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CES Makes a Healthcare Splash

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, January 15, 2013

A company called Salutron is building watches with an inexpensive set of sensors for collecting all sorts of vital signs right on people's wrists. A recent acquisition lets Salutron marry talent and inventions from two sources: DARPA sensor research and technology that is already present in exercise equipment in gyms throughout the country.

This will give the watches the ability to accommodate all manner of wrists, so the devices can deal with sweat, physiological differences, and the kind of real-world quirks that trip up so many kinds of consumer and even medical technology.

And on the far, far cutting edge at CES was Fulton Innovations, which at first didn't appear to have anything to do with healthcare. That's often how it starts at CES.

What caught my eye was a consumer packaged goods box, with ink on one part of the box that was blinking. Fulton uses something called the Wireless Power Standard to deliver a little electric current to a polymer-based ink printed on the box in order to illuminate it.

I spent a few minutes marveling at this, talking to company officials. Then they told me something relating to healthcare that blew my mind.

The same polymer-based ink process could create a temporary tattoo that could be used to collect certain vital signs from the wearer via wireless power, and deliver them to a compatible reader or maybe even appropriately outfitted mobile phones. Fulton hopes to have a demo later this year.

The implications are big. Printing remains one of the cheapest ways to distribute products. Ink-based printing still scales to huge numbers at unbeatably low cost.

This sort of unexpected innovation is what makes CES an event without parallel, and why the healthcare industry is increasingly attracted to it like a moth to a flame. Some technologies shown there never come to fruition, but what's a few moths getting burned?

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