It’s Official: CES is now a health tech event (updated)

CES is now, officially, a health tech event. It’s not just the timing before CES of the flashy but apparently cratering JP Morgan annual healthcare investment conference in the absurdly pricey venue of San Francisco (FierceBiotech on the #MoveJPM backlash; the general disillusion with it expressed well here). It’s the fact that whatever mainstreaming health tech has actually accomplished, it’s far better represented in Las Vegas. Always a place of beginnings, endings, fun, gambles taken, lack of sleep, and sore feet, health tech fits right in, big or small.

CES reported that 2019 boasted an increase of 25 percent health-related exhibitors and a 15 percent increase in the amount of floor space dedicated to health tech. One winner was a big gamble by a small company–Living in Digital Times, which organizes and stages the Digital Health SummitTen years later, it turned out to be right place, right time for the founders who work hard to keep it on trend. Lifestyle, robotics, self-care, assistive tech (even exoskeletons), wearables, cosmetic “wellness” devices like P&G’s Opté, and Alexa-type home assistants/robots all now fit into the CES purview. Trial balloons by young companies, AI-powered concept devices from big companies, watches (including the Apple-beater Move ECG from the revitalized Withings TTA 10 Oct 18 and Omron’s HeartGuide), and robots all appeared. Samsung again brought out a brace of concept robots. Last year’s Best of CES ElliQ is finally available for pre-order after three years at a measly $1,500. The humanoid Sophia brought a kid sister, the equally creepy Little Sophia, both of whom failed during this CNET video. Yes, Pepper from Softbank made its appearance and apparently didn’t wilt as it did last year.

Sleep tech was another hot item, with a spin on sleep diagnostics or improvement from many products. A brainwave product, Urgonight from France, claims to be able to train your brain to sleep better. (Send one to Rick Astley who was a poster child for not Sleeping.)  Mental health is a natural crossover into sleep tech and robots, with a $5,000 Japanese robot, Lovot, capable of responsive cuddling and comfort.

Best of the coverage:

  • CNET has probably the best coverage and articles on health which stick to the facts (slim in some cases as they are); anyone who wants to catch up with the feel and flavor of this three-ring circus can start and stay there. Their full show coverage is here.
  • Dr. Jayne at HISTalk also did an excellent health-related product roundup in her Curbside Consult column.
  • Mobihealthnews also has a very long running list of health tech pictures and announcements as part of its limited coverage, including the mea culpas and promised transparency of onetime health ed unicorn Outcome Health [TTA 29 Jan 18].

Beyond the plethora of products encouraging ever more to come forward, what ones will even make it to market, far more be winners? Aside from the Samsungs and P&Gs, which of these young companies planting their stake at CES will be there next year?  As in past CES, the wheel goes round and round, and where it stops, nobody knows–not even the JPM investors. 

Pepper pays a first-ever robot visit to Commons on the future of AI and robotics on education, older adult care (UK)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/103886629_mediaitem103886628.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Pepper paid a visit to a House of Commons select committee on education and became the very first robot to meet with MPs. Accompanied by students from Middlesex University, where Pepper is part of an initiative on teaching primary school-level children, he made a short presentation about the future of artificial intelligence in education and older adult care.

Certainly his introduction has some historic value. Pepper bowed and then said in his rather high-pitched and somewhat Japanese-inflected voice: “Good morning, chair [Robert Halfon]. Thank you for inviting me to give evidence today. My name is Pepper and I am a resident robot at Middlesex University.”

Pepper used voice, gesture, and his embedded front tablet to explain about the role robots like him will play in education and healthcare. At Middlesex, final year students in robotics, education, psychology, and biomedicine like Joana Miranda, one of his two escorts, work with Pepper on projects such as developing numeracy skills in primary school students. According to BBC News, Tory MP Lucy Allan dryly noted that Pepper was “better than some of the ministers we have had before us”.

In healthcare for older adults, the Pepper robot developed by Softbank is part of a major research project funded by the EU, the Japanese Government and UK’s Horizon 2020. The objective of the three-year CARESSES program is to develop a culturally aware robot to provide care suited to a wide variety of individuals and reduce loneliness. Another desired outcome is to relieve pressure in hospitals and care homes by promoting independent living at home with a care robot.

