Medical Device Daily Contributing Writer

PARIS — A press conference and workshop at last week's MEDEC expo surrounded the market launch of a low-cost technology for monitoring motion and activities of fragile seniors or disabled patients susceptible to falling.

Fresh out of the national Laboratory for Microtechnologies for Biology and Healthcare (CEA-Leti; Grenoble) in mid-March, a low-cost "motion thermometer" is targeting mass market applications, starting with physical therapists in France. A second application is telemonitoring activity data of patients vulnerable to spills and falls.

The MotionPod by Movea (Grenoble, France) was developed as a component of the MyHeart program coordinated by Philips Research (Eindhoven, the Netherlands), funded for 133 million ($45 million) under the European Union's 6th Framework Program with the goal of creating smart electronics and associated services to empower people to play an active role in maintaining their health.

The MotionPod, the size of a wristwatch, is the second generation of a detector capable of tracking three points of a motion using a hybrid of inertial and magnetic measures and then rendering an orientation of the unit in three dimensions, and thereby the person wearing one or more of the devices.

"There are very precise and sophisticated motion detectors developed in the U.S. and elsewhere, but this is a simpler, less-expensive and portable unit that is nonetheless quite sophisticated," said Sam Guilaumé, a co-founder of Movea and CEO of the newly formed company.

The cost of several thousand units "may still be estimated in hundreds of euros each," he said, "but for larger orders, the price falls quite rapidly." A third generation product, called MotionPatch, further minaturizes the technologies and is currently being tested.

The research group has used the MotionPod to measure rowing teams for strength and frequency of movements to improve performance. It also has been used to measure precisely "and objectively," added Guilaumé, the hand movements of rehabilitation patients and plot their progress.

The potential benefits of activity metrics for the elderly go beyond spills-and-fall prevention. Tracking the daily activities of an elderly patient builds a profile that can indicate a trend toward loss of autonomy or changes in sleep patterns, according to results of tests at the University Hospital Center of Grenoble. In a project using the MotionPod, financed by France Telecom Research and Development (Issy-les-Moulineaux), the team was able to measure and monitor patients' postures, movements and performance of daily tasks.

The MotionPod works at in the same radio frequency range as Bluetooth but without the power-consuming protocols. Current battery life is 24 hours. Further miniaturization of components will increase the device's autonomy, and co-founder and COO Yanis Caritu said an option that will significantly change power requirements is to store data onboard the chip for occasional uploading rather than continual transmissions.

"When a patient says to a physician that he is tired, the doctor can't be sure what to do," said Caritu. "Should he prescribe something, recommend a therapy? It is very subjective. Yet if you study the activities of this person for 48 hours you may see unexpectedly high activity at night and reduced actions during the day that tell you this person has trouble sleeping."

The economic interest, he said, "is keeping people out of hospitals or retirement homes for what may be a condition that can be addressed at home."

Also at the expo, Medical Mobile, the French subsidiary of Medical Intelligence (Quebec City), said more than 2,500 of its Columba bracelets for Alzheimer's patients have been sold since September, when the kit became available in pharmacies, as well as boutiques of France Telecom and Orange.

Priced at 1259 ($350), the kit includes a recharging unit and a specialized key for the bracelet's lock.

The waterproof unit cannot be removed without the key and recharges wirelessly with a snap-on battery while being worn by the patient. The kit also requires a contract for 159 ($79) per month with the insurance company AXA Assistance (Issy-les-Moulineaux, France).

Once the unit is oriented to a normal zone of activity for the patient, it is programmed to report any deviation with a phone call to AXA Assistance, which then contacts the designated care provider. Axa also alerts the caregiver when the battery drops below 30% remaining capacity.

"People with Alzheimer's like to take the train," said Sylvette Mazy with Medical Mobile, terming it a special concern in urban areas and in France specifically, which boasts Western Europe's densest rail system. The combination of geo-positioning with GSM protocols of the onboard SIM-chip is key to locating and attending to a patient who quickly can travel across town or across the country.

Following on the heels of the launch in France, Queen Sophie of Spain took up the cause as the head of the national Alzheimer's association and Mobile Medical now has a Madrid office.

Mazy said tests with telecom operators in Germany and the Netherlands are under way and a launch in those countries can be expected before the end of the year.

She said a significant customer base has been local governments and associations who provide the units to low-income patients. In a Paris suburb, the Rotary Club purchased and distributed 20 bracelets.

With its recent patent for a vital positioning system, Medical Intelligence says it plans to launch the Urgentys cardiac monitoring belt in the U.S. next year. The technology is capable of detecting cardiac anomalies and reportedly can send an alert eight minutes ahead of an impending crisis. The target market is survivors of cardiac arrest who are vulnerable to a repeated attack.