Sensor developer aims at healthcare

Paul Boughton

Glasgow-based bio-engineering group HCi Viocare is extending its sensor technology into healthcare and sports applications, writes Nick Flaherty.

The company uses a network of connected shear sensors that measures the ‘squashing’, rather than rubbing, of skin, and provides the ability to measure these forces cost effectively. This combination of pressure and shear that is the root cause of pressure ulcers, so the company is targeting Smart Mattresses and Smart Wheelchair Cushions that are designed to avoid debilitating pressure sores, and allowing patients and care givers more control over their lives.

The network of sensors sends data back to a smart device or mobile for real-time feedback or for later analysis. Real-time feedback from the sensors will prompt the mattress or cushion to automatically adjust so that the patient is repositioned to help prevent formation of ulcers.

Pressure ulcers affect around 20% of people in hospital across Europe and can affect anyone who is immobile or unable to feel the pain and discomfort that results from sitting or lying too long in one position1. Pressure ulcers cost the health care systems in Europe up to 4% of their annual budgets, while in the US, the cost of pressure ulcer care is estimated at around $11bn each year.

A key advantage is that the design uses readily available and inexpensive components. Unlike other sensor companies, there is therefore no expensive manufacturing set-ups or long lead times to market.

The company started out with a Smart Insole that monitors diabetic feet and athletic gait and is also developing a new cycling power-meter to help cyclists improve performance and train better.

The affordable cycling power meter will fit into a rider’s shoes and help cyclists improve performance, and the company is in discussions with several partners who have shown significant interest in incorporating the new power meter technology into their products and in manufacturing the company’s new inventions.

“We were delighted with the rapid and highly positive response to our Smart Insole invention – a reaction that has led us to expand our range of innovations,” said Dr Christos Kapatos, Chief Technical Officer. “We are now moving forward with new applications for our core technology, and continue to seek industry partners who wish to commercialise this next generation of health and fitness products. Our Smart Mattress and Wheelchair Cushions technologies have been developed to automatically respond to the pressure feedback from our sensors, adjusting the way the patient is positioned so that pressure ulcers don’t have a chance to form.”

“We’ve also expanded our focus on athletes to include a cycling power meter that can be easily placed inside any cycling shoe to real time power data to the on-cycle monitor for immediate feedback,” he said.