Over the next few years there'll be a lot of talk about the moves that Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung and others will make into the serious health monitoring space. But maybe, just maybe we should be playing much closer attention to what the folks over at Verily Life Sciences are working on right now.
Previously known as Google Life Sciences and now part of Alphabet, Verily has been working on health-based initiatives for a few years now. Over the past year or so we have been starting to learn more about the areas in health it's trying to make a big difference in.
Essential reading: Apple and Samsung's big digital health ambitions
This is not tech built for consumers. These projects are a work in progress and going through rigorous testing before they are given to the people who can benefit from them the most.
A lot of these projects appear to be taking shape in the form of wearables to collect rich health data that could well prove life changing if they deliver what they promise. We've taken a look at what Verily is working on, the progress that is being made and try to figure out when we might see them.
The Study Watch
We always thought Google (now Alphabet) would make a smartwatch, we just didn't anticipate that the first would be one geared for health tracking. This one isn't available for anyone to own like an Apple Watch or a Wear watch. Instead it's designed to be used in observational studies being conducted by Verily's partners. That includes the Personalized Parkinson's Project well as partnering with the Michael J Fox Foundation to explore and identify patterns in the progression of Parkinson's disease. The Study Watch is also being used a Baseline study, that aims to explore transitions between health and disease.
The physiological and environmental sensors are capable of monitoring heart rate via ECG which has now been given FDA clearance. It's also able to monitor electrodermal activity and inertial movements. This unlocks the ability to measure the relevant signals for the Watch to be of value for studies related to cardiovascular and movement disorders.
The watch design was shaped with the help of users, researchers, and clinicians and features an E-Ink display that passively collects health data. Along with a powerful processor that supports real time algorithms displayed on the wearable. It also offers large internal storage to deal with the masses of data it can monitor and a week's worth of battery life to make it better equipped for longitudinal studies.
Teaming up with diabetes experts
Dexcom has quickly emerged as a company central to the challenge of developing non-invasive methods for diabetics to monitor glucose levels without the need to take regular finger pricks. Its G6 wearable that does that very thing has been given the thumbs up by the FDA, but a collaboration with Alphabet's Verily Life Sciences division could provide more exciting developments for the tech Dexcom has developed in the future.
Earlier this year Dexcom's president Kevin Sayer told Wareable: "The G6 will serve as the glucose sensing technology in the first joint product we release, so this is the platform for our collaboration going forward."
The collaboration has given Dexcom access to tech it would otherwise wouldn't have access to including the know-how in miniaturising sensors. The first generation wearable would be used for a variety of use cases from non-intensive diabetes market to a developing a professional product for physicians. Beyond that we could see an inexpensive band-aid style, disposable glucose sensor that could also track physical activity. This could also be targeted at type 2 users, and Sayer says we can expect to see that in 2020, a prediction that's been emboldened by the approval of the G6.
Sayer won't yet say when we'll see the first wearable created by both, but it's without doubt a positive move to hear Verily and Dexcom teaming up.
Glucose detecting and autofocusing lens
Staying on the topic of tracking blood glucose levels, this was the first Verily project that really caught people's attention.
Born out of Alphabet's spin-off lab before the name change, these smart lenses use miniature sensors and a radio antenna thinner than a human hair to track a wearer's blood glucose levels. With diabetics in mind for the smart eyewear, there would also be a smartphone app to monitor glucose levels in real time.
Alphabet struck a deal with drug maker Novartis in July 2014 to make them a reality but in 2016 Novartis confirmed it was delaying human tests that had been planned for that year. In 2017, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt revealed that the smart lens was a 'high risk project' and that it had shifted launch plans to 2019.
This isn't the only connected lens the two companies had teamed up to develop either. Trials of an autofocusing smart lens aimed to address farsightedness has also been delayed and like the glucose tracking ones, there's been no real update on whether it's still on track to go into testing.
The blood collection project
Along with glucose monitoring and exploring major health disorders using its Study Watch, Verily is also rumoured to be looking at the possibility of non-invasively collecting blood.
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While Verily has not publicly come out and said it's working on it, CNBC has reported that a device that collects blood using micro exploding needles and magnets has been in the works at Verily for several years. A working prototype has been built to test the tech with a form factor yet to be decided on but a watch has been one of the designs apparently considered.
The tech, which uses needles that explode into the wearer's skin and uses the magnets to retract them appears likely to be used for frequent monitoring of its users to track key blood markers, particularly for us in clinical trials. The wearable is also said be able to store and measure blood samples that can also be analysed.
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Yes, we said diapers. A patent filed by Verily, which was recently published suggests it's looking at something that may not be as grand as exploding needles drawing blood. It's a wirelessly connected smart diaper that tells the parent, nanny, unfortunate babysitter when something has happened down there. It will even tell you whether it's a number one or a number two and the 'he/she's made a mess' alarm is raised and sends an alert to a companion device, which could be well an app on a phone or a smartwatch.
The collection of images in the patent filing point to the use of conductive and sensing elements embedded into absorbent areas of the diaper. Using the elements to measure conductivity between areas in the nappy, the changes in conductivity would help reveal what messy present the baby has dropped off.
The patent also talks of Integrated sensors , electronic modules, power sources and connectivity via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or Z-Wave. While babies might be the main aim for this Verily project, it could also be used by the elderly, sick, disabled and even animals.
Will a Verily smart diaper ever happen? Who knows. Sure, it would no doubt be welcomed by a lot of mums/dads/nannies/babysitters, but that's a whole lot of tech to have around a baby isn't it? Perhaps best to file this one under, 'Maybe not'.