Soon, Doctors Will Be Able to Track Your Health – Without Any Wearables

September 27, 2018 - 3 minutes read

Dina Katabi is a renowned professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT in Boston. She’s built a box in her research lab that can live in your home; it tracks physiological signals while you move: breathing, gait, sleeping, heart rate, and much more.

She hopes this box will become the non-invasive standard for measuring biological data about our bodies, eventually replacing the current offering of expensive, uncomfortable, and bulky devices we use today.

Tracking Through Obstacles

When she spoke at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week, Katabi said the box has been several years in the making. It uses the electromagnetic field around us that changes every time we move and breathe.

The box sends out a low-power wireless signal over an area the size of a one- or two-bedroom apartment; the signal can go through walls, and it reflects off of your body, sending back information to the box. Using machine learning, the box analyzes the data and outputs helpful information.

It’s in use in over 200 homes of people in tip-top shape and those with ailments like pulmonary diseases, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

Katabi’s startup, Emerald Innovations, plans to commercialize the box; they’ve already made the box open to testing by biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

In-Depth Patient Data

Katabi demonstrated the data’s usefulness by showing data gathered over the course of eight weeks from a Parkinson’s patient’s home; it indicated that his gait improved right after he took his medication at 5 or 6 in the morning.

She emphasized the many effects of using the data: “Not only do you start understanding the life of the patient, but you start understanding the impact of the medication.”

The box has been shown to successfully monitor sleep accurately through individual sleep cycles and stages without having to wire up the person’s body or bed.

Infinite Applications

Regarding data privacy, the potential for abuse, and possibly tracking the patient without their permission, Katabi said only specific types of data are collected and only with the patient’s consent. The data will be encrypted and only a handful of people will be able to access it.

Neighbors can’t track each other, either; the box needs the patient to calibrate the wireless signal with specific body movements before it can work correctly.

Katabi is already thinking of a more integrated future: she wants to use the box’s data to fine-tune the smart home further. For example, the box could detect when you’ve sat down on your couch and alert your smart TV to start where you last left off.

The box has a limitless number of applications, there’s no doubt about that. As MedTech develops further, we hope other innovators will be inspired by Katabi’s elegant and robust application when working on their own MedTech devices.

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