If I had been anywhere else, I would have been surprised to see so many people wearing Google Glass. While Glass has kinda disappeared as a must-have accessory for fanboys and fangirls, folks interested in exploring new frontiers in health care wearables are building software to enable Glass to do cool new things. And a whole lot of those folks were at Google’s Cambridge digs last week for the second annual wearables challenge pitch-off, organized by Medstro.

Before the formal pitches were presented, some of the innovations (including some that were not finalists) were on display.

Most of the projects using Glass looked like they were at proof-of-concept stage, and a number of them will benefit from development of purpose-built hardware. Nevertheless, despite my initial skepticism, there were some intriguing demos. Two Glass examples: First, Brain Power, which provides a suite of autism-related products on the Glass platform designed to help young people with autism become better attuned to social cues and more. Second, Alex Hwang and colleagues from the Mass Eye and Ear’s Schepens Eye Research Institute, who demonstrated an impressive image-processing system that could enable individuals with severely limited vision to have greater independence and mobility.

Other interesting items on display included an electric shock aversion therapy wristband and necklace intended to extinguish bad habits (Pavlok), and Muse – an EEG headband linked to a biofeedback app that made rain in the woods sound heavier as my attention wandered, and made the rain slow and stop, so that I could hear birds singing, as I focused on my own breathing and shut out the hundreds of attendees at the event. (A friend of mine tried the Muse and decided to deliberately think about her to-do list instead of focusing on breathing, and also heard birds singing. She questioned the utility of the device; I suggested that perhaps it picked up on her equanimity in the face of an impossible to-do list. As they say, further study may be needed.)

The pitches from the evening are summarized in a Medstro/Med Tech Boston post on the Wearables in Healthcare Pilot Challenge. As is often the case at events like this, some pitches were compelling, and some reflected an individual’s attempt to solve a problem brought to the fore through personal experience, but without projecting a clear sense that there is a broad demand for the product or a viable business model, or in some cases without acknowledging the existing competition in their chosen space. Since successful innovators wear their failures as badges of honor, trying is certainly an honorable pursuit.

The crowd favorite was a medication adherence solution. The judges awarded the grand prize to an orthopedic rehabilitation innovation (Brian Caulfield’s 4G-PT) offering gamification and real-time feedback on rehabilitation therapy through use of wearables.¬† Another crowd favorite was Bill Younker‘s project focused on tracking and treating concussions. These last two resonated with me the most; they seemed tied directly to problems that have human and system costs attached to them and they were focused on solving specific problems that I’ve seen up close¬† — There I go, falling into the trap of bias in favor of solutions designed to address problems I’ve been exposed to personally.

All pundits agree that wearables are revolutionizing health care and that the wearables market is poised for growth. In other words, we are definitely still at the peak of inflated expectations on the Gartner hype cycle. Some of these things will turn out to be really useful. Here’s hoping the innovators at the challenge can make that happen sooner rather than later.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

Photo credit: Flickr CC Ted Eytan