Two years ago, a group of smartphone and washing machine engineers at Samsung Electronics wanted a breath of fresh air. So, they applied to undertake an independent project at the company’s Creativity Lab, or C-Lab, where employees are given the opportunity to translate their creative and quirky ideas into commercially viable products and solutions. The engineers wanted to develop a solution that could detect the onset of a stroke by monitoring brainwaves. Many doctors they consulted sarcastically told them, “good luck.”
“We approached neurologists, asking them whether this was feasible,” said Se-hoon Lim, the project lead. “They were dismissive, but we wanted to give it a go. Health-related wearable devices are becoming more and more complex, meaning their capabilities are growing increasingly sophisticated. The five of us wanted to make our mark in this development.”
He added, “We may be young today, but one day we’ll enter the over-40 age bracket, when stroke becomes a more pressing concern. Just look at the World Health Organization statistics. 15 million people across the world suffer from stroke each year with roughly 66% of those cases resulting in either death or permanent physical disabilities. With the ageing population in many countries, that is a serious concern.”
In January 2015, Lim and his team introduced a prototype solution, the Early Detection Sensor & Algorithm Package (EDSAP), a stroke detection solution using brainwaves. Consisted of a sensor suite and a juiced up algorithm, EDSAP allows anyone with a smartphone or tablet to monitor the electrical impulses that are brainwaves, thereby gauging the probability of an oncoming stroke. The objective is to provide early warning, so that those at risk can visit the doctor for a proper diagnosis with sufficient time to prevent the potentially tragic consequences of a stroke.
How Does EDSAP Work?
EDSAP’s sensors are placed on a headset, collecting and wirelessly transmitting brainwave data to a mobile app, where the algorithm analyzes the brainwaves and ultimately determines the likelihood of a stroke, all within a 60-second time span. Additionally, by tracking brainwaves for longer durations, EDSAP can leverage its brainwave analysis capabilities to provide additional information related to neurological health, such as stress, anxiety and sleep patterns.
Compared to other brainwave sensors in the market, which are more commonly used for device control rather than health-related purposes, EDSAP sensors are unique in a number of ways. Firstly, EDSAP sensors are able to monitor and analyze brainwaves much faster than the 15 minutes or so required for existing brainwave monitoring equipment at hospitals. Secondly, the sensors are able to scan brainwaves in comprehensive detail, largely thanks to the highly conductive rubber-like material discovered by Lim and his team. Thirdly, the sensors are easy to wear. Saline solutions no longer need to be rubbed into the hair, removing the unpleasantries that had previously been a part of brainwave scanning. More importantly, in part thanks to the rubber-like material, EDSAP sensors can be scaled down into a variety of form factors reminiscent of everyday objects. While the current prototype is in the form of a head gear, EDSAP sensors can also be pasted onto the backside of hairpins or eyeglass temples, thereby allowing users to monitor their brainwaves over longer periods of time without the outmoded appearance.
Meanwhile, the EDSAP algorithm, which translates brainwave data into stroke detection, is based on analysis of countless stroke patient brainwave data, which has been combined with a range of artificial intelligence and signal processing software. Some of the software solutions were programmed by Jangbeom Yang, the software expert in this project. They include, among others, the Peak & Slope Detection software, which allows mobile devices to conduct rapid analysis of brainwave fluctuations and movement. A number of open source software solutions were also used, including FFT and Wavelet.
“The ability to precisely measure brainwaves and provide early warning for an imminent illness using a wearable device is a highly meaningful development,” said Seung-Bong Hong, a neurologist at the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul and a medical advisor to the EDSAP project. “At Samsung Medical Center, we believe that EDSAP’s utility can be expanded and applied to other neurological health issues, such as depression. There are certainly a number of steps that remain for EDSAP, including full clinical trials. Nevertheless, I can confidently say that what these engineers have achieved merits the medical community’s attention.”
Future of EDSAP
As EDSAP undergoes further development, its utility in other areas will be assessed. One potential area of implementation, according to Lim, has been in electrocardiograms, or the recording of heart muscle activity.
“Compared to the electric pulses of a heart, brainwaves are very faint, making them far more difficult to detect,” said Lim. “EDSAP has proven it can more than handle brainwaves, and we’ve seen EDSAP’s potential role in addressing other neurological problems. We’re now also looking at what EDSAP can do with the heart. Over the next few months, we’ll get a clearer idea of how far the tentacles of EDSAP can reach. Ultimately, we hope that what we end up achieving — the end result — will make a lasting difference.”
For more information on the impact of strokes, see the WHO report at http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/cvd_atlas_15_burden_stroke.pdf?ua=1