Detecting Stillbirths With Smart Sensors

Enduring a stillbirth can be a traumatising and painful experience for parents. In 2015, there were 2.6 million stillbirths globally, with an average of 7,178 deaths per day. Most of these stillbirths take place in under-developed or developing nations, and due to a significant delay in reporting abnormalities in pregnancy parameters and milestones.

The window for detection of stillbirths specifically is narrow, in most cases 24 hours. Unless there is a convenient and accurate way to monitor foetal movements and possible distress, it becomes challenging to treat the condition.

This was the main source of inspiration for Shivi Kapil, who is using principles of design and technology to mitigate the occurrence of stillbirths. During her stint at NID while pursuing a master’s degree in User Experience Design, Shivi designed an array of solutions including a mobile app for working mothers to manage time better, health check-up services for home makers and such. In 2015, she was chosen as to be part of SIIP – Social Innovation Immersion Program by BIRAC, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, where she had to address a specific maternal and child care challenge. After extensive research and travel to India’s far-flung, remote areas, Shivi realized how shockingly common stillbirths were. This was a particularly pertinent issue in rural areas where women lacked access to basic healthcare facilities.

Shivi devised a solution that could make it easy for women to test themselves during their pregnancy, and prevent the occurrence of stillbirths altogether. She founded her startup Empathy Design Labs at Villgro under BIRAC – SIIP fellowship program, where she and her team developed a device called KRIYA – a smart, non-invasive, wearable pregnancy monitor. The smart IoT-embedded product monitors foetal and maternal parameters. The data is then analyzed by a proprietary algorithm, based on which alerts are sent to an app about the health of the mother and baby. If any anomaly is detected, KRIYA sends an alert prompting the patient to seek help from the nearest hospital. In the case of a possible stillbirth, KRIYA can detect abnormalities and send an update atleast 24 hours prior.

This revolutionary piece of technology can be used anywhere and can save millions of lives. Shivi presented her solution to the Canada India Accelerator Boot Camp in Ottawa, Canada where medical experts stated that such a product has a wide application in North America, where more and more families prefer the comfort of their homes for childbirth. A device like KRIYA, which can provide instant alerts from anywhere, completes the circle of comprehensive at-home care solutions. Specifically with stillbirths, early detection can save lives of millions, and prevent needless trauma to mothers as well.

Currently, the product is undergoing pilot testing at Bangalore’s St John’s Hospital, and Shivi says they will be launching similar pilot programmes in other hospitals shortly.

In addition to being a high-impact healthcare innovation, Empathy Design Labs is one of the early drivers of co-creation as well. They work extensively with doctors, researchers, engineers, pregnant women and mothers, to develop precise, human-centric solutions to mitigate the occurrence of stillbirths.

Empathy Design Labs has won the NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum Award 2018 – a platform that fosters the development of technology solutions with a strong social impact quotient. They are currently incubated at the NASSCOM Center of Excellence IoT Bangalore, where they are developing their product and forging key industry ties for better reach. Eventually, they plan on partnering with major hospital chains like Fortis, Apollo, and specialist maternal & childcare hospitals like Cloud Nine and Motherhood. In addition, Empathy Design Labs is also seeking funds from the government and investors.

Global Innovations in Smart Wearables For Pregnant Women

The unique but effective combination of industrial design, manufacturing and medicine is gaining popularity overseas as well.

The SmartFabric Belly Band is one such device intended to monitor fetal heart rate and uterine contractions. It is being developed by  Genevieve Dion, Director of the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab and Professor of Fashion Design at Drexel University, Tim Kurzweg, a Drexel associate professor in electrical and computer engineering and Dr. Owen Montgomery, chairman of obstetrics and gynaecology and Drexel University College of Medicine and the principal investigator.

The smart fabric technology works as an antennae, contains a radio frequency identification tag (RFID) using inductive coupling to transmit signals to a reader that can also be picked up by a portable ultrasound. When contractions take place, the fabric stretches and the RFID reader can detect the changing ultrasound signals. This band is comfortable enough to be worn, and has high levels of accuracy as well.

The Owlet Band, made by Owlet Baby Care, is a fabric band that houses specialised sensors and can be strapped on a pregnant woman’s belly to track foetal heart beats and kick counts. This data is transmitted to an app that the parents can monitor. The product has won two big CES awards – Wearable Technology & Tech to Change The World.

Health tech companies stand at an interesting juncture now, where there are immense possibilities in the wearables industry by combining human design sensibilities with technology to provide effective solutions.

The 5th Lifesciences & Healthcare Innovation Forum (LHIF) will discuss Digital Propulsion of Universal Healthcare. The event will be held on April 30, 2019 at Shangri-La Eros Hotel, New Delhi. 

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