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In-ear device that controls home appliances wins UK tech innovation event

A week-long care event has demonstrated how assistive technology devices are able to help patients in a living-lab setting, with an in-ear switch that could control home appliances one of the stand out successes.

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Some of the innovations displayed at the event will be accelerated through the clinical and commercial process

Healthcare professionals and technology providers were brought together to look at new prototypes for devices that make independent living easier for those with a range of disabilities.

The devices were displayed in the world’s first open assisted living laboratory where academics could observe their impact in real time, with the best ones looking to be accelerated into commercial production.

A number of innovations were displayed, with an ‘Earswitch’ prototype that could control home appliances by measuring muscle movements being selected as the event’s winner.

After previously proving that movements in the eardrum could be measured and used to trigger certain functions, primary care practitioner Dr Nick Gompertz applied this to create the device.

Connecting it to a virtual keyboard allows users to control a range of other assistive devices which could have huge impacts for stroke and motor neurone disease (MND) patients.

Discussing his invention, Dr Gompertz said: “The Mashup has helped to accelerate and widen the applications of the Earswitch prototype. During the event, we’ve used the Earswitch to control disability software which then can connect to devices throughout the National Robotarium’s assisted living lab and beyond.

“This allows a user to control multiple appliances in a home setting with their ear muscle alone. The updated Earswitch prototype can now control a single access point from which to surf the internet, control wheelchairs, operate home appliances and even play computer games.”

Researchers behind the device are now looking to combine it with other sets of biometric data to allow it to build a picture of a person’s overall health.

Another high point for the event was the introduction of Curi-O, a post-discharge robotic nursing service model for patients who are recovering in their homes after their treatment. 

This could be used to allow clinicians to perform routine checkups for a host of conditions, as well as providing support and advice through remote methods.

Heriot-Watt University student Rakin Sarder led the creation of the device, saying: “Many medical treatments require patients to follow specific recovery guidelines following their discharge. Solutions such as in-home nursing are expensive.

“Curi-O service could be used by healthcare professionals as a telehealth, telemedicine, telemonitoring and teletherapy medium, enabling them to perform routine check-ups and generally provide social, cognitive, and physical assistance through a social telepresence robot when needed.”

Another tool designed to augment virtual communication platforms and make befriending processes easier, therefore reducing isolation was also pointed out as one of the successes of the event.

The event was organised by the Heriot-Watt University-based National Robotarium in partnership with Product Forge, the Usher Institute and Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Health Innovations Ltd.

Event co-organiser Allan Lloyds, said: “Our events are all about providing hands-on opportunities for health and care professionals to work with technologists and designers on new product concepts.

“With the support of expert mentors and resources, we see accelerated results by bringing people together in this way. We’re really excited to see such fruitful collaborations emerge such as Curi-O, Hermes and the updated Earswitch.” 

Graham Watson, executive chairman of SHIL, said: “Now more than ever, innovation that accelerates improvements in patient care is a vital focus.

“Scotland and the rest of the UK has an incredible wealth of expertise and these ground-breaking events provide an opportunity to foster collaboration across the healthcare innovation ecosystem and solve real problems in the care sector.”

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