Wolverton: At CES, health and fitness products tap latest trends

LAS VEGAS — As the consumer electronics industry attempts to hit on the next big thing to replace smartphones and TVs, it’s increasingly focusing on health and fitness.

On the showroom floor and at related CES events, you can find a bewildering array of devices and technologies designed to cater to these areas. Although fitness products aren’t a new category — Fitbit has been around for years after all — such products are quickly evolving beyond simple fitness bands.

I met with three different companies with interesting health-related products on Thursday. All three are trying to capitalize on new technologies and trends to get a piece of the giant health market.

Omron's Project Zero Heartvue

Omron’s Project Zero Heartvue smartwatch and wearable blood pressure monitor. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

The first company I met with was a French startup called SimforHealth, which is hoping to use virtual reality as a teaching tool for doctors, pharmacists and other people in the health care industry. The company has designed a VR scenario that puts aspiring doctors in an emergency room where they have to diagnose and quickly treat the condition of an ailing patient.

I got to test out the scenario. Donning an HTC Vive headset and using the systems motion controllers, I stepped into the emergency room, directed the nurse there to take various readings. After viewing the results and finding that the virtual patient had fluid in his lungs, I used the controllers to put a syringe in his chest to drain it.

I saved the patient, but only after dropping some equipment on the floor and squirting disinfecting solution everywhere. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon!

SimforHealth has designed a handful of such scenarios, but its plan is to create a marketplace kind of like eBay or Apple’s App Store where medical professionals can share similar their own scenarios or purchase ones created by others. The company is pitching the service as a better, more interactive way to train doctors, nurses and the like. Instead of learning about particular conditions by reading about them in books or studies, students can experience through VR what they look and feel like.

The company developed the system with University Hospital in Nice, France. It previously developed interactive 3D health scenarios that run on tablets, and those are already being used by thousands of health care professionals, mostly in France, according to the company.

While SimforHealth is hoping to tap into virtual worlds, TytoCare’s new device feels like it comes straight out of science fiction. The Israeli startup has developed something that’s reminiscent of the medical tricorder from Star Trek.

The company’s TytoHome device can serve as a stethoscope, thermometer and otoscope, the device a doctor uses to examine your ears or throat. It has a high-resolution camera that can be used to record pictures and video of your mouth and throat; microphones that can listen to your heart and lungs; and an infrared sensor that can read the temperature of your forehead without having to place something under your tongue. TytoHome collects data from all those sensors and can transfer it to your doctor via a smartphone app.

TytoHome — and the related TytoPro, targeted at health care professionals — is designed to be used by people other than doctors. A display on the scanner — which is mirrored in the smartphone app — directs users where to point the camera or place the microphone. By allowing consumers to perform exams at home or a school nurse to do such an exam in a clinic, the device might be able to save a trip to the doctor or hospital, potentially saving time and money. TytoCare, which got FDA approval for the device in November, plans to market it to consumers, employers and health care providers; the consumer version, which you can pre-order now, costs $299.

Omron, a longtime medical device maker, has a simpler idea for a new health care gadget. Its Project Zero Heartvue is a smartwatch that doubles as a blood pressure monitor. Its blood pressure cuff is encircled by the watch’s wrist band.

Heartvue, which Omron plans to sell for around $300, takes blood pressure readings and sends them to a smartphone app. From there, users can forward them on to their doctor. Like other smartwatches, it has a built-in activity tracker and will display notifications from your smartphone.

But Omron says it will last a lot longer than an Apple Watch on a single charge — seven to 10 days compared to about one. The company is marketing the device, for which it is seeking FDA approval, as the only wearable blood pressure monitor.

Photo: TytoCare CEO Dedi Gilad with his company’s TytoHome medical device, which can serve as a thermometer and stethoscope. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

 

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