The iPhone has enabled all sorts of crazy interactions, but a new device called Cuecould be the first iOS accessory that uses boogers as a primary user input. The tabletop analyzer brings the power of a medical laboratory into the home and allows people to test their levels of testosterone, inflammation, vitamin D, and fertility with small amounts of blood, saliva, or nasal swabs.
The designers say that this three inch cube provides analytical precision substantially equivalent to the results produced by massive and expensive desktop lab equipment. Tests that were previously only available through a doctor’s office now can be administered at the bedside of a sick child or following a workout at the gym.
Testing is simple. Bodily fluids are collected on pristine white strips which are inserted into disposable, color-coded microfluidic cartridges. The cartridges are then analyzed by the Cue and results are displayed through an iPhone app.
Unlike quantified self gadgets that merely record steps or crudely measure sleep, Cue provides actionable feedback based on hard biometric data. If Cue detects a vitamin D deficiency, it’ll add an outdoor walk to the user’s calendar. If it detects biomarkers for inflammation, recipes for soothing smoothies are presented. Using a special cartridge it can even diagnose the flu without a trip to the doctor’s office–though it can’t yet provide a note.
Good Design Is the Law
In the world of medical devices a solid user experience isn’t a nice to have, it’s legally mandated. The FDA can withhold clearance if a manufacturer can’t prove their device is easy enough for its intended users to operate safely. The team at Cue includes engineers and scientists with expertise in biosensors, microfluidics, and virology, but turned to product designer Scot Herbst to ensure their device passed muster.
“The most challenging aspect of the product in general is creating a user interface that seems so simple and intuitive from a very complex starting point,” says Herbst. “The complex starting place are these huge machines in the lab, which are so complicated and require hours of work and trained lab technicians.”
Herbst met this challenge by streamlining every surface of the small sensor. There are almost no buttons on the device and the only display is a series of small LED lights. A cartridge is inserted, a swab is added, and results appear on the phone in seconds. There is virtually nothing a user could do that would lead to an error.
Despite it’s impressive diagnostic capabilities, Herbst wanted to depart from the sterile look of most medical devices. “Generally, medical products are things that you hide, not display,” he says. “The idea is to change this dynamic with health oriented products that really plays into the philosophy that the product is about health and wellness, not sickness.” The goal was to create a device that was nice enough to display and “cue” healthier decision making.
The Cue starter pack costs $199, but as with printers and inks the major costs come from the disposable components. Each of the cartridges costs $4 with the flu test costing $10. While this is an amazing value compared to the $40-400 dollars lab tests typically cost, it remains a major expense. For some, like athletes looking to recover more quickly from an injury or women eager to get pregnant, it’ll be a no-brainer, but others could be priced out of the market.
Still, Herbst argues that the cost demands perspective. “If you wanted to monitor your inflammation over a month, it’d cost you around the same to monitor on a daily basis as a gym membership or a supplement regimen,” says Herbst. “The data has a lot of value to the user because it allows them to understand the key drivers of their health.” Gym rats have already show a willingness to pay for protein bars and supplements, so why wouldn’t they pay for performance-enhancing data that costs a similar amount?
Cue will also need to get approval from the FDA which is no small feat. There are over 15,000 health and fitness apps in Apple’s app store, only 120 or so have received FDA clearance, and just a few dozen app-enabled hardware products have been cleared for sale. Still, with a team of academic researchers and experienced entrepreneurs, Cue’s chances are good and this liberalized laboratory could pay long term dividends for everyone by helping people take control of their health early on and prevent expensive, catastrophic health problems later in life.
Cue is accepting pre-orders expects to ship its first units by the spring of 2015.
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