Connected Healthcare: Creating Curio, Pt. 1

The kid-friendly, cloud-enabled lung health tracker

Case study by Pushstart Creative

At Pushstart, we believe technology has the power to change lives for the better. Nowhere is this potential greater than in how we manage and maintain our health. In this series we’ll look behind the scenes at our work on Curio, a kid-friendly, connected home spirometer.

Why Curio?

According to the CDC, 6.8 million children in the US live with asthma — that’s about one in ten US kids. Nearly 60% of these have symptoms that flair more than twice a week. Poorly controlled asthma can have long-term impacts like reduced stamina and lesser participation in physical activities. Beyond health implications, nearly half of children with asthma report missing school due to symptom flare-ups.

Could connected, intuitive technology help families better manage this disease and thereby improve kids’ lives? We challenged ourselves to find out.

What do families need?

Regular testing and tracking of lung function can be a critical tool in the treatment and management of childhood asthma, making attacks easier to prevent. Curio’s primary goal is to help families track a child’s lung function more easily and accurately.

The global market for respiratory care devices is projected to reach $21.9 billion by 2020 due in large part to a growing focus on lung health monitoring and a mounting demand for home healthcare solutions. Meanwhile, digital spirometers on the market leave much to be desired.

In our audit, we found products that look and feel like clinical equipment. These products may be intimidating to a child, and certainly require parental supervision and assistance. We saw definite opportunities to design a better experience.

Connectivity is the key

A home spirometer must help users track lung function consistently so that test data can be used to predict or prevent attacks. Identifying patterns and triggers over time can help guide treatment plans. While today’s home spirometers provide some level of data tracking, their convoluted data management processes diminish their value.

Some offer on-device data display only, making evaluation or sharing difficult. Others require users to connect via USB in order to upload data with proprietary software. Though either method is an improvement over tracking test results manually, they still require significant user effort.

Meanwhile, the rise of connectivity is changing user expectations. As fitness and health tracking trends continue — led by brands like Nike, Fitbit, and Apple with the introduction of Apple Health — consumers are beginning to expect instant access to personal health data.

By bringing connectivity to the humble home spirometer, Curio enables effortless data management. Data can be shared with health providers, instantly. Users can more easily analyze their own data to discover how factors such as weather, pollen count, or pollution levels impact lung function.

Benefits of good behavior

Even the best data management is useless without good data to manage. To fully realize the benefits of testing, spirometers must be used regularly. Connectivity helps here, as well. In addition to motivating users with in-depth analysis, Curio’s companion app reminds them to test in the first place. Preventing missed tests creates a more complete data set to analyze.

Curio’s ability to encourage positive user behaviors aids both consistent use and correct use. The accuracy of each test depends on factors like user posture and device orientation. Curio encourages more accurate data collection with on-device sensors that alert users to improper use. The companion app not only provides step-by-step instruction on testing technique, it also instantly identifies outlying results. If results signal user error, the app prompts users to re-administer the test.

To fully realize the benefits of testing, spirometers must be used regularly.

People come first

Convinced of the connectivity benefits and commercial viability of a new home spirometer, we focused on developing a product strategy. Connected devices involve interdependent physical and digital components that create unique user experiences. In every aspect of design, we kept our users — families with children — in mind.

Understanding the entire user journey is the key to an attractive and usable product. One of the first steps in the design process was to map user interaction points, identifying both potential challenges and potential opportunities for differentiation.

What sensors makes sense?

As with any sensor-based device, understanding the limits and requirements of the technology was paramount. Digital spirometry is nothing new, so we began by auditing the most prevalent solutions in the market. Low costs units most often employed lightweight turbines monitored by IR sensors. Though accurate and cost effective, durability, cleanability, and form factor challenges made this solution less attractive. We opted to use a pressure differential sensor that met more of our user requirements, despite having more complex implementation requirements.

With a sensor solution selected we began validating the rest of our electronics and hardware. Our requirements called for some onboard processing, a little memory, sensors, and Bluetooth in a relatively small (at least for prototyping) package. Ultimately we selected the RFduino which proved to be a great platform for our test rig.

The brains of the operation

Then, we turned our attention to the firmware that would collect and manage data from Curio’s pressure sensor and accelerometer, control onboard LEDs, and communicate with the companion app. While most code came together quickly, dialing-in the pressure sensors took a bit of trial and error as we fabricated test air constriction passages in parallel. With the program up and running, we conducted a series of stress tests to validate our approach before refining Curio’s architecture and design for production.

To see how we took Curio from technical prototype to fully envisioned product, check out Creating Curio, Part 2.

Check out our latest projects at and follow us on twitter @pushstartcreate. Thanks for reading.

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