Irish Examiner

UCD research team wins Google healthcare award

A leading Irish researcher and his team have landed a major Google award for their rehabilitation-support technology having beaten off competition from scores of entries.

University College Dublin (UCD) connected health researcher Brian Caulfield won the 2015 Google Wearables in Healthcare Pilot Challenge at the tech giant’s Cambridge headquarters in Boston.

The innovative technology developed at UCD allows patients recovering from orthopaedic surgery transition into life at home more easily by giving them a simple and cost-effective solution to rehabbing outside of hospital.

The technology utilises smartphone motion sensors to track patients’ movements as they work through their rehabilitation programme.

“The beauty of it is that the mobile phone has its own sensors which can turn it into both a sensing device and the information aggregation hub,” said Prof Caulfield. “Our idea addresses the unmet needs that patients and clinicians cite as the major challenges to successful rehabilitation outcome and satisfaction with care.

“By using a mobile phone as a sensing device, we are removing the need to purchase additional sensing hardware to provide patients with a solution to their problems, with all the associated costs that this involves.”

The ingenuity of the technology is in its simplicity, with the user strapping the phone to the affected body part before being walked through the exercise by the phone’s loudpseaker.

Alternatively, the app can stream the user’s movement onto another device, such as a tablet or laptop, which then renders the movement into the actions of an avatar on the secondary device.

While the app is still in the prototype phase, the technology it utilises has been in development for more about five years. The next step is to bring the technology from its current status to a commercially viable product, said Prof Caulfield.

For now, however, the award represents a significant endorsement of his team’s work to date.

“Winning this challenge will help to validate our solution of using the sensors in smartphones to assist people undergoing orthopaedic rehabilitation,” said Prof Caulfield

Prof Caulfield won the grand prize of over $3,000 (€2,750) because, said the six judges from major Boston healthcare organisations, his idea was practical, simple, and had the potential to reach many patients

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