Consider for a moment that you’re on a treadmill (even if that notion seems far-fetched, go with it for the sake of the point I’m trying to make). So you’re on this torture device for a half hour sweating, and you’re tired. You grab your smart phone, wave it over your thigh and, lo and behold, it tells you how much fluid to drink to replenish what you’ve lost.
If you don’t like the exercise example, let’s say you’re lying on the beach or by the pool with a cool drink relaxing and soaking up the sunshine. You reach for the smart phone wave it over your arm and it shows you whether the sunscreen you slapped on a few hours ago is still working.
If you think that’s pretty cool, how about I tell you that the same technology could monitor your baby’s temperature and heartbeat while she’s sleeping. Or that the ultimate vision for this sensing technology is that one day a doctor will take a minimally invasive device—if you need it—go in through your femoral artery, up into the atrium or ventricle of your heart, and deploy a thin conformal monitoring device that would give you and your doctor real-time information as to what’s happening inside of you.
None of this is farfetched at all. This particular biometric monitoring technology comes from the labs of MC10, a Cambridge, Mass., company that late last year signed a deal with sports equipment-maker Reebok to work on helmet-impact indicators and other sensing devices for professional athletes and the casual ones, like you and me.
Same technology used for different applications—that’s smart. But the innovation happened when the founders of the company conceived of taking high-performance microchips out of their rigid boxy packages and molded them to conform to the human body—like an electronic tattoo.
Rightfully, David Icke, the CEO at MC10, whom I met at a conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last fall, is inspiring a legion of supporters. He said his company wants to redefine the interface between electronics and the human body to make “humans more superhuman.” The manufacturing process that gives the chip its flexibility is both electrical and mechanical, he said.
MC10 and other innovative companies that drive transformative technologies embrace the concept of being agile and react to market needs. Much like the organizations we spoke with for this month’s cover story (“Medical Starts with ME,” page 30), which are also blending technology and medicine, MC10, said Icke, relies on the diversity and ingenuity that its employees bring to the design process.
Realizing the strength of this diversity and understanding that, for many, creativity is not a linear process keep companies inspired and innovators motivated.
Dean Kamen, for example, who is an inventor and no stranger to the development of mechanical systems for medical applications (“One-On-One” with Dean Kamen, page 22), has been revolutionizing attitudes about the engineering workforce for decades. He has kept himself inspired by a drive no less imposing than that to improve the world.
“I don’t work on a project unless I believe that it will dramatically improve life for a bunch of people,” he once boasted. The likes of Kamen understand that innovation is a driver to change, and that technology is an uncompromising tool.