Delivering portable healthcare

Revolutionary wearables

By Antoinette Price

The scope of electronic wearables has broadened from the hearing aid, or heartbeat monitors to items widely used in social, health, wellness and medical areas, such as smart glasses, smart watches, glucose monitoring and drug delivery devices. Because these devices monitor crucial aspects of our health, it is imperative that they function accurately and safely.

Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitor and oximeter (Photo: iHealth)
Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitor and oximeter (Photo: iHealth)

The fast-growing smart trend

In 2014, the global market for wearable smart glasses, activity monitors and smart watches could total USD 3 billion. ABI Research estimates the market for wearables in the sports and health sectors will approximate 170 million devices by 2017. Their growing appeal is also being confirmed by companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple entering this exciting market.

IEC contributions

Many parts of portable technology rely on IEC International Standards to operate reliably and safely. For example, IEC TC (Technical Committee) 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, has standardized methods of measurement, as seen in IEC 62087Methods of measurement for the power consumption of audio, video and related equipment, and continues to track the needs of this emerging market.

Powering wearable technologies

Advances in a number of areas, such as material sciences, chip evolution and battery power have helped these products go from military applications initially, to the mainstream consumer field. IEC TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, continues to work towards batteries that meet the power needs of wearable technologies.

New wearables for medical applications

These increasingly popular wearable technologies could significantly change healthcare, as consumer electronics morph into health monitors. Some examples include:

  • A wearable, mobile-enabled ambulatory blood pressure monitor, which connects to a user’s mobile device via Bluetooth or a PC through a USB cable.
  • A lightweight, wearable mobile-enabled wireless ambulatory electrocardiogram designed for 24-hour continuous monitoring.
  • A new mobile-enabled wearable pulse oximeter designed for continuous monitoring up to 12 hours.

These allow users at home to share information with medical professionals and caregivers in other locations.

Helping to break down barriers

Demographics are changing significantly, with an increasingly ageing population. The needs of people with various disabilities must be met.

TC 100 established a project on AAL (Ambient Assisted Living) for AV and multimedia systems and equipment. A survey was conducted to collect AAL use cases to evaluate the existing accessibility barriers and develop proposals for new technologies to overcome these.

In February this year, a SEG (Systems Evaluation Group) on AAL was created.

Connecting the technology across industries

A number of IEC technical committees are considering the convergence of digital technology from diverse industries, which demands interoperability in the consumer and the professional marketplace. IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices, is working on standards that are required for all aspects of flat panel display devices, especially concerning harmonization efforts, while TC 100 and some of its Technical Areas like TA 14, standardizes specifications for audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment.

Other major growth areas for wearables could be in gaming and entertainment and the fashion industry.

Looking ahead

In a rapidly evolving personal mobile wearables market that demands high reliability, small sensors, microelectromechanical devices and highly integrated semiconductor devices, the demand for new International Standards will grow and need to be addressed. Environmentally sound practices must continue to be incorporated.

IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices and SC (Sub-Committee) 47E: Discrete semiconductor devices are best positioned to play an important and proactive role in this field. Also with a view to future convergence of these technologies, TC 47 is developing liaisons with other related IEC TCs and ISO, such as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC6: Telecommunications and information exchange between systems.

Gallery
Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitor and oximeter (Photo: iHealth) Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitor and oximeter (Photo: iHealth)
The Mimo baby grow paired with the Mimo turtle monitors respiration, skin temperature, body position, and activity level (Photo: Rest Devices) The Mimo baby grow paired with the Mimo turtle monitors respiration, skin temperature, body position, and activity level (Photo: Rest Devices)
Smart glasses are expected to have many applications in healthcare (Photo: Loic Le Meur) Smart glasses are expected to have many applications in healthcare (Photo: Loic Le Meur)