The FCC Has Approved a World-First Wireless Charger

Truly Wireless Charger

A wireless charger is not a new concept. Although unencumbered by flimsy wiring, these chargers do need to be physically in contact with mobile devices to work, and usually that’s through a charging plate.

But what if you could charge your phone in a truly wireless fashion?

That’s what the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved on December 26, 2017 when they gave a power-at-a-distance wireless charging certification to a device called the WattUp Mid Field transmitter.

Developed by the San Jose-based startup Energous, WattUp uses radio frequencies to charge mobile devices at a distance of up to 91.44 cm (3 ft). Though the distance covers barely a meter, it certainly exceeds the length of your typical charging cable. The transmitter converts electricity to radio frequencies, which are then beamed into devices that have a corresponding receiver.

The Future of Mobile Connectivity

Energous isn’t the first startup that promised to bring a true wireless charging experience, in fact some companies are even working on a similar concept for electric vehicles. Energous, however, is the first to have their technology officially approved by the FCC, which says a lot about WattUp’s potential.

“The FCC certification of Energous’ power-at-a-distance wireless charging transmitter is a major market milestone. It opens up options, outside of just contact-based charging, to Wireless Charging 2.0: an ecosystem where devices can be charged both, via pad and at a distance,” Stephen R. Rizzone, Energous president and CEO, said in a press announcement.

Not only does it offer untethered charging, but WattUp can also charge several devices — phones, tablets, keyboards, presumably even smartwatches — at the same time, provided that they’re paired with the right receiver. WattUp’s ecosystem allows it to work even if your device and the transmitter’s manufacturer aren’t the same.

“Untethered, wire-free charging — such as charging a fitness band even while wearing it — is exactly what consumers have been waiting for. We are now in a position to move our consumer electronics, [the Internet-of-Things] and smart home customers forward at an accelerated pace,” Rizzone added.

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The FDA Approved an Opioid Addiction Treatment Device

Zapping the Brain

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on November 15 the approval of a device called the Neuro-Stim System Bridge (NSS-2 Bridge), which is meant to help reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. It’s the first medical device of its kind that’s been given the FDA’s blessing.

The NSS-2 Bridge is a relatively simple device that attaches to the skin behind the ear, where it uses a chip to transmit controlled electrical pulses to stimulate four cranial nerves in the part of the brain that’s associated with processing pain information.

Marketed by Indiana-based Innovative Health Solutions, the Bridge was previously cleared to treat chronic and acute pain in 2014. The new approval “expands the use of the device as an aid to reduce the symptoms of opioid withdrawal,” according to the FDA, though it will only be available by prescription. It is rather pricey though, with previous Bridge treatments costing between $ 600 and $ 800.

There’s little to suggest how broadly effective this treatment could be, however. The FDA granted permission for the device after reviewing data from a clinical study that worked with “73 patients undergoing opioid physical withdrawal,” the announcement says. The trials showed that 64 out of these 73 patients, or 88 percent, successfully transitioned away from opioids after five days of using the Bridge. There is clearly efficacy here, although the number of respondents could’ve been higher.

Towards Better Treatment

An opioid addiction treatment device is still welcome news, particularly since abusive use of opioids has continued to be menace in American society. The National Institutes on Drug Abuse reports that some 90 Americans die every day from opioid overdose, and a lot of this comes from misuse of prescription pain relievers, as well as overdose from heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that prescription opioid misuse costs the U.S. around $ 78.5 billion a year, from healthcare expenses, loss productivity, addiction treatment and from criminal justice involvement.

“Given the scope of the epidemic of opioid addiction, we need to find innovative new ways to help those currently addicted live lives of sobriety with the assistance of medically assisted treatment,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the press announcement. “While we continue to pursue better medicines for the treatment of opioid use disorder, we also need to look to devices that can assist in this therapy.”

