As part of the postgraduate WearCare project, groups of postgraduate design students from the university were tasked with creating product concepts for a patient-centered device for health monitoring or treatment. The aim of the project was to look at how wearable technologies could benefit the NHS by providing greater control and interaction between the patient and their healthcare device.
The finished proposals were judged by a panel of Northumbria’s business partners and industry experts. The panel included Dr. Stuart English, program leader for MA Design at Northumbria University; Dr. Séamus O’Neill, CEO of The Academic Health Science Network North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC); Dr. Jon Helliwell, director of printable electronics at CPI; Richard Kirk, CEO of PolyPhotonix Ltd.; and Duncan Hill, senior scientist, also from PolyPhotonix.
The Academic Health Science Network invested £10,000 to the project to design the prototypes. The winning project developed the idea of a device that provides music therapy for autistic children to help to focus their attention. Other wearable technology concepts in the programme included a device specifically targeted at NHS staff which aims to reduce back injury and a smart-watch based app that uses video gaming technology to treat depression.
“Northumbria Design has a long history of developing impactful collaboration with industry,” said Dr. English, who set up the project. “The WearCare project is supported by a team of industrial collaborators; CPI is a world leader in printable electronics, the AHSN supports innovation throughout the NHS and PolyPhotonix Ltd is bio-photonic research company that has developed a light based therapy sleep mask that will save NHS England in excess of £1 billion a year. We are delighted to be working with these internationally renowned organisations to create new patient-centred wearable healthcare applications that empower people to manage their conditions and stay well.”
“Disruptive innovation is most common when expertise from different disciplines is brought together so we were delighted to be part of this design programme with Northumbria University,” Dr. O’Neill noted.
“The program demonstrates the importance of creative thinking and design in the development of emerging technologies such as printable electronics,” added Helliwell. “As shown by the PolyPhotonix sleep mask, printable electronics will bring substantial benefits to the medical and healthcare sector. The concepts developed in the project are very exciting and further development work will focus on how these concept ideas can be turned into real products.”
Printable electronics provides the opportunity to incorporate electronic functionality into a wide range of medical and healthcare products. Printable electronics encompass thin, flexible, conformable and lightweight electronics opening up a range of opportunities for the sector. In addition, flexible electronics can be cheaper, faster and easier to manufacture than traditional rigid circuitry.
The technology addresses the modern needs of “on-the-go” healthcare, delivering more efficient and affordable treatment with applications that are unobtrusive whilst being easier and safer to use. When this is combined with the needs of an aging population, demand for these innovative devices will only rise. Printable electronics will be adopted in a variety of forms ranging from implants, smart skin patches and RFIDs to applications in automatic drug delivery, anti-counterfeiting and smart packaging.