“The digital health summit is a very prominent part of the overall experience. We’re starting to see the lines between regulated medical devices and health, wellness, lifestyle devices converge.”Joel Goldsmith, Director, Digital Platform, Abbott Diabetes Care
Every January, thousands of “techies” descend on Las Vegas to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show to see what new things are on display and geek out on the futuristic technologies (some of which will probably never reach the market) that are demonstrated.
Digital health was at the forefront of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, with notable speakers, announcements, events, exhibitors, and even a startup pitch competition. It isn’t easy to cover all of the products and features shown, but after reviewing all the reporting and checking out some of the companies websites, here are a few that I found interesting.
There was an odd obsession with smart toilets this year – At this year’s show, a quartet of companies is showing off urine analysis tools designed to be used at home by the general public. Most of them are built for your toilet, testing your urine for many easy-to-identify maladies.
The most talked-about gadget at CES was indeed Withings’ U-Scan. The company showed off a device that sits on the dry part of your toilet bowl and samples some of your trickle as you urinate. Once that fluid is captured inside the device, it runs a sample through a microfluidic cartridge (with reaction paper) and uses a reader to look at the result. Once completed, the results are sent to your phone, with suggestions on what you might do to improve your health. When it’s eventually released, U-Scan will offer a cartridge for menstrual cycle tracking, as well as one to monitor your hydration and nutrition levels.
Korean company Yellosis graduated from Samsung’s startup incubator some years ago and has already produced the Cym Boat personal urine testing kit. At the show, it also showed off its next-generation product, Cym Seat, which uses a metal arm to hold a paper stick under a person as they urinate. Once completed, it slides the strip in front of an optical scanner, and after a minute, the results are pushed to your phone. But this device, expected to launch by the end of 2023 and cost around $1,000, automates the existing process rather than adding anything new.
Vivoo, which also offers a reaction-paper stick that a smartphone app can analyze, is building its own toilet-mounted hardware, which pushes a urine stick into the toilet bowl and then pulls it back in once it’s collected a urine sample. An optical scanner then reads the reaction squares before depositing the stick in a collection bin for disposal later.
Finally, there’s Olive, which is taking a dramatically different tack. The device harnesses spectroscopy rather than reaction paper, with hardware that sits under your toilet seat and a bank of LEDs flashing toward rear-mounted photodiodes. The potential for such a technology is far greater than reaction paper, and some studies have pointed to being able to identify infection with it.
My take – I’m not sure how large the addressable market would be for these smart toilets. There are issues, including around data security, especially for menstrual cycle tracking in countries like the US. Companies that could expose fertility data will need to be mindful of the legal context that is presently in place post-Roe. Will these devices be accurate enough for the jobs they’ve been bought to do? And will the conclusions they provide be worthwhile? There’s a lot to work through before these products become ubiquitous in bathrooms worldwide.
Next is a medical-grade smart ring from Movano. After announcing the Movano ring at last year’s CES, healthcare solutions company Movano Ring upped the ante this year with its new smart ring, Evie. If cleared by the FDA, the ring will be the first consumer wearable that is also a medical device. Evie is designed to give women a full picture of their health, including resting heart rate, period and ovulation tracking, sleep stages, SpO2 levels, skin temperature variability, and more.
My take – Movano Health is going after Oura, the market leader in this wearable segment. While it is nothing revolutionary, it is a good step forward in the market of subtle wearable tech. It will be interesting to see how long the FDA process takes – especially since the company is touting Evie as a medical-grade wearable device.
Can taking a selfie potentially save your life? – NuraLogix’s Anura app demonstrates the usefulness of a selfie with its technology that can check vital signs using a cell phone camera. The app uses artificial intelligence to offer about 1,000 diagnostics with a 30-second selfie. The diagnostics include heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, blood sugar levels, and more. The app is available on both the Apple and Google app stores.
My take – Despite the claims, there’s a big disclaimer on their website that reads:
For Investigational Use Only. Anura™ is not a substitute for the clinical judgment of a health care professional. Anura™ is intended to improve your awareness of general wellness. Anura™ does not diagnose, treat, mitigate or prevent any disease, symptom, disorder or abnormal physical state. Consult with a health care professional or emergency services if you believe you may have a medical issue.
Real-time wearable hydration monitor – Epicore Biosystems unveiled its new Connected Hydration sweat patch and mobile app at the 2023 CES. Connected Hydration is the first electronic wearable that continuously measures sweat fluid and electrolyte losses while monitoring skin temperature and movement. To prevent hydration, an alarm goes off on the device when wearers’ fluid loss exceeds two percent of body weight. According to Epicore, the device is intended for people who work in harsh conditions, athletes grappling with extreme heat, and people living through severe heat waves.