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Gottlieb noted that there are already three approved drugs for treating opioid addiction, but the FDA remains “committed to supporting the development of novel treatments, both drugs and devices, that can be used to address opioid dependence or addiction, as well as new, non-addictive treatments for pain that can serve as alternatives to opioids.”

Indeed, there are a number of other efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including an app that tracks opioid overdoses all over the U.S. in real-time. Others are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) to find solutions, while some are testing devices that could replace non-addictive painkillers. In order to put an end to the opioid crisis, it’s also necessary to improve on our knowledge of how drug-seeking behavior works.

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Nebraska Just Approved Keystone XL Pipeline, Securing Victory. But for Whom?

Keystone XL

After a nearly 10-year battle, the Keystone XL pipeline finally received regulatory approval from the state of Nebraska. The Nebraska Public Service Commission, an elected panel that includes one Democrat and four Republican representatives, announced the decision to allow the underground pipeline to pass through the state on November 20.

Previous proposals for the highly controversial pipeline, which would transport crude oil between Canada and the Texas Gulf Coast, had been rejected by the Obama administration due to environmental concerns. In January of 2017, president Donald Trump revived the plan, along with the equally contested Dakota Access pipeline.

That said, the four-member regulatory panel didn’t exactly give a blanket approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. While the plan to build was approved, the proposed route by TransCanada (now the sole company that owns the Keystone XL project) was not approved. Instead, the commission suggested a different route — one that’s east of TransCanada’s preferred path.

nebraska-keystone-pipeline-xl-approved
Image credit: Nebraska Public Service Commission

While the Keystone XL pipeline now has state approval, it did not come in the form TransCanada has long been pushing for. In fact, in a short statement issued after the decision, TransCanada didn’t mention any plans for moving forward with the pipeline’s construction. Instead, the company’s president and CEO Russ Girling said that they will “conduct a careful review” of the ruling, “while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project.”

Economic Benefit, Environmental Concerns

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline often point out to the potential economic benefits the project would bring. Construction and long-term operation and maintenance would create jobs, but the exact number has been debated. Without the data to back up claims of job creation, it’s become increasingly difficult to argue for the pipeline’s benefits. This is especially true in the wake of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that revealed the fastest growing industry in the U.S. is the renewable energy sector, where jobs now outnumber those in many other industries — including those reliant on fossil fuels.

A direct oil pipeline would also, supposedly, lower the cost of fuels. However, as the Christian Science Monitor pointed out back in 2012, there are other issues that need to be considered along with such claims: for one, it’s possible that the pipeline could raise oil prices in the Midwest region by reducing “oversupply.”

There are also the environmental issues, which TransCanada has acknowledged, though they’ve stated the preferred main pipeline for the Keystone XL project adheres to the necessary precautions to keep it environmentally safe, protecting resources like water. However, as TransCanada recently reported a spill of around 210,000 gallons of oil from one of its existing pipelines, those claims have been met with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Nebraska’s approval of the project is more complicated than it looks: as reported by the Omaha World-Herald, the current route proposed would require TransCanada to secure new property easement agreements from landowners who were not affected by previous plans for the pipeline.

“Opponents have promised to file lawsuits to challenge the project, and TransCanada has said it won’t decide until December if it has enough shippers to make the $ 8 billion project financially feasible,” the Omaha continues. One such opponent is the Sierra Club, which issued a statement calling the decision a “conditional approval,” — and one they would continue to work against.

Speaking to The New York Times, long-time Nebraska anti-pipeline leader Jane Kleeb said the project as a whole remains a mistake. “They do not get their preferred route, the route that we have been fighting in courts over for eight years,” she said. “What is wrong — and what we will continue to fight — is that this pipeline is still on the table.”

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Abilify IoT-enabled digital pills approved amid privacy concerns

IoT-enabled digital pills approved amid privacy concerns

In a first for the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved digital pills that include an ingestion tracking system.

