For all the hype and investments in wearable devices, they have yet to deliver widespread, meaningful impact on healthcare, outside of narrow applications like measuring blood pressure and the number of steps a person walks in a day.
Count Zeb Kimmel among the skeptics, at least when it comes to solving harder problems for patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Mobile applications in healthcare haven’t taken off because they either lack medical precision or they make demands of their user that reduce adoption,” says Kimmel (pictured above, middle), founder and CEO of Cambridge, MA-based startup Atlas5D. “These demands are things like wearing [a device] or interacting with it or recharging it. For everyday fitness, that’s fine. But there’s large populations of people who cannot or will not use a wearable, or a wearable doesn’t generate enough useful information.”
Kimmel thinks his company can help fill those gaps. It has developed software to run a sensor-equipped smart device that sits on a shelf in a user’s home and passively monitors his or her movement and behavior. It can track things like speed, strength, balance, dexterity, and more, the company says. The idea is to more precisely and objectively assess the condition of patients suffering from diseases like multiple sclerosis, data that could help doctors and patients make better treatment decisions.
Atlas5D still has to prove that the data it collects are useful for patient care, but its commercialization efforts got a boost with today’s announcement that the company raised a $3 million Series A round from GreyBird Ventures. Kimmel says Atlas5D has now raised nearly $3.7 million since it was founded four years ago. The new money will go toward hiring more staff, funding additional research into its products, and helping it sign up more partners and customers.
Kimmel, a medical doctor with degrees in computer science and physics, came up with the idea to use the Xbox Kinect sensor to help monitor the condition of people with mobility problems. His company, formerly known as Zebcare, in 2012 went through Microsoft’s Kinect Accelerator run in partnership with Techstars. Two years later, the company participated in the MassChallenge startup accelerator in Boston.
Atlas5D has developed two versions of its product. The first, called Echo5D, combines a Microsoft Surface tablet with a Kinect sensor, which gets plugged into a wall outlet and connected to the home’s wireless Internet. The sensor uses infrared technology to track movement in a room, even in the dark. Atlas5D developed software to analyze that movement and gather insights over long periods of time.
Echo5D’s customers could be life sciences companies, hospitals, health insurers, and others in the healthcare industry. Possible uses might include measuring how well a person with a neuromuscular disorder is responding to an experimental treatment in a clinical trial, or helping a hospital or clinic determine which patients require closer monitoring so they can allocate nurses’ time efficiently, Kimmel says.
Atlas5D is currently working with Biogen and Massachusetts General Hospital on a small pilot study of Echo5D involving multiple sclerosis patients, Kimmel says. One aim of the study is seeing if Echo5D can help better detect sudden flare-ups of the disease, when the patient feels more fatigued and perhaps struggles to walk, sit, or stand, Kimmel says.
“These flares can be initially hard to detect,” he says. “It’s a very subjective feeling. You don’t know if it’s a flare, or maybe you’re just tired because you were up late the previous night.”
“We’re trying to objectively measure these changes,” he adds.
Kimmel expects to publish the study’s results this year. The company intends to run more studies of Echo5D, but it’s already seeking customers. “The more evidence we assemble, the more we move toward making this an off-the-shelf box,” Kimmel says.
The company’s second product, currently dubbed Alice, is a less sophisticated version of Echo5D that detects movement with a webcam and creates an online log of daily activity in a room. Its target customers are elderly people who want to keep living in their homes independently, and their adult children, who want more peace of mind that their loved ones are doing OK. The device can send text messages or e-mail alerts if there is a deviation from a user’s normal activity that might indicate trouble.
The product has already helped save someone’s life, Kimmel says.
One of the early testers of the device, the mother of an Atlas5D investor, suffered a stroke one morning and went down by the side of her bed, Kimmel says. “That was going to be the end of her because … Next Page »