Philippine Science alumnus invents fall detection device

An alumnus of Philippine Science High School who migrated to the US has developed a cutting-edge communication device that monitors the movement of healthcare patients, an invention that could have helped prevent the demise of one of his grandmothers after a fall.

“In December 2014, my grandmother fell down.  She was with her family.  She stood up very quickly.  We felt it was a strong impact, but she said she was fine.  When we went back home, she felt dizzy.  The doctor scanned her head and they found a blood clot in her brain.  A couple of hours later, she was brain dead.  A couple of days later, she died,” Angelo Umali says in a news conference at Makati Diamond Residences.

Simple Wearables founder and chief executive Angelo Umali (left) and Philam Life chief marketing officer Jaime Jose Javier Jr. show Simple Wave, a fall detection device for the elderly and other healthcare patients.

“If we just knew how strong that impact was, we would have taken her to the hospital right away. This is a problem that happens a lot to elderly people. Now, I have one grandmother left.  She lives in Tagaytay.  We want to make sure the same thing does not happen to her,” Umali says, adding that she now wears a device his company developed to detect the fall of healthcare patients and send alerts to relatives and hospitals for emergency assistance.

Umali, 32, is the founder and chief executive of Simple Wearables, a healthcare tech startup based in Hong Kong focusing on wearable technology that provides healthcare solutions.  Umali and his team developed Simple Wave, a wearable device that automatically detects a fall and connects the user with a designated emergency contact through its built-in phone.

Simple Wearables, the company which Umali established, is a graduate of AIA Group’s Accelerator Program, which fostered eight startups over 12 weeks and connected them with over 40 industry mentors and potential investors.

Umali says he was inspired to create the Simple Wave device after worrying about the well-being of his remaining grandmother who lives in Tagaytay. He wanted his family to be notified immediately if she were to collapse for any reason.

“I grew up here in the Philippines.  I went to Philippine Science High School.  Then, we went to the United States.  We immigrated after high school,” he says.

Umali, who studied Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering at University of California, Los Angeles and Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, worked in Silicon Valley for five years, before moving to Hong Kong as the Asia-Pacific marketing manager for Agilent Technologies. 

He is also a technical and business strategist with international experience in marketing, business development and product management for hardware and software products. The bachelor is a fitness aficionado, who teaches spinning classes in Hong Kong. He is also into photography as a hobby.

In 2014, Umali teamed up with Ron Godfredsen, a licensed architect and fellow UCLA graduate, to manage Simple Wearables.   Godfredsen, who holds a Master’s degree from Yale University, serves as the company’s chief operating officer.

Simple Wearables consists of multinational and multi-talented team.  “The CTO [chief technology officer] is Michael Albano and he also graduated from Philippine Science and took up Engineering in UP.  He is in charge of programming our devices. We are scattered across the globe in Hong Kong, Manila and LA,” he says.

He describes Simple Wave as a part of the so-called Internet of Things, or the group of devices that connect to the Internet, other than computers and smartphones.  “Internet of Things is going to be the third wave and the biggest yet.  Within this group of devices called Internet of Things, one category is called wearable devices.  Wearable devices are very personal.  It is the only segment that interacts with humans,” he says.

“You may have heard of wearable devices, but most focus on exercise data, like how many steps you have taken.  But we also know from research that people also want medical data from wearable devices. With Simple Wave, we want to solve medical problems, not just quantifying steps,” he says.

He says Simple Wave is aesthetically designed like a river bed rock, hence the name.  “It is discreet and quite fashionable.  The problem with current solutions is that they are worn on the neck and if they are seen by friends, they are ashamed and embarrassed,” he says.

Umali says the device aims to monitor the movement of the elderly and other healthcare patients, who are at risk of falling down. “Falling down is a very big problem.  About 271 million people [over the age of 60] would fall down in their lifetime,” he says.

Umali says Simple Wave can automatically detect a fall and analyze the strength of the impact.  Even before the actual fall, the device will vibrate to send alerts that something is wrong.  It can also wirelessly connect with other approved medical devices and apps.

“We know that healthcare providers are looking for ways to increase their relationships with patients.  Now, we have this