from unlikely rumor to a real product that’s probably in development,

It’s not about the watch form factor, but creating a wearable mobile device that takes advantage of advances in mobile computing technology such as cheap sensors, better battery life and improved voice recognition. An Apple watch could work with an ecosystem of third-party wearable sensors and products that tie into one powerful, small hub.

“It’s unlimited, the number of wearable things you can tap into,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, who imagines small companies making inexpensive products like belts with sensors that alert the watch when you’ve eaten too much.

BOOTH 2President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address in February, said, “If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas,” and alluded to scientists “mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.” Along with talking about drug development and materials science, Obama stated, “Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”

“Imaging of the brain, studying the brain, is still pretty far behind the study of cancer, heart disease, things like that,” GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said. “I look at this as a catalyst in terms of where the technology will go. … I would say you’re going to start seeing really strong activities almost immediately.”

“This is about looking forward,” he said. “This is about the future. This is about changing the way all of our lives are led, whether it’s riding a bicycle or playing football or being a member of the military.”

Can Apple go from developing iWatch to iHelmet and iBoot. Time will tell.



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