Intel researchers are tackling diseases and elder care as the chip maker looks to health care as a new opportunity for its chips, servers and other gear.
NEW YORKIntel Corp. has a prescription for enhancing health care in the future: increasing the dose of computer technology.
The chip maker, which established a new Digital Health Group as part of a broad reorganization earlier this year, is preparing to trial a laptop-like device that could aid in the care of people suffering from Parkinsons disease. The device conducts a battery of tests to measure their symptoms and stores the data for doctors to access. Intel researchers plan to begin medical trials of the machine, which they say can be used to tracks the patients symptoms more closely by repeating the tests weekly at home versus a doctors office visit every few weeks, with about 60 patients in January.
Intel isnt poised to enter the medical devices business with the tester, however. Instead, the device represents one of numerous opportunities the chipmaker sees in applying its fortedesigning chips and the systems that surround themto health care. To that end, researchers inside the companys labsmany of whom are now affiliated with the Digital Health Group following the reorganizationhave been experimenting with numerous ways to use fairly standard computer chips, software and networking technologies, including RFID (radio frequency identification) tags, to assist doctors and their patients as well as aid in the care of aging populations around the globe.
"This is not going to make a laptop replace a nurse. Thats not what were thinking," said Manny Vara, a technology strategist inside Intels research labs, while demonstrating several of Intels health care-oriented research projects for Ziff Davis Internet during an event in New York City.
However, "We think some of this is very promising," he said.
Click here to view a slideshow from the Intel health care event.
Intel researchers envision sensor networks that use RFID tags to help monitor the daily activities of elderly people, for example. By gathering data from RFID-tagged household implements, even including drinking cups, a network could track a persons movements throughout a house and therefore deduce whether he or she was capable of performing day-to-day activities or track whether medications were being taken on time, Vara said.
"You can deduce what [your grandmother] is doing by looking at what shes touching" around the house, he said.
Intel is also working on a digitized pill box that can tell when someone takes pills.
Whats good for Grandma can also work for baby. The companys researchers, in another health-related project demonstrated on Thursday, have devised a high-tech baby monitoring system, which will help parents track their babies health automatically.
Although Intel is not in the business of selling RFID tags or pill boxes, it does stand to gain from the digitization of health care. The Parkinsons tester for example, uses hardware Intel originally created for PDAs, Vara said. It could also be modified to measure motor skills to track the recovery of stroke victims.
Discerning what a person is doing by tracking her movements throughout her house takes a fair amount of computing horsepower, potentially opening up new opportunities for Intel-processor servers.
Eventually, data culled from the high-tech baby monitoring research project could yield greater home PC sales or spark upgrades, if the hooks needed to carry it out were added to its processors and chipsets for desktops or notebooks.
Numerous Intel researchers were on hand at an event in New York City on Thursday where they discussed projects, including the Parkinsons tester, digital pill box, sensor networks as well as others such as location-aware wireless networks. But the Digital Health Group also had its coming out party a few months ago at Intels fall Developer Forum in San Francisco.
There, the groups General Manager, Louis Burns discussed the benefits of IT-enabling patients, doctors and instruments to create more consistent care during a keynote address at the forum.
Burns touted other potential health care benefits. Electronic prescription processing could replace written prescriptions, he said.
Burns also demonstrated connected blood-pressure cuffs, thermometers and pulse readers that could chart information instantly onto a patients medical record, in another example of networked medical devices.
That interoperability has the most power to improve health care, he said during the speech.
"If you optimize just one component of the [health care] system, you just shift the bottleneck," he said.
Intel plans to reveal more detailed product information next spring, he said in the keynote.
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John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.