Wear it, share it, proof it

It’s been called the next big revolution in healthcare, projected to explode into a multibillion dollar market over the next few years: wearable health technologies, or wearables. Google recently pioneered contact lenses that measure the glucose levels in tears, to name an example. At the Medical Delta 2015 ‘Proof It!’ contest (aptly subtitled ‘Are you the next HealthTech genius?’), a new concept in wearables won the 5000 euro first prize.
– written for the Medical Delta newsletter

User in charge

Diderik van Wingerden, co-founder and CEO of Rotterdam-based company Totem was the proud recipient of the award. What sets Totem apart in the booming world of wearables? “A key aspect of the wearables revolution is that of privacy: which health data are gathered, where are they stored and who has access to them? We take a radical approach: our Totem Open Health Sensor combines an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a temperature sensor, all storing the registered data locally, on the device itself. In this way, we put the user fully in charge of who gets them and when. Uploading or sharing of data only happens if users do so themselves.” At the same time, Totem allows anyone to ‘steal’ their technology and develop new ways to use it. “We believe in open innovation. Therefore we share the details of our hardware and software design with the world.” Source files and detailed documentation are readily available via the Totem website.


In addition to Totem’s open-innovation model, the jury was also impressed by how well Totem had worked out their plans. Jury member Boudewijn Soetens of VanBerlo: “It’s tempting to aim at general consumers and develop applications such as fitness trackers, yet Totem focuses on specific health challenges, working together with healthcare professionals who know all about these challenges.” Indeed, Van Wingerden is adamant that Totem prefers collaborative projects in which they play a supporting or enabling role. “In looking for new partnerships,” he adds, “the Medical Delta represents an important network of potential collaborators.”


As an example of a collaborative project, Totem currently works with Sophia Revalidatie and Haagse Hogeschool to develop an application of their sensor to support Parkinson’s Disease patients. A specific problem for these patients is that they can find it difficult to resume a movement after stopping for some reason. An external cue is needed to ‘unfreeze’ and continue the movement. The Totem sensor allows to detect such freezing moments and use the smartphone to give an audible signal serving as a cue. Despite tracking the user’s movements and connecting to a phone, the data are not automatically stored or shared with anyone.

Tech advice

As part of the Proof It! jury, what advice does Soetens offer to anyone starting up in the field of technology? “First off, establish a network of collaborators. Many startup companies are pretty preoccupied with the development of their product. However, building a network of partners is just as crucial for marketing the product and scaling up production. Totem has clearly understood this.” “Second, get your business model together. When choosing an open-innovation approach, as Totem has done, this can be tricky.” As part of the Proof It! Award, VanBerlo organised a sparring session with each of the three Proof It! finalists. “We’ve had a constructive meeting with Totem,” says Soetens. “We’ve challenged them on topics such as project planning and business model development. I hope our advice will help Totem move forward.”

Heart rate

The Totem team is keen on moving forward indeed: among their next challenges is to add heart rate monitoring to the capabilities of the Totem Open Health Sensor. “Wearable technologies currently read heart rates by optical means, using an LED,” explains Van Wingerden. “We want to take it one step further and develop a wearable technology to record electrocardiograms or EKGs. This will require us to develop suitable and affordable electrodes. If we succeed, we could be the first to offer such a sensing capability in a widely available, wearable form.”