The education committee is examining the “fourth industrial revolution” which impacts STEM education, school curriculum, and workforce skills (and reskilling). Videos on BBC News and Gevul News (YouTube) A tart take on Pepper versus PM Theresa May from The Guardian. (And no fainting, as Pepper did at CES earlier this year.) Hat tip to The King’s Fund weekly newsletter.

The Theranos Story, ch. 56: Bye, bye Theranos…but the litigation continues (updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rock-1-crop-2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]No more blood in this rock. Really. Theranos, according to a report by John Carreyrou in the Wall Street Journal (unfortunately paywalled) is dissolving. An email to shareholders by (short-lived) Chief Executive David Taylor informed them that the company will cease to exist soon, and that whatever remaining cash will be distributed to unsecured creditors in coming months. The email also added that Theranos made overtures to more than 80 potential buyers through Jefferies Group, but despite 17 NDA’s signed, none succeeded. 

The dissolution process will start on Monday, pending approval by the board and shareholders. 

The shareholders’ letter is available here (PDF) including the rationale on dissolution versus bankruptcy.

Over $60 million was owed to unsecured creditors but there was evidently only $5 million (net of expenses and fees) left in the kitty to distribute, which may be enough to buy lunch or copies of ‘Bad Blood’ for most. That is because Fortress Investment Group now has full control of the assets and intellectual property. Part of Japan’s SoftBank Group, Fortress invested $65 million in Theranos in December 2017 of a possible $100 million, collateralized by the patent portfolio. [TTA 28 Dec 17] At the time of the Holmes/Balwani indictments by the DOJ in June (nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy), reports indicated that Theranos would shutter by the end of July.

The few remaining employees were reportedly given notice last Friday. The website is offline. No one from Theranos is speaking to media. This Editor wonders what the shareholders from the $600 million funding round [TTA 18 May 17] will do with their doubled shares–presumably, use the paper as firestarter in their fireplaces this winter along with their printed selfies with Ms. Holmes. (Fear not, they will be receiving a copy of the certificate of dissolution to give to their accountant and IRS.) 

At the time of the Fortress investment, this Editor wrote:

Our takeaway is that the IP is worth far more than the company and that is what has been bought. SoftBank would dearly like another entree into Silicon Valley for their tech portfolio and can use that IP, if not at Theranos, elsewhere. For Fortress, which has $36.1 billion in assets under management and now backed by SoftBank, $100 million is pocket change with a smidge of lint.

One wonders what SoftBank and Fortress will be doing with that IP.

Theranos will not be leaving the headlines soon, as the June indictment of Holmes and Balwani (who was pushed out by Holmes in 2016) and the sidelights produced by their ‘Tainted Love’ will provide schadenfreude for many months.

Reports: Reuters, CNBC (video-Squawk Box), USA Today, TechCrunch  Our 55 chapters chronicling the slow-motion crash of Theranos can be accessed here.

Robots, robots at CES: ElliQ, Sophia the ‘humanoid’, companions, pets, butlers, maids…and at a supermarket near you?

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Overrun-by-Robots1-183×108.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]CES as usual was a Robot Showcase, though without the presence of our recent Spotlight Robot Kompaï.  One of our other Spotlighters, Intuition Robotics‘ ElliQ companion robot, won the CES Best of Innovation Award in the Smart Home category (release).

