Young innovators gather to help improve the lives of patients with respiratory disease
An immersive gaming experience to give children a taste of life with respiratory problems and discourage them from taking up smoking – that was the winning innovation from the UK’s recent BREATHE Respiratory Hackathon. The event at Imperial College London brought together more than 100 engineers, designers, doctors and patients to explore solutions to some of the problems faced daily by people with respiratory disease and find new ways of improving wellbeing.
The event was hosted by the COPD Foundation, sponsored by leading pharmaceutical company Novartis and supported by product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants, which provided one of the judges as well as a team of technology and service design experts to troubleshoot when the going got tough for the competitors.
“Our track record of success at the cutting edge of medical device development for a wide range of applications has equipped us with the expertise to tackle the toughest challenges posed by the design and creation of novel medical technology,” said Richard Hall, head of global medical technology at Cambridge Consultants. “Coupled with our skills in connected device development and digital services, it means we are uniquely placed to help guide the next generation of innovators at an event like this.”
The COPD Foundation works to improve the lives of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a condition that affects more than 250 million people worldwide. “Innovation has a crucial role to play in making treatments more effective and affordable – and hence improving the lives of patients with COPD and other respiratory disorders,” said John W Walsh, president and co-founder of the COPD Foundation.
The UK event was one of three simultaneous hackathons – similar competitions were held at the MIT Media Lab in Boston, US, and at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. Teams were given the challenge of coming up with a novel device or connected system with a focus on ‘patient-centred wellness’.
The UK’s winning innovation was the work of team Krypton, which came up with Pro-Lung Experience – a computer game controlled by a breath-operated COPD simulator, coupled with a ‘lifestyle’ board game to help explain lung health in easy-to-understand visual language. The project was aimed at helping to prevent respiratory disease by raising awareness among children of the problems it causes for sufferers – and so discouraging them from taking up smoking.
By combining ‘Internet of Things’ technology with a flow-rate sensor, and a differential airway and bi-directional valve printed during the event, team Krypton was able to control the computer game in real time – giving a tangible sense of the breathlessness that comes with everyday activities for COPD sufferers.
“The hackathon provided a valuable opportunity, through open innovation, to explore new ways in which technology can help patients suffering from respiratory disorders – and help prevent some of the problems in the first place,” said Tim Murdoch, director of digital services at Cambridge Consultants. “The winning project was a good example of how intelligent service design can play a key role in changing people’s behavior by delivering a user experience with real impact.”