IoT & Embedded Technology Blog

The Advent of Accelerometers in Home Medical Devices

While attending ESC Boston 2011, a number of the exhibit booths featured demonstrations utilizing embedded accelerometers.  Although automotive companies have used accelerometers for years to measure vehicle performance, and industrial companies have used them to monitor vibration in manufacturing equipment, the emphasis at this week’s event seemed to be on their increasing use in medical devices. 

A range of wearable and implantable devices are already on the market or in various testing phases ahead of broad introduction.  Medtronic’s RestoreSensor Neurostimulator represents one such device incorporating embedded accelerometers.  The device is used to treat chronic pain by sending electrical signals to the epidural spinal region, and modulates the reception of pain signals from the back or limbs.  It should be noted that these signals do not eliminate the pain, but rather provide a tingling sensation that dulls the feeling of pain (similar to itching a mosquito bite). 

Traditionally, the patient had to adjust these devices manually.  Often, patients with chronic pain will experience varying degrees of pain depending on their posture (reclining versus standing) and thus would have to frequently adjust the device.  However, because of the incorporation of embedded accelerometer technology, the device can automatically sense the posture of the patient and adjust the pain modulating signals accordingly.  The neurostimulator is typically implanted under the skin, typically in the abdomen.  Thus, the patient does not have to attach or “wear” the device in the usual sense.

VDC believes that the medical market for embedded devices is already sizable, and growing. Medtronic’s neuromodulation segment generated $1.59 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2011.  This suggests the strong potential for these devices, particularly as costs for such medical technologies decrease over time.  VDC feels that the trends of integration, scalability, and reduced power consumption will further drive the innovation in the embedded medical device market.