Wear this device to monitor the heart

Nanyang Polytechnic students (from far left) Sean Wong, Chew Zhi Qi and Lian Min with their Smart StethoScope at the Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle last month. Home users can monitor their hearts for abnormal sounds just by wearing the
Nanyang Polytechnic students (from left) Sean Wong, Chew Zhi Qi and Lian Min with their Smart StethoScope at the Microsoft Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle last month. Home users can monitor their hearts for abnormal sounds just by wearing the device for about five minutes a day.ST PHOTO: YUEN SIN

It fits almost perfectly into the palm of an adult hand, and could even be mistaken for a plastic toy at first glance.

But the small size of the compact Smart StethoScope (S3), a device invented by three students from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), belies its potential.

The wearable device can help users with cardiovascular diseases monitor their hearts for abnormal sounds at home without any medical knowledge or training. This could save the lives of patients whose heart conditions might not have been detected during medical appointments.

The invention by Mr Chew Zhi Qi, 21, a graduate in telematics (which includes telecommunications and informatics) and media technology; cyber security and forensics student Sean Wong, 19; and biomedical engineering graduate Lian Min, 20, has taken them places.

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After beating 66 entries to take the top spot at the Microsoft Imagine Cup Singapore Finals in April, the team pitted their project against inventions by 53 other teams from around the world at this year's Imagine Cup World Finals, which was held last month at Microsoft's headquarters in Seattle in the United States.

They were among 32 teams to make it to the quarter-final.

Mr Wong, who made sure that the device could secure patient data, said the S3 addresses a gap in the market when it comes to medical devices for heart patients.

NO EXPERTISE NEEDED WITH S3

What doctors ultimately want is a device that can collect data on heart sounds remotely. But the problem has been that the patient needs to have the technical expertise to use such devices.

MR SEAN WONG, one of the three students from Nanyang Polytechnic who invented the Smart StethoScope or S3.

CATALYST FOR IMPROVEMENT

I'd consider technology development in Singapore a bit slow compared to the US or Japan. Such competitions can allow us to catch up.

MR ZANE CHUA, an Imagine Cup alumnus and final-year computer science student, on how such competitions motivate students to improve their skills.

  • How Imagine Cup made a difference

    When Mr Tan Chun Siong was an IT student at Singapore Polytechnic in 2009, he knew little about what careers were on offer in the industry, and was not even aware his current role at Microsoft existed.

    As a senior technical evangelist, the 33-year-old manages relationships with academia and students for the technology company, and also handles partnerships with businesses here.

    His experience as a participant in the Singapore edition of the Imagine Cup in 2009 and involvement in the Microsoft Student Partners programme "opened up (his) view of what you can be in the IT industry" beyond being a programmer.

    Mr Satrughan Kumar Singh, 27, who is building a start-up to tackle problems in managing IT infrastructure, said joining the contest in 2010 and 2011 taught him to "build the right thing and how to sell what I built".

    Imagine Cup alumnus Zane Chua, 24, a final-year computer science student at the Singapore Institute of Technology, said competitions like this can motivate students to improve their skills. "I'd consider technology development in Singapore a bit slow compared to the US or Japan. Such competitions can allow us to catch up."

    Yuen Sin

     

"What doctors ultimately want is a device that can collect data on heart sounds remotely," he said.

"But the problem has been that the patient needs to have the technical expertise to use such devices, such as knowing the exact location to put the device in order to detect abnormal sounds."

The S3 does away with the need for such medical knowledge. It can collect data on heart sounds as well as the electrical activity of the heart. The data is then fed into a machine learning model on a cloud server that will process it and flag abnormal heart sounds.

Users just have to wear the device for about five minutes every day to get data on their heart recorded.

In June, the team obtained a provisional patent for the device, developed in collaboration with the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) and Web Biotechnology, a digital health company. Each piece costs about $30 to produce.

They are hoping to first target medical facilities as a market for the product, so doctors will be able to prescribe the S3 as a device for patients to use to monitor their health.

Internal trials at NYP with a group of about 30 have been completed. The team is looking to start further trials at NHCS that could involve up to 100 participants.

Mr Chew said their Imagine Cup experience taught them valuable entrepreneurship skills.

"We had to present our idea like a start-up, and market it to someone who would invest in it. It's something that we usually don't learn that much about in class."

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Wear this device to monitor the heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe