Exploring the Idea Challenge Topics: Health & Wellbeing and Cyber-Physical Systems

By David Knight |

For more coverage of the Idea Challenge, click here.

Eight cities, eight topics. The Idea Challenge is a truly European competition for entrepreneurs and people with big ideas. But why these topics? What is it about these areas of technology that the organisers, EIT ICT Labs, find interesting? What trends and challenges do these topics contain?

We’re taking a closer look at each of the eight topics, which themselves are split into two batches. This spring, it’s the turn of Helsinki, Rennes, Eindhoven and Munich; today we will consider the first two.

Eindhoven: Health and Wellbeing

We’re not talking about going to the doctor here – health and wellbeing, to put it simply, is about preventing you from needing to seek medical help in the first place. And what’s more, it’s big business nowadays. After all, looking after yourself is something every single one of us should be doing.

So it makes perfect sense for the EIT ICT Labs Idea Challenge to look for innovative new ideas in the health and wellbeing space. Jean Glissen, the line manager for the space, emphasized the fact that it is not about healthcare per se, as a lot of people might think, but about lifestyle, particularly living a healthy lifestyle at an older age.

He said: “The aim of health and wellbeing is to keep people physically and mentally active in a social context, not in isolation. Health and wellbeing is about lifestyle: Preventing people from going to homes for the elderly earlier than they want; supporting people in participating longer in the labour process; supporting them in living independently for longer. The focus is better placed on prevention. The biggest challenge is to convince people to use sensors and services to avoid problems that they might face later.”

Part of the solution is to demonstrate how new products in health and wellbeing can directly make people’s lives better. Tinnitracks is a startup which provides tailored therapy for people with tinnitus, a condition where sufferers perceive a constant ringing sound in their ears where no such sound exists. It’s caused by hyperactive nerve cells in the brain’s auditory centre, and each sufferer will have a specific frequency for his or her ringing noise. Tinnitracks takes this frequency and filters it out of a user’s favourite music. By listening to this filtered music regularly, the hyperactivity which causes the tinnitus can be reduced.

Jörg Land is a co-founder of Tinnitracks, and he said is convinced that developments in the health and wellbeing space can have a big impact on people’s everyday lives: “Apps will help to conduct treatment, apps will collect more health-related data and help to monitor as well as to analyse treatments constantly. I think the impact will also be huge for science to understand more about diseases. Diagnostics might benefit a lot from the knowledge IT teams have gained collecting, storing and analysing very fast all the web data.”

Tinnitracks was given a boost by winning the CDTM Idea Challenge (which was supported by EIT) in 2012, something which Jörg describes as “the foundation for all the awards and sponsorships we received for Tinnitracks afterwards.” And he also sees a great deal of potential for health and wellbeing ideas in the latest challenge, mainly in two areas: data and empowerment.

“It is a lot about how to get more out of all the available and newly tracked (due to the quantified self movement) data,” Jörg added. “On the other side, patients are getting more and more empowered by accessing and understanding their health conditions.”

Alongside this there are many productivity solutions, for example for doctors, and new technologies like Tinnitracks.

“On top of this there are also many hardware driven ideas entering the market. Look at kinsa: give away for almost nothing a clinical thermometer that can be attached to the iPhone jack and make a business out of the collected data.”

Data will be used much more for diagnosis as well as therapy, Jörg believes, and digital services will enhance the compliance and comfort of treatments. But there are many challenges facing teams working on innovative ideas in this space. Take, for example, Tinnitracks, which is classified as a medical device. That means there is no ‘fake it till you make it’ or quick fixes – website aside. Health professionals like doctors and pharmacists are not used to such a fast-changing environment so things take longer than might usually be expected in ICT.

“In my opinion,” said Jörg, “you need a very disciplined IT team and the best business development team you can get.”

Munich: Cyber-Physical Spaces

Marko Turpeinen, a node director for EIT ICT Labs, explains cyber-physical systems (CBS) in perhaps the simplest way: “We are really looking at the phase where the physical world and the digital world are merging.”

And Dr. Holger Pfeifer, EIT’s CBS action line leader, illustrates how such systems can be found all around us: “We all know electronic control functions like in cars where we have anti-locking systems for braking and other driving assistant functions. Another example would be smart manufacturing where machines in the production line communicate with components or each other in order to optimise the production process.”

If your idea is something data related, gathering data from censor deployments or some application services that could reflect into the physical world, they want you to apply in Munich.

Reinhard Nowak is co-founder and CEO at LineMetrics, a tool for industrial companies to help them monitor and analyse different sensor and condition data from their machines or facilities thus allowing them to optimise their production output, availability, quality or energy consumption.

He and his fellow founders were one of the two winners in EIT’s Startup Activation idea contest last year and Reinhard said it was a valuable experience to validate their idea in front of an international jury of experts: “But the publicity, PR and the extended network that followed were even more important and helped us to extend our range in the market. Of course the prize money was great too!”

So what of cyber-physical systems? “In my opinion it is the bridge between the real world and IT. So we are talking about Internet of Things to acquire lots of real world data, machine-to-machine communication to transfer the data and a cloud-based platform which collects and processes the data to provide usage to the customer.”

As for trends, Reinhard added that CBS essentially equates to the basics under the bonnet needed to provide a great customer experience. Hardware, communication and cloud-services are combined to one solution.

“Speaking about LineMetrics, our customers just have to power up our datalogging hardware, connect a sensor to the device or enable a wireless sensor, and they can start analysing sensor data or KPIs in the cloud platform in just a couple of minutes. No complex software installation, no need to deal with network settings or telecom providers (SIM cards), nothing to program, no interfaces between software the customers have to deal with.”

Reinhard believes that the near future will see a lot of new solutions and services based on cyber physical systems and will combine trends like Internet of things, mobile communications, cloud services, big data (and analytics), usability and simplicity.

“They will pop up in different areas of our life and I’m sure that these solutions have to power to disrupt complete markets,” he said.

Those with the right kind of idea still face the challenge of building a team of experts which can design hardware, develop firmware, deal with robust communication over an unstable network like mobil and more. But the highly innovative nature of the space means there is huge potential in the market.

Reinhard added: “I really see cyber physical systems as a huge chance for startups to take the lead against big companies. … In my opinion CBS is the fundamental of the whole new age of smart products and solutions which will make everyone’s life better.”

To apply for the Idea Challenge, click here. You can check out our look at Smart Spaces and Future Cloud here.