New infrastructure and sensors extract actionable information from mature IoT

By Paula Doe, SEMI

For medtech applications to flourish, sensors need a supporting infrastructure that translates the data they harvest into actionable insights, says Qualcomm Life director of business development Gene Dantsker, who will speak about the future of digital healthcare in the Medtech program at SEMICON West. “Rarely can one device give a complete diagnosis,” he notes. “What’s missing is the integration of all the sensor data into prescriptive information.”

The maturing medtech sector has developed to the point where sensors can now capture massive amounts of data, conveniently collected from people via mobile devices. The sector now has higher compute capacity to process the data, and improving software can produce actionable insight from the information. The next challenge is to seamlessly integrate these components into legacy medical systems without disrupting existing workflow. “Doctors and nurses don’t have time for disruptive technology – a new system has to be invisible and frictionless to use, with one or fewer buttons, no training and truly automatic Bluetooth-like pairing,” he says. “So device makers need to pack all system intelligence into the circuits and software.”

Getting actionable healthcare information from sensors requires integration into the existing medical infrastructure. Source: Qualcomm Life

One interesting example is United Healthcare’s use of the Qualcomm Life infrastructure to collect data from the fitness trackers of 350,000 patients. The insurance company then pays users $4 a day, or ~$1500 a year, for standing, walking six times a day and other behaviors that clinical evidence shows will both improve patient health and reduce healthcare costs. “It’s a perfect storm of motivations for all stakeholders,” he says.

Next hot MEMS topics: Piezoelectric devices, environmental sensors, near-zero power standby

With sensor technology continuing to evolve, look for coming innovations in MEMS in piezoelectric devices, environmental sensors and near zero-power standby devices, says Alissa Fitzgerald, Founder and Managing Member of A.M. Fitzgerald and Associates, who will provide an update on emerging sensor technologies in the MEMS program at SEMICON West.

Piezoelectric devices can potentially be more stable and perhaps even easier to ramp to volume than capacitive ones, with AlN devices for microphones and ultrasonic sensors finding quick success. Now the maturing infrastructure for lead zirconate titantate (PZT) is enabling the scaling of production of higher performing piezo material with thin film deposition equipment from suppliers like Ulvac Technologies and Solmates and in foundry processes at Silex and STMicroelectronics, she notes.

In academic research, where most new MEMS emerge, market interest is driving development of environmental sensors and zero-power standby devices. With demand for environmental monitoring growing, much work is focusing on technologies that improve the sensitivity, selectivity and time of response of gas and particulate sensors. Research and funding is also focusing on zero or near-zero power standby sensors, using open circuits that draw no power until a physical stimulus such as vibration or heat wakes them up.

MEMS, however, likely won’t find as much of a market in autonomous vehicles as once thought. “While the automotive sensor market will need many optical sensors, MEMS players are competing with other optical and mechanical solutions,” says Fitzgerald. “And here the usual MEMS advantage of small size may not matter much, and the devices will have to meet the challenging automotive requirements for extreme ruggedness.”


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