Gates Foundation, a US-based charitable organisation founded by Bill Gates and dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals around the world, set the design firm Fuseproject a brief to create a diagnostic healthcare device for the developing world. Its solution, Kernel, helps users monitor their health and diagnose for chronic illnesses, particularly malaria.

Since the formation of the Gates Foundation in 1997, Bill Gates has come to know the many challenges and difficulties that those living in the developing world face every day. So he drew up a wish list of four product ideas that he thought would make a drastic improvement to life in these areas. The US magazine Wired then briefed four product design firms to turn these ideas into prototypes.

The idea that was handed to Yves Behar and his team at San Francisco design firm Fuseproject was to create a diagnostic accessory that offers cloud-based healthcare. The device needed to diagnose and provide treatment to a patient when a healthcare practitioner is not in the immediate vicinity.

“In many regions, the nearest doctor is days away by foot, making preventative care impossible,” says Behar. “Kernel, a Bluetooth-connected diagnostic amulet, skirts the problem. It’s embedded with medical tests, taps doctors for remote health consultations, and lets patients continuously monitor their health.”

The device features a four quadrant bio-sensing absorbent pad, which allows users to test their blood (red), saliva (blue), urine (yellow) and breath (green). When the pad has absorbed the bio samples, it transmits the test results to a mobile app via Bluetooth, allowing patients to be continuously monitored remotely via the cloud. Nurses and doctors can view these results and then send reminders to the patient via the device, including medicine intake and doctors’ visits.

“Designed to work with a range of standard handsets and smart phones, test results are transmitted via Bluetooth to a mobile app, allowing patients to be continuously monitored remotely via the cloud, with reminders such as medicine intake or doctor’s visits,” Behar says.

As well as being easy to use, Kernel requires no maintenance from the user because when the device slides shut, a built-in sterilising surface cleans the sampling pad. The only thing the user needs to remember to do is charge the device every two weeks.

Although Kernel is a concept, the technology is currently available but the problem is that the sensors aren’t cheap or robust enough yet for such a wearable device. However, Fuseproject believes they will be in 5 to 10 years.

“While the technology to capture and prepare biological samples in a single device repeatedly is still several years away, we believe this model of distributed testing can leverage the best elements of medical expertise and cloud connectivity to better care for the world,” adds Behar.

The other four product design firms involved in this project include Artefact, New Deal Design and Frog. 

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