The Next Frontier: Attaching Health Sensors to Smartphones

New modifiable phones allow users to create phones tailored to their unique preferences and can serve patients and the medical community to a greater extent than currently available.

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A month ago I saw a Youtube video by Phonebloks about creating modular smartphones. Phonebloks puts forth its idea that such a product could reduce waste and allow highly customizable products for smartphone users who utilize their phones for different purposes. In essence, this platform moves beyond a modifiable user interface that focuses on apps and a system with modifiable hardware to supplement those apps.

While the premise was interesting, I did not give it much thought due to the fact I could not envision any smartphone developer investing into such a product. Needless to say, I was wrong — Motorola has announced it will be creating modular smartphones with its Project Ara. Motorola’s idea is to create an endoskeleton that will provide the key components of a phone with modules that may be attached.

Such a modifiable phone would allow users to create a phone that will be tailored to their primary user preferences. For instance, someone who may like to take pictures with his or her phone could invest into a better camera module and more storage to keep the pictures.

However, I see such a development as the next step in creating a smartphone that can serve patients and the medical community to a greater extent than currently available. While many have recognized that smartphones are changing health care, it has — until this point — relied on the ingrained apps available or peripheral accessories that work with a phone.

A modular phone could, in essence, make it possible to completely remove those peripheral devices’ reliance on indirect connections and be directly incorporated into the phone itself. For example, I have created a mockup of a modular piece that could measure EKGs. Taking, for example, the currently available product AliveCor, it could be transformed into a module that could directly connect to the phone, therefore bypassing the need of an external battery source and feeding data directly into the phone itself.

The same could be done with a number of other currently available products.

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