Accenture, Philips Develop Display for ALS Patients

The two companies have been collaborating with Emotiv, which uses sensors to tune in to electric signals produced by the brain to detect thoughts.

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Health IT specialist Royal Philips and management consulting, technology services provider Accenture announced that they have developed proof of concept software connecting a wearable display to Emotiv Insight Brainware that could ultimately give more independence to patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases.

When patients lose muscle control and eye-tracking ability, they can still potentially operate the Philips suite of connected products in their home environment through brain commands.

After a wearable display and the company’s Insight Brainware, which scans electroencephalography (EEG) brainwaves, are connected to a tablet, users can issue brain commands to control Philips products including Philips Lifeline Medical Alert Service, Philips SmartTV (with TP Vision), and Philips Hue personal wireless lighting.

The tablet also allows control of these products using eye and voice commands, and in both cases, a person could communicate preconfigured messages, request medical assistance and control TVs and lights.

Affecting more than 400,000 people per year, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, impairs brain and spinal cord nerve cells, gradually diminishing voluntary muscle action. Late-stage patients often become totally paralyzed while retaining brain functions.

For the past several months, the two companies have been collaborating on this proof of concept with Emotiv, Brent Blum, wearable technology practice lead at Accenture Technology Labs, told eWEEK.

"The major breakthrough was the digital integration of wearable technologies allowing an ALS patient to communicate preconfigured messages, request emergency medical assistance, and control TVs and lights," Blum said.

The Emotiv technology uses sensors to tune in to electric signals produced by the wearer’s brain to detect, in real-time, their thoughts, feelings and expressions, while the wearable display provides visual feedback that allows the wearer to navigate through the application menu.

"While the ALS patient population is the initial focus, the proof of concept has the potential to focus on anyone with limited muscle and speech function, providing them with the ability to communicate and issue commands, using their brains," Thibaut Sevestre, innovation lead for IT architecture and platforms for Philips, told eWEEK. "The proof of concept could possibly be extended beyond ALS patients. Patients with Locked-in-Syndrome, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) and paraplegia could also benefit, potentially giving them control over specific commands via the a wearable display technology."

Blume said he believes this proof of concept shows the potential of wearable technology in a powerful new way —helping people with serious diseases and mobility issues take back some control of their lives through digital innovation.

"At the heart of all health care IT progress impacting peoples' lives is the improvement and wider use of the latest digital technologies," he said.

Anthony Jones, M.D., vice president and chief marketing officer for Philips patient care and monitoring solutions said that today, most monitoring solutions are either reserved for the very ill hospitalized patient (OR and ICU) or found in simple consumer devices for basic health and wellness management.

"Over the next 5 years--if not sooner--wearable technology will close the gap between these two extremes, becoming as ubiquitous and unobtrusive as the common bandage," he explained. "When coupled with basic smartphone technology, these solutions have the potential to provide cost-effective solutions to support continuous monitoring of populations ranging from the seriously ill to the elite athlete."