My take – At first glance, this device might appear to have limited market appeal. But the statistics around this problem are staggering. The harmful effects of high temperatures diminish physical and cognitive performance, leading to a staggering 170,000 work-related injuries and 2,000 fatalities annually in the United States. The increasing temperatures also reduce productivity, with total global labor productivity expected to decrease by more than 18% if temperatures rise by 1-3 degrees Celsius. Excessive environmental heat also takes a financial toll, costing employers upwards of $79,000 in worker compensation per affected worker.
Technology to help people with speech issues – Whispp demonstrated its AI-powered smart speech amplifier app and technology. The company’s mobile app converts whispered speech, vocal cord-impaired speech, and severe stutters into a person’s natural voice in real time. This allows users to make themselves heard anywhere while maintaining their freedom of movement.
My take – The technology developed by this Netherlands-based company can aid the more than 500,000 people in the U.S. who have severe issues with voice disorders or stuttering or cancer patients who have difficulty speaking.
Portable virus detector – Opteev Technologies debuted its affordable and convenient breath analyzer, Virawarn. According to the company, the compact and reusable device can detect COVID-19, Influenza, and RSV in less than 60 seconds. Virawarn uses a silk-based biosensor that attracts the electrical discharge of respiratory viruses and an artificial intelligence processor that filters out any potential inaccuracies. Users turn it on, blow twice into the mouthpiece, and an LED notification light will indicate a positive or negative result in under 60 seconds. ViraWarn is reusable and comes with multiple biosensor replacement cartridges that only require being replaced after a positive result or after a period of 2 – 3 weeks of daily usage.
My take – The company just submitted ViraWarn to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Pre-Emergency Use Authorization (Pre-EUA). Breath is one of the most appealing non-invasive sample types for diagnosing infectious and non-infectious diseases. Exhaled breath is very easy to provide and is less prone to user errors. Breath contains several biomarkers associated with different ailments that include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), viruses, bacteria, antigens, and nucleic acid. Results with COVID-19 detection were highly successful, with 95% Sensitivity and 90% Specificity.
Also, assistive technologies were prominently featured at CES this year. The need for assistive technologies is increasing and is likely to grow due to at least four interrelated reasons: an aging population, increases in the prevalence of disability, increases in the burden of chronic disease, and the corresponding increased load placed on caregivers.
L’Oréal announced plans to release late this year Hapta, a computerized makeup device with motion controls, to help people with limited arm mobility apply lipstick.
The Scewo Bro is an adjustable-height wheelchair designed by roboticists and inspired by luxury vehicles. The device is about the same size as a traditional powered wheelchair, but it has two wheels and a pair of tank-like treads for rocky terrain and stair climbing. When approaching stairs, users tap a button. Laser sensors detect how steep the stairs are, and the chair automatically adjusts for the climb. The company tested it with several hundred wheelchair users and tweaked the design based on their feedback.
Samsung Electronics is adding a mode to new TVs which can outline shapes and content for visually impaired viewers. Relumino Mode is a new picture mode from Samsung that is specially adapted for the visually impaired. When activated, this picture mode highlights contours, lines and colours, making the picture easier to interpret. For a person with normal vision, it may resemble a cartoon-like filter, but for a person with impaired vision, this may be exactly what is needed to decipher and understand the action.
Toronto-based eSight showed its coming wearable for people with vision impairment caused by macular degeneration, glaucoma and other eye conditions.
My take – Older Americans represent a growing audience for assistive technology and fuel a growing demand for increased accessibility in other products. The spotlight on accessible technology also comes as Americans face a financial strain, which might drive people to put “need” purchases over “want” purchases. And while the price tag for innovative assistive devices is often initially too high for many people who need them, startups are trying out subscription payment models for gadgets that insurance won’t cover.
Finally, for a terrific review of the key technologies featured in the age-tech space, I highly recommend this post from Keren Etkin, gerontologist, entrepreneur and author of The AgeTech Revolution – a book about the intersection of tech and aging. Keren’s blog is my go-to resource for all things age-tech related.
2023 looks to be a pivotal year for digital health companies as macroeconomic conditions continue to push investors’ demand for profitability over growth. At the same time, customers (in the form of patients, providers, employers, and insurers) are looking for technologies that prove their clinical worth and deliver seamless care journeys. Point solutions are out of favor as patents, providers, and employers are looking for integrated solutions that combine critical data with analysis tools into a comprehensive data set that reduces costs, improves care provider productivity, and improves clinical outcomes. Companies that cannot provide clear evidence that they can meet these requirements will struggle in this environment.