BITalino’s Hugo Plácido da Silva on the Limitless Potential of Physiological Sensors

HugoSilva123 Hugo Plácido da Silva is a researcher at the IT – Instituto de Telecomunicações since 2004, where he currently pursuits his PhD and a member of the team behind BITalino, a low-cost toolkit that allows anyone from students to professional developers to create projects & applications with physiological sensors. The Makegood recently spoke with Hugo about this new technology.

The Makegood: BITaliano was on display at Engadget’s Expand Expo. Can you talk about where the idea came from and the process that it has taken to make this into a real product?

The ideas built into BITalino actually result from multiple years of experience working in the field, nonetheless, the motivation for the product to come to life at this point was the need to collect large volumes of body signal data in several dozens of people simultaneously for research purposes. The fact that these technologies typically cost several thousands of dollars, was a blocking issue for the work being developed.

A first attempt to overcome this problem was made recurring to existing do-it-yourself and low-cost hardware platforms, however, after extensively testing different platforms and shields, we quickly came to the conclusion that none of the potential solutions available thus far were able to adequately deal in full with the requirements of body signal acquisition. Whether due to noise, cross-talk between sensor inputs, size or performance issues, each platform presented limitations.

BITalino was built as a way of creating a low-cost toolkit specifically designed for body signal acquisition. Turning it into an actual product resulted from the belief that a gap in the do-it-yourself had been identified, and that other people in the world might be faced with similar needs.

The Makegood: This is a very new and very versatile technology. How do you see it being used? What is your target market?

With BITalino imagination is virtually the limit, from toys controlled by body signals such as muscles or motion to affordable medical devices, anything is possible. Both the hardware and the software were designed to be accessible to anyone, nonetheless, our target audiences are mainly students, makers, and professional app developers.

We envision BITalinos being used in a broad spectrum of applications. In the long run we believe that this platform can contribute whether directly or indirectly (by influencing established stakeholders) to make medical devices more readily available and pervasive.

The quantified self movement, aimed at bringing self-monitoring technologies to people’s daily lives, has seen a remarkable growth and technologies such as BITalino are at the heart of this evolution. Furthermore, if we think of low income and developing countries, BITalino has the potential to provide affordable medical technologies that would otherwise have prohibitive costs.

BITalino also has a huge parallel with tools that academia typically pays in excess of $10k to $15k for, as such, in the short term we see this system being broadly used as an educational tool to support student projects and lab activities in college and university courses.

The maker community has grown strong over the past years, and there are a lot of people out there searching for the next big thing to integrate in their creations. In this space we’re seeing things as muscle activated door locks, heart rate monitors on bicycle handle bars, among many others; I’m sure we’ll see BITalino being used in a variety of do-it-yourself projects.

In the medium term we also see BITalino in use by software companies for rapid prototyping to enter in the body signals monitoring devices space, and even by hardware companies seeking to speed up their development times and lower the investment in engineering.

The Makegood: Since this product is so new, what kind of bugs have you had to work out? Has the launch been smooth?

BITalino actually gathers a number of ideas that have been matured over the years and enabled the creation of a high quality product. Also, before proceeding with the commercial roll-out, BITalino was subjected to thorough validation and testing. So far we’ve had numerous requests for new features (e.g. Mac OS support, EEG sensors, among many others), but no reported bugs to work out.

In the overall the launch is going well; the demand is greatly exceeding our initial expectations and the customer feedback has just been outstanding. The main problem at this point is the fact that due to the extensive demand we’ve been faced with a few supply chain issues that are causing delays in the delivery process.

The Makegood: This technology stores a lot of health information from its users. Is everyone’s info only kept privately? How much license does BITaliano have on that information?

“Out of the box” BITalino does not share information about the users nor is there any type of license on the collected data. The base tools that we provide only allow local storage of the data on a user’s device (e.g. computer, mobile phone), but after that it is up to the user to work out what to do with the collected data.

The Makegood: How do you see your new technology developing in the next few years. What is the ideal use for it?

Currently we’re working on an accessory line with sensors that will enable people to measure even more body signals; we also intend to develop single sensor and purpose-built kits for specific applications (e.g. heart rate monitoring, detection of muscle activation, etc.).

In our view the ideal use for this technology is in the democratization of body signal technologies, in particular to enable students to become more acquainted with these technologies at an early stage, and for the creation of affordable medical devices for low income and developing countries.

The Makegood: Thank you, Hugo