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/sophia-header.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Much press went to Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, a Frubber-skinned humanoid robot from Hong Kong. It (She?) sees through cameras and sensors, through them recognizes speech and facial expressions, responds through natural language processing, and has a motion control system. It started walking on its own at CES courtesy of DRC-HUBO-developed legs. Its creator David Hanson, backed by Disney (Animatronics!) looks forward to an adult-level of general intelligence via AI development for future uses such as customer service, caring for children or older adults, or therapy. It has the ‘uncanny valley’ problem of verging on lifelike. The BBC interviewed Sophia at CES. (No, they didn’t sign her to be a presenter.) SFGate. The AI crowd in Silicon Valley and Facebook’s AI head with the interesting name of Yann LeCun performed a Two-Minute Hate about her to a rather partisan writer in The Verge. (Not Invented Here Syndrome? Perhaps they’re just envious.)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aibo.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Most of CES’ robots were a Parade of Cute and When Not Cute, Wistful. Or Not Working. Sony’s brought back the Aibo robot dog out of its 2006 retirement with the ERS 1000, which lacks only a non-shed coat to be puppy-like. According to the WSJ, $1,700 will make Aibo your companion–and it doesn’t need food or walking. Blue Frog Robotics’ Buddy is a family companion, control point for connected homes, and security monitor. You might trip over it and the $1,500 cost. More in the utility line is Ubtech Robotics’ Walker which, unlike the Walker of ‘Point Blank’, isn’t looking for his $93,000 but will walk point around your house for security, connect you to your home controls, and ‘butler’ your appointments, emails, and video calls. The maid’s duties will be done by the Aeolus Robot, which will sweep, pick up and put away your things, and also do some assistant work. Honda’s 3E robots are Transformer-like for more commercial duties like assistants, smart scooters, and carriers. A more here-and-now robot addressing a major need is another robotic glove for those with hand or mobility restrictions, the leather glove-like NeoMano.

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Pepper-faints.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Not every robot was on their best behavior. Going on the fritz were LG’s CLOi smart home controller–on stage, no less. YYD’s latest robot, not only a home assistant but also a health status/chronic disease monitor, died into screen code in front of a BBC reporter. One of Softbank’s Pepper robots (left) was so overwhelmed by the excitement of CES that it fainted. Perhaps time to return to the calm of the Ostend, Belgium hospital? [TTA 21 June 16] Wired UK, South China Morning Post, CNet

Back in the Real World. Welcomed into Scottish supermarket chain Margiotta was ‘ShopBot’, dubbed Fabio. In an experiment run by Heriot-Watt University for the BBC’s Six Robots & Us (UK viewers only), Fabio was programmed with directions to hundreds of items in the store. It had an abundance of cute. Customers initially liked Fabio. Unfortunately, its conversational quality and conveyance of information were sorely lacking. For instance, Fabio told customers to go to the ‘alcohol section’ when they wanted beer. (Now if they wanted Scotch….) On top of it, its mobility was limited, and the disability laws don’t apply. So the Margiottas sacked Fabio, with regrets but no severance, after one week on the job. Oh. Telegraph (paywalled), Yahoo News UK

The Theranos Story, ch. 45: a ‘Christmas present’ $100 million loan from Fortress averts bankruptcy (updated 8 Jan)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]A present or a Trojan Horse? Revealed on Christmas Eve by the intrepid John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal (paywalled) is Theranos’ securing of a $100 million loan from Fortress Investment Group LLC. This Editor notes the word ‘loan’, and loans come with conditions. Mr. Carreyrou revealed that according to an email sent by (unbelievably still in place) CEO Elizabeth Holmes on Friday 22 December and reviewed by the WSJ, it is “subject to achieving certain product and operational milestones.” 

As our Readers know, with the Walgreens Boots settlement in August, cash on hand from June was about $54 million with a burn rate of $10 million per month [TTA 3 Aug]. Technically, Theranos was out of funds by December. This Editor thought the next article on Theranos would be an obituary issued from their warehouse in Newark, California. Updated: As of 8 Jan, there is no announcement on the Theranos website or comment to press.

According to the article, Fortress specializes in distressed investments. “The loan from Fortress is collateralized by Theranos’s patent portfolio and the deal grants Fortress warrants for 4% of the company’s equity, Ms. Holmes told investors in her email. She said she anticipated the loan would provide Theranos “sufficient liquidity through 2018” which is quite a fan dance.

Interestingly, Japan’s SoftBank Group completed its acquisition of Fortress yesterday (release). 

