Georgia Tech engineers are looking beyond redesigning medical devices that are used in hospitals and toward developing innovative ways to bring doctors and therapists into the home. Apps like iEAT, which helped Hudson Day transition from a feeding tube to real food, were designed for the clinic, but researchers hope to have a second phase of development for a version that can be used in the home.
“I was extremely lucky in that I had family in the Atlanta area to help with travel, but not everyone can afford to travel and take the time off of work,” said Melinda Day, Hudson’s mother. “To have an app like iEAT and to able to do the feeding program in your home is incredible.”
To help create and commercialize new pediatric devices, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Virginia Commonwealth University have formed the Atlantic Pediatric Device Consortium (APDC). Funded by the FDA, APDC provides a national platform to translate ideas through its product development pathway all the way to commercialization.
One of the first projects from the Atlantic Pediatric Device Consortium is helping parents take the guesswork out of a common nighttime emergency — the ear infection. The device, called CellScope Oto, combines an app with a smartphone attachment that uses the phone’s light source and camera as an otoscope, which is a medical device used to look into the ears.
CellScope Oto is now available to parents in California, with plans to expand to other markets soon. Parents who have the CellScope Oto can call the CellScope Oto service to alert a physician if they suspect their child has an ear infection. The app will then guide them through an actual ear exam in the home, after which the on-call physician will contact the parent with a diagnosis. The goal for CellScope Oto’s developers is to improve quality of life for families while reducing health care expenditures.
“Ear infections are often really bad at night. What we’re trying to do with this system is to prevent unneeded emergency room visits,” said Dr. Wilbur Lam, an assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, who is leading the development of the project.
One important issue in a child’s social and communication development is the need for parents and caregivers to talk to children from birth, said Dr. Jennifer Stapel-Wax, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine.
The national Talk With Me Baby campaign is designed to train nurses to coach parents to talk to their babies in the first year of life because language builds brain development. To extend the reach of the program, Stapel-Wax and her partners teamed up with Georgia Tech engineers to create an app that encourages parents to talk to their children.
The app is meant to bridge the gap between pediatric visits for parents. The app will push notifications to parents about their baby’s development, such as milestones to watch for between birth and 12 months, activities to encourage language development, and videos to model language nutrition for babies.
“The app will give families easy access to this information, because it’s not always easy to find,” said Stapel-Wax. “The app will push it to them.”
The Talk With Me Baby app is expected to be available this summer for both iPhone and Android devices.
As children get older, they need to be able to use apps themselves, but kids with disabilities often have difficulty using popular tablet devices. When electrical and computer engineering professor Ayanna Howard saw this problem, she launched Zyrobotics, which develops mobile-accessible technologies for children with cerebral palsy, autism, and other challenges.
“We focus on designing technology that all kids enjoy, and that happens to be accessible, so children with special needs don’t feel excluded,” Howard said.
At the beginning of 2015, Zyrobotics began distribution of TabAccess, a Bluetooth switch interface that enables wireless access to iPad and Android tablets for children with special needs. The technology has been distributed to clinics and special education classrooms. TabAccess has a universal interface with three inputs so users can plug and play any sensor device — such as a button, joystick, or a force sensor — which allows for simulation of the swiping, touching, and pinching commonly used to control tablets.
“TabAccess is the interface to any device that a child might already be using,” said Howard. “It’s more universal to the wider needs of the target demographic.”