Urinary-tract infection toilet sensor wins Analog’s Hackathon on assisted living
16 November 2017
A urinary tract infection (UTI) sensor won the second annual Analog Devices Hackathon, which set out to examine how the company’s technology could be used to improve assisted living and enable more people to live independently.
During the two-day Hackathon in Thomond Park, Limerick from 13-15 November, 60 young people from across Analog Devices International (ADI) gathered to collaborate, research and design proposals on how ADI technology could be used to enhance the independence and quality of life of the elderly, sick or disabled.
The winning team of six people blew the judges away when they presented a full solution to detect urinary tract infections in older people through a sensor placed in a toilet bowl. While the primary value is in preventing the high medical costs associated with late diagnosis of a UTI, another benefit is preventing falls and the associated costs.
Explaining the concept, team member Andreas Callanan explained, “Falls among the elderly are a leading cause of serious injury and incapacitation, and are often the deciding factor in whether an elderly person is moved to a residential care facility. Multiple scientific studies have shown that UTIs are a leading cause of falls among the elderly – one study showing that 44% of patients admitted to a fall were suffering from a UTI.”
Detecting UTIs in older people can be difficult as a wide variety of symptoms can present. An infection can lead to confusion, weakness even hallucinations and of course encourages a person to visit the toilet more frequently. All of this increases the risk of falls, particularly at night time when elderly people are most vulnerable. If the UTI is detected early it means treatment can be initiated quicker and prevent life-changing events such as a fall.
According to Pat O’Doherty, VP Analog Garage and one of the Hackathon judges, “The winning proposal was chosen because it was a non-evasive solution to a non-obvious problem, the pitch was very well executed and they prepared a very compelling demo.”
The winning solution proposed the use of a flush-washable, internet-enabled toilet insert, making use of capacitance sensing technology to detect nitrite content in the urine, a key indicator of E. coli bacteria (the main bacteria present in cases of UTI). The time and urine characteristics of each toilet visit would be logged and analysed by a server. The frequency of each visit, changes in toilet use behaviour and the nitrite content of the urine itself would be used to flag behavioural changes that merit further investigation by the primary care provider.
The hardware solution comprised a suite of existing ADI technology such as AD7745 24 Bit Capacitance-to-Digital Converter, ADuCM3029 microcontroller and LTC 5800-IPM Wireless SoC. The LTC SoC would communicate wirelessly with an internet connected Hub that transmits the data back to the cloud, and permits further expansion with more sensors.
Ten teams, made up of representatives from a wide variety of functions and skill-sets within ADI, pitched their ideas to the judges, ‘Dragon’s Den’-style on the second afternoon of the Hackathon.
Other concepts included ‘UberCare’ – a network of carers in the community that could respond to sensor alarms set off in neighbours’ homes, a ‘PillBot’ to dispense medicine with finger imaging and retina detection software to deter misuse as well as an escalating audio alarm to remind patients to take their medicine, and an ECG wearable vest to monitor cardiac activity and upload data to the cloud, thereby reducing time consuming visits to clinics or hospitals.
Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, O’Doherty said, “We were delighted to see so many of the solutions going beyond silicon. Analog Devices is pivoting away from just being a component company, so it was great to see the effort put into devising complete solutions – from considering what software stack would sit on the technology, to the analytics, to connectivity to the cloud. The theme of assisted living was very relevant. Everyone could connect and related with it – so many had personal stories to share.
“We were impressed with how the teams took the time to figure out the problem first. This is how the innovation process starts and reflects what we do in Analog Garage. Simply flinging technology at solutions doesn’t work – the technology will be rejected,” he concluded. The company will now examine the feasibility of developing the winning concept into a solution for actual deployment.
Jim Doscher, GM Healthcare & Consumer Systems at Analog and one of the Hackathon judges said, “We really liked this proposal because it was very unexpected – it was out of the box and the least obvious. We are now going to investigate how the solution can be developed and deployed. We already have the technology needed to do it. The real problem, as highlighted by Michael O’Shea of ARCH at the Hackathon, is developing a real and viable business model.
“’Ageing in Place’ is a key focus within our healthcare division. We’re making great strides on developing medical devices to enable independent living. In December, we will start trialling wearable devices in a retirement home in the US. Helping people to stay at home for longer is the best outcome for the person and for the healthcare system,” he concluded.
The winning team comprised two co-op students David Brotons from Valencia and Jack McEllin from Mayo who is studying in UL. They were joined by four colleagues who are based in Analog’s Limerick site: Jake Greaves, from Tyrone, Glenn Gall from Waterford, Gearoid Moore from Limerick and Andreas Callanan also from Limerick.
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