By Henry Tirri
Henry Tirri is the Nokia Executive Vice President and CTO.
As the technologies enabling the mobile computing revolution spread beyond smartphones, sensors and data analytics increasingly have the ability to unlock secrets of our health. A massive force of this revolution is that by using sensors, mobile health will become available, visible, and usable to people everywhere. The second competition of the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE is shaping up to prove this and push the edges of innovation even further.
The first flames of innovation are already burning. Early consumer devices such as smart watches and tracking bracelets are the beginning of capturing data and obtaining insights to drive better dietary habits and improve exercise regimens. These same technologies can have an even more profound impact for those who lack access to advanced, or even basic, healthcare due to poor infrastructure or limited resources.
To have the largest effect, it's vital that we continue the development of these technologies with both fitness and fundamental health in mind. The dual impetus will lead to better, more useful products on the consumer side. It will also enable life-saving technologies to scale more quickly and make use of the efficiency and reliability of the mobile networks and computing infrastructure.
A great potential for mobile computing is the possibility it offers for individuals to surpass limitations imposed by their local conditions, such as lack of roads or traditional communications infrastructure, or political or social conflicts.
Imagine one day being able to deliver the benefits of a fully staffed healthcare facility with unlimited resources and top of the line diagnostic equipment, entirely though a device that's totally portable and requires very little power to run.
The teams competing in the two Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE competitions are helping us take the first steps towards that reality. As we saw in the results from round one, we can already achieve real results, and there's even more we can accomplish in the coming months and years.
That's why we're excited to see what new ideas and innovative thinking come out of the second competition. We encourage all inventors, engineers and others who care passionately about health and technology, in all parts of the world, to enter. By working together, we have the chance to radically improve people's lives across the globe. The only limits on the possibilities are those who choose to accept.
By Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.
A common excuse that entrepreneurs make for not being able to innovate is the lack of venture capital in their region. They argue that because investors are not ready to take a risk, they can't succeed. Policy makers all over the world make the same excuse.
Access to venture capital may have been a problem as recently as a decade ago, but is no longer an inhibitor. The cost of developing world-changing startups has dropped dramatically. With the exponential advances in technologies such as computing, storage, and sensors, entrepreneurs can do what only governments and big research labs could do before: solve big problems.
When Google was founded in 1998, for example, the DEC AlphaServer 8400, a minicomputer with the same processing power the iPad enjoys today, cost close to $1 million. Storage necessitated installing a server farm and rack upon rack of hard disks. It cost millions of dollars to start a technology company. Today, anyone can buy computing power and storage for practically nothing from companies such as Amazon and Google. The iPhone 5S is more powerful than the Cray supercomputers of yesteryear--which the U.S. placed tight export restrictions on. Today we carry supercomputers in our pockets and use them to check e-mail and make phone calls every now and then.
It cost more than a billion dollars to sequence a full human genome a decade ago. It costs less than three thousand dollars to do now. Soon it will cost less than a cup of coffee. Genome data are available from millions of people already; soon this will be in the billions. Anyone anywhere can now write computer code that compares one person's DNA with another; learn what diseases people with similar genes have had; and analyze the correspondences between genomes and the effectiveness with which different medications or other interventions have treated a given disease.
The same advances are happening with sensor-based devices. Sensors such as those in our iPhones cost tens of thousands of dollars a few years ago but now cost practically nothing. They are allowing us to build devices to monitor our health--so that we can prevent disease and dramatically reduce health-care costs. Entrepreneurs are building iPhone apps that act like medical assistants and detect disease; smart pills that we swallow in order to monitor our internals; and body sensors that monitor heart, brain, and body activity. Sensors are also being used to monitor soil humidity, pressure in oil pipelines, and traffic patterns.
One device that I recently tested is by Alivecor. The prototype that Alivecor gave me worked with India's $40 Aakash tablet. It provides the same information as expensive EKG machines do, and the data can be uploaded to the cloud and analyzed by software.
An entrepreneur I know in Chile also built a water sanitization system that can help reduce the incidence of disease caused by waterborne viruses in the developing world as well as in the developed world. Alfredo Zolezzi's $500 Plasma Water Sanitation System does what even the most expensive water sanitization systems don't--kills 100% of the bacteria and viruses in water. This device can help save the millions of lives that are lost because of unsanitary water. It could also earn billions in revenue. Zolezzi built this with a small team in Chile--with no venture capital.
Students I have mentored at Singularity University also came up with some amazing advances. Here are some examples of what they are building--without venture capital.(You can watch videos of from these students here.)
Matternet. One team built a drone-based transportation system that can deliver medicine, food, goods, and supplies to wherever they are needed. This is particularly applicable to parts of Africa, where roads either don't exist or get washed away. (Watch this TED Talk to learn more.)
MirOculus. Another team designed and tested a device and method that detect cancer at an early stage, quickly and at low cost, by using microRNA fingerprinting to screen for multiple types of cancer in a single blood test. This paves the way toward a new era in which microRNAs serve as cancer biomarkers.
Lifestock. What if we could "3D print" real meat, slaughter-free, to feed the 21st century, one team asked. The team prototyped a new method for synthetically producing meat that cost 1/40 of current culture methods.
BluBox. Imagine of you could use discarded DVD players to do blood tests and the results were instant. That is what this team did--build a $100 lab on a DVD player. Anyone will be able to do complex tests at home using these devices when they become commercially available.
So there are no more excuses. All it takes to build an innovation ecosystem is determined entrepreneurs, experienced and helpful mentors, and a government and society that encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Many regions can provide these ingredients.
Image credit: Shutterstock
This material published courtesy of Singularity University.