Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MC10: This Electronics Company Could be the next ‘Tech Superstar’

Written on 21 March 2014 by Sam Volkering
Immersive tech, NFL players and a 3D printed heart. At first glance you might think they have nothing in common.
But they do. I’ll explain shortly.
First, let’s look at each of these three things and why they’re so important to each other…
First off, the 3D printed heart. Now, this isn’t a fully functional 3D printed heart. Although there are technologies out there right now that mean this could be a possibility in the future. No, this is a 3D printed replica of a heart. In other words scientists took a 3D scan of a patient’s heart, and then 3D printed it as a solid form model.
They did this so they could specifically tailor biosensors for that unique heart. This was the crux of a story I linked to yesterday in Tech Extras. It was from the MIT Technology Review. And it explains how researchers use 3D printing technology with heart health. It also goes on to explain a type of bioelectronics that’s key to their research.
The researchers used images of animals’ hearts to create models of the organ using a 3-D printer. Then they built stretchy electronics on top of those models.
The stretchy electronics help measure the function of the heart with great accuracy. And because the electronics are custom-fit they hold great potential for better heart therapies in the short term future.
They’ll help do this because of more accurate information than is currently available. The level of accuracy might well mean the difference between life and death.
Now none of this would have been possible even a few years ago. Without 3D printing they could never have built such a detailed model of the heart. And without stretchable electronics they’d never get the detailed information needed.

It’s unnatural to get hit that hard

The next thing to look at is NFL players.
NFL, the National Football League, Gridiron, American Football, whatever you want to call it, is a full contact sport.
I’m no professional NFL player, but I did play a season of American Football a few years back in Melbourne. And even at the amateur level I was at the players hit hard.
And in the professional leagues the sheer velocity at which players hit is unnatural. They hit so hard that it leads to long term health issues for many, including serious mental health problems and diminishing brain function.
This has been a hot topic in professional sports in the US. And innovative companies are doing something about it.
Now they can’t change the sport, but they can help medical staff get better information, real-time, about their players.
That’s why a number of ‘early warning’ devices are being made to monitor player concussions.
One company in particular has partnered with Reebok to develop what they call, CHECKLIGHT. It’s one of the best examples of immersive tech I’ve seen to date. This isn’t some wristband or smart watch. It’s a purpose built array of sensors to help improve the health of (in this case) athletes.
They state on their website,
In the heat of competition, athletes aren’t always aware of the severity of a blow to the head. We’re delivering a simple solution. Our design uses multiple sensors to capture head impact data during play, while being virtually invisible to the athlete.
The company does this with stretchy electronics embedded in a ‘skull cap’. The ‘skull cap’ is like a beanie that’s made of lycra-like material.
Anyway, the device works well in the NFL because many of the players wear skull caps under their helmets. This also means that sideline medical staff can actively monitor their players for concussion in real time.
Just one innocuous knock to the head might be enough to do damage to a player. But CHECKLIGHT helps to prevent that. It’s truly a revolutionary piece of technology.

Immersive tech binds everything together

And finally there’s immersive tech. Immersive tech is the future that’s coming into the present at a rapid pace. It’s where your digital life and physical life converge into one seamless, frictionless experience.
It will involve billions of sensors, processors and microchips. It will mean your home, your office, the car…everything will be immersed with your digital life. This means a lot of data and a lot of information. A big part of this is ongoing information about your own health.
As these sensors find their way into everything, they also find their way into you. That’s not a bad thing, because they’ll be invisible. You won’t even notice they’re there. But these sensors will help you to manage your health in a much more accurate and effective way.
So when we look at immersive tech, NFL players and a 3D printed heart, you’re still probably wondering ‘where’s the link?’
Well here are the three key technologies that link all this together. And they all are a big part of one pioneering bioelectronics company, MC10.
  • The stretchy electronics used for the cardiac treatment
  • The electronics in CHECKLIGHT
  • The sensors and processors used in a world of immersive tech.
These are all things that MC10 has in their ‘technology arsenal’.
MC10 is a company that grew from the research of Professor John Rogers from the University of Illinois. MC10 isn’t just another ‘wearable tech’ company either. Their aim is, ‘To redefine the interface between electronics and the human body. In other words – make humans more superhuman.
They make a whole range of electronics that flex, bend and stretch. These electronics are vitally important for the future of immersive tech.
In a world where everything has sensors, processors and electronics in it, these devices need to bend, stretch and flex. And MC10 is at the forefront of making this happen.
MC10 is a private company for now. But the technology they have is unique, and importantly patent protected. In fact one of their most important patents is patent 8.389,862 – Extremely Stretchable Electronics.
In a world where electronics will be everywhere and in everything, it’s fair to say this particular patent could be the golden ticket for MC10 to become a genuine ‘Tech Superstar’.

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