Our takeaway is that the IP is worth far more than the company and that is what has been bought. SoftBank would dearly like another entree into Silicon Valley for their tech portfolio and can use that IP, if not at Theranos, elsewhere. For Fortress, which has $36.1 billion in assets under management and now backed by SoftBank, $100 million is pocket change with a smidge of lint. Remaining investors also have likely written down the value on their investment. It’s a bit of a tweak on the expected denouement, but do not bet on Theranos and Ms. Holmes rising like phoenixes from the ashes of their Edison lab equipment.

Updated: Theranos’ last words on their website tout their accepted/presented publications and posters, but there is no further word on Theranos’ actual sale of Zika virus detection technology or the much-touted miniLab. It’s all a far cry from the palmy days three years ago of co-marketing with Walgreens and Ms. Holmes headlining Forbes, Fortune, and dozens of healthcare conferences and accumulating nearly a billion in funding as The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.

Prediction for 2018: Ms. Holmes will be removed and replaced, then the company will be reorganized and/or renamed.

Full WSJ article on Yahoo! Finance. CNBC. Gizmodo. Our prior chapters on the Theranos Story are here

Japan’s workarounds for adult care shortage: robots, exoskeletons, sensors

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/robear.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The problem of Japan’s aging population–the oldest worldwide with 32 percent aged 60+ (2013, RFE)–and shortage of care workers has led to a variety of ‘digital health solutions’ in the past few years, some of them smart, many of them gimmicky, expensive, or non-translatable to other cultures. There have been the comfort robot semi-toys (the PARO seal, the Chapit mouse), the humanoid exercise-leading robots (Palro), and IoT gizmos. Smarter are the functional robots which can transfer a patient to/from bed and wheelchair disguised as cuddly bears (Robear, developed by Riken and Sumitomo Riko) and Panasonic’s exoskeletons for lifting assistance.

Japan’s problem: how to support more older adults in homes with increasingly less care staff, and how to pay for it. The Financial Times quotes Japan government statistics that by 2025 there will be 2.5m skilled care workers but 380,000 more are needed. The working age population is shrinking by 1 percent per year and immigration to Japan is near-nonexistent. Japan is looking to technology to do more with fewer people, for instance transferring social contact or hard, dirty work to robots. The very real challenge is to produce and support the devices at a reasonable price for both domestic use and–where the real money is–export. 

The Abe government in 2012 budgeted ¥2.39bn ($21m) for development of nursing care robots, with the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry tasked to find and subsidize 24 companies–not a lot of money and parceled out thinly. Five years later, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare determined that “deeper work is needed on machinery and software that can either replace human care workers or increase staff efficiency.” Even Panasonic concurred that robots cannot offset the loss of human carers on quality of services. At this point. Japan leads in robots under development with SoftBank’s Pepper and NAO, with Toshiba’s ChihiraAiko ‘geisha robot’ (Guardian) debuting at CES 2015 and Toyota’s ongoing work with their Human Support Robot (HSR)–a moving article on its use with US Army CWO Romy Camargo is here. (attribution correction and addition–Ed.)

The next generation of care aids by now has moved away from comfort pets to sensors and software that anticipate care needs. Projects under development include self-driving toilets (sic) that move to the patient; mattress sensor-supplied AI which can sense toileting needs (DFree) and other bed activity; improved ‘communication robots’ which understand and deploy stored knowledge. Japan’s businesses also realize the huge potential of the $16 trillion China market–if China doesn’t get there first–and other Asian countries such as Thailand, a favored retirement spot for well-off Japanese. In Japanese discussions, ‘aging in place’ seems to be absent as an alternative, perhaps due to small families.

But Japan must move quickly, more so than the leisurely pace so far. Already Thailand is pioneering smart cities with Intel and Dell [TTA 16 Aug 16] and remote patient monitoring with Western companies such as Philips [TTA 30 Aug]. There’s the US and Western Europe, but incumbents are plentiful and the bumpy health tech ride tends not to suit Japanese companies’ deliberate style. Can they seize the day?  Financial Times (PDF here if paywalled) Hat tip to reader Susanne Woodman of BRE (Photo: Robear)