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17th January 2017

Artificial intelligence and sensors: our picks for the best healthcare tech at CES

The digital era’s transformation of healthcare is on the way to be as revolutionary as it has been in retail, research, and media, based on innovations showcased at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show.

Held annually in Las Vegas, CES is one of the largest trade shows, drawing 170,000 people. This year’s CES Best of Innovations list included standout medtech developments combining sensors, artificial intelligence, voice recognition software, and smartphones to make healthcare more efficient and affordable.

In-house checkups

New technology lets medical exams that once required a time-consuming, expensive trip to the doctor be done at home — even electrocardiograms. A person with abnormal heart rhythm simply attaches a sensor to a smartphone and emails the results to a doctor. Voice notes can be added to the reading, such as “I’m finding it hard to breathe,” or, “I drank four cups of coffee this morning.”

Eye exams, too, can be do-it-yourself. The user attaches a mini-scope to a smartphone, does the exam and emails the results to an ophthalmologist to order new glasses.

The wearables trend continues to expand, and this year’s collection included notable developments. Diabetics and pre-diabetics will cheer the new wristband that monitors blood glucose without drawing blood.

Privacy for nursing moms

One of the top attention-getters at CES was a technology that could change the lives of nursing mothers. Even with no less an influencer than Pope Francis encouraging public breastfeeding, challenges remain for mothers who use breast pumps to collect milk. At work, public pumping might well skew a carefully cultivated professional image. But where to pump? Bathroom? Desk? Storage closet?

A group of parents and inventors thought hard about the problem and came up with a wearable, hands-free breast pump – a pair, actually. The pumps look like bra pads and fit discreetly under a bra. The pumps silently fill bags inside the pads. A smartphone app with a wireless link indicates when the bags are full.

Extending capabilities for disabled

Tech is becoming more sophisticated for individuals with vision and hearing problems.

A new app uses artificial intelligence to recognize thousands of items, helping the visually impaired explore their environment.

New hearing aids serve a double function as wireless stereo headphones, with Internet connectivity and the ability to stream calls, music and other audio directly from a smartphone.

CES also gave “Best of Innovation” status to an improved eye-tracking computer screen for people who cannot use their arms to type. Users user direct their gaze to activate commands.

Artificial intelligence’s bedside manner

By some accounts, the star of the CES show was Alexa, a voice-activated digital assistant that links to a host of databases and vendors. When I visited a neighboring family after Christmas, they proudly pointed to a small cylindrical device on a shelf. “Alexa, tell me a joke. Alexa, what is the temperature outside?” they demanded, continuing with progressively more outrageous queries. Alexa, trained to respond to the voices of one or two adult owners, answered brightly and promptly.

Alexa can dim the lights, order pizza, and tell you what movies are playing nearby. With more apps on the way, the technology could be quite helpful to invalids and people recovering from surgery.

Medtech’s transformative effect on health-care could hardly have been imagined a mere 20 years ago. The CES show hinted that the revolution is just beginning.

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