Irish sensor research alliance aims to tap into €17bn global health market

28 Jun 2013

Regina Moran, CEO, Fujitsu Ireland; Richard Bruton, TD, Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation; and Tatsuo Tomita, president, Fujitsu Laboratories, pictured in Dublin a few weeks ago. Image credit: Conor McCabe Photography

In yet another academic-industry research alliance to emerge in Ireland in recent days, three Irish research groups are set to join forces with the ICT player Fujitsu to work on developing a wearable sensor-based health assessment tool that could have the potential to one day help prevent falls in the elderly and gain a better understanding of chronic lung disease.

One of the main aims of the KIDUKU project, which will run for three years, is to develop new technologies to help treat the world’s ageing population.

While the exact funding in the project has not been disclosed, industry sources estimate that the Fujitsu investment is close to €3m.

The three research groups that will be involved in KIDUKI include CASALA, which is based at Dundalk Institute of Technology. From its Dundalk base, the group has developed a highly sensed living lab. The CLARITY research group at Dublin City University (DCU) is also involved. The DCU group is pioneering research in the analysis of contextual audio and visual data. The third group is TRIL from University College Dublin. This group specialises in the application of sensory technology within medical environments.

Once developed, the researchers believe that these wearable healthcare sensors will be able to monitor biological, physical and social aspects of a patient’s environment, in a home or community setting.

Improving patient care through ICT

The ultimate goal of this health-tech innovation will be to empower healthcare professionals to detect the early onset of disease, prescribe appropriate treatment regimes and drive down costs, Fujitsu hasconfirmed.

The multidisciplinary team will be complemented by lrish medical consultants who are interacting at the coalface with patients. These advisers will include Dr Dermot Power, a gerontologist at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital.

“With an ageing population right across the world, there is a significant requirement to utilise ICT to enable patients to be cared for remotely,” Power said.

Healthcare technology

The project will also seek to maximise the benefits of remote healthcare technology by improving communication among all parties involved in care of the elderly, including elderly patients, family members, primary care providers, and healthcare professionals.

“The overall aim of this research is to enhance the care and empowerment of those living with a range of health conditions through the effective use of technology,” said Regina Moran, CEO of Fujitsu Ireland.

“By working with medical experts and the three research organisations we will be creating a unique business opportunity in a market area that is estimated to have a worldwide value of US$17bn by 2017,” she said.

Developing R&D synergies

Fujitsu Laboratories’ president Tatsuo Tomita, who was in Dublin a few weeks ago, said that the collaboration and team involved in KIDUKU is quite exceptional in its breadth and the range of specialty areas involved.

“By bringing together the respective technologies and knowledge of each research institution, including Fujitsu Laboratories, I anticipate that we can generate substantial synergies. My hope is that, through this project, we will be able to make progress in resolving the issues we currently face worldwide on account of our aging society,” he said.

IDA Ireland CEO Barry O’Leary believes that the Fujitsu-academic collaboration will significantly add to Ireland’s strong track record as a location for R&D investment in both the ICT and life science sectors.

“The technologies developed as result of this investment will revolutionise the delivery of healthcare for the elderly population worldwide,” he said.

The project will start this month and is set to run for three years.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic