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How a gaming gadget became a Covid early warning system

Cecilia Harvey spent nearly 20 years on Wall Street, working capital markets for the likes of Accenture, Citi and HSBC. And yet it feels almost natural that her road has now led her to healthcare. Growing up, she was surrounded by generations of nurses and support workers, who streamed in and out of her childhood home in New York.

“Everybody in my family worked in a hospital – my mother, my grandmother, my grandmother's older sister, and my two aunts,” she explains. “I remember sitting at that kitchen table and watching each of them come home exhausted, and hearing the stories that they told me about the patients that they cared for, many of whom came from communities that I grew up in, where [they didn’t have] access to certain higher quality healthcare services.”

Now, she’s primed to make her own mark in the medical field as CEO of Hyve Dynamics, the sensory technology company she co-founded in 2019. The company’s health-monitoring armband, unveiled in September, offers a new way to detect symptoms of illness – an innovation with urgent implications as the world faces down the threat of coronavirus.

Constructed from thin bamboo fabric and plastic, the armband is embedded with lightweight sensors that track multiple points of wearer data in real time, including heart rate, respiration, temperature and blood oxygen levels. Worn throughout the day, it can collect comprehensive data about how a person’s vitals change over time, and wirelessly transmit this information for remote monitoring.

But what makes it more than a glorified Fitbit is that the technology can register patterns in physiological changes (an intermittent fever, for example, would register differently than a continuous one) and show how the timings of certain changes coincide. If multiple symptoms of coronavirus are detected in the early stages of infection, the individual can then be flagged for testing and isolation early, reducing their chance of spreading the illness to others.

This venture into healthcare is a drastic turn for Hyve. Until recently, the company had been prioritising sensory tech solutions for the aviation, automotive and gaming industries, building on co-founder and head of research Juan Sebastian Conde’s developments in the world of aerospace engineering.

The increasingly worrying spread of Covid-19 changed things overnight. In March 2020, after a phone call with her mother and aunt, who are still hospital workers, Harvey began looking into the symptoms of the virus. When she noticed that the virus’s key symptoms could be detected by Hyve’s technology, a pivot seemed necessary.

“The next day we released a press release not only [highlighting] what our sensor tech can do within this space, but also a call to other companies and people within government to work together on trying to tackle this,” she says.

The message seems to have been received: in September, software platform Vantiq announced it would be partnering with Hyve to further develop their remote healthcare monitoring offering.

Harvey, who has lived in the UK for the last 13 years, hopes that by equipping businesses, schools and hospitals with their armbands, Hyve can aid not only in the containment of Covid-19, but also help to lessen the widespread fear around infection. And even after the pandemic has subsided, she believes they could provide a lifeline for remote, elderly and low-income communities that struggle with access to healthcare by allowing medical professionals to accurately track their condition from afar, while alleviating the pressure on providers contending with capacity constraints.

“This pandemic has exposed some serious gaps within our healthcare services and severe inequalities in both the treatment and the wellbeing of people from different demographics,” she says. “Sensor technology can really help to bridge those gaps by providing much more equal access to basic healthcare services, and by protecting the public as a whole.”

This article was originally published by WIRED UK

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