A phenomenal amount of time and effort goes into identifying wasted resources in healthcare systems throughout the world. It’s hardly surprising, when twenty to thirty percent of health spending in the US has been identified as wasteful. Given that the cost of healthcare in the US exceeded $ 2.7 trillion in 2010 (almost 18% of GDP), there is huge pressure on providers and administrators to contain costs.

One of the most significant ways this is done is by trying to improve the effectiveness of the care delivered. Of course, medicine can only be effective if it is actually taken by the patient. Health services have numerous ways of measuring ‘adherence’, from indirect measures such as refill rates, to more direct means like self-reporting, direct observation and pill counting.

Nearly three-quarters of American adults do not adhere to their physicians’ prescription orders, including taking less than the recommended dose. When medication isn’t consumed, unwanted expense is caused by the misuse of the drug and the need for direct observation by already overworked staff. If a patient’s condition deteriorates from not taking the necessary drugs, they also often require expensive further treatment.

Read more: Is IoT the right prescription for getting patients to take their medicine?

Could digital pills be the answer?

Now IoT has enabled another solution for the issue of adherence. The newly approved Abililfy MyCite are aripiprazole tablets that contain a sensor that digitally tracks whether a patient has ingested their medication.

According to the The Food and Drug Administration [FDA], they have approved the digital pills for, “the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults.”

The pill’s sensor sends a signal to a patch worn by the patient. The patch then transmits the information to a smartphone app, where patients can track the medication’s ingestion and record their mood and rest levels. Users can also permit their caregivers, family and doctor to see the data via a web-based platform.

“The approval of Abililfy MyCite, the first digital medicine system, means that for the first time in my years of experience as a psychiatrist, there is an innovative way to provide individuals with serious mental illness, and selected members of their families and care teams, with information on objective medication taking patterns,” said John Kane, MD, senior vice president of behavioral health services at Northwell Health and Chair of Psychiatry, at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.

“Until now, pharmacologic therapy for serious mental illness has been missing a systematic approach to objectively track and signal that a patient has taken their drug.”

Read more: Ingestible IoT sensors could soon help improve your diet

A spoon full of silicon

Abilify’s producer Otsuka, worked with sensor tech creators Proteus Digital Health, to create the US’s first digital pills. When the metals (including magnesium, copper and silicon) in the sensor come into contact with stomach acid, they generate an electrical signal that is picked-up by the patch.

“Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients,” said Mitchell Mathis MD, director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”

It is important to note that the ability of the product to improve patient compliance with their treatment regimen has not been shown. Abilify MyCite’s prescribing information notes that it should not be used to track drug ingestion in real-time, or during an emergency, because detection may be delayed or may not occur (it can take between 30 minutes and two hours to record ingestion).

Read more: VitalConnect raises $ 33 million for its remote patient monitoring tech

An intelligent approach to smart pills

The system is perhaps most useful to those wanting to take their medication but prone to forgetting. Allowing others to see your ingestion data is optional, but for patients who reluctantly agree, the pill raises privacy concerns and could serve to sow mistrust – especially in a drug used to treat schizophrenia, an illness that counts paranoia under its potential symptoms.

Yet, as Andrew Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Proteus Digital Health points out, many of us are comfortable with the numerous ways in which the digital world is permeating our day-to-day lives:

“The time is right for the category of Digital Medicines to be available to appropriate patients with serious mental illness. Consumers already manage important tasks like banking, shopping, and communicating with friends and family by using their smart phones, as they go about their daily lives. With this FDA approval, Otsuka can help enable individuals with serious mental illness to engage with their care team about their treatment plan in a new way.”

Looking at its broader applications, digital pills could prove useful for tracking ingestion in clinical trials. Insurers, justice systems and, controversially, psychiatric hospitals may all have an interest in tracking drug adherence.

I have no doubt that this is the first of many ‘smart pills’ but, given the lack of appropriate studies, there are still fundamental questions around whether they will help to ensure medication gets taken when its needed, and topple the towering cost of the adherence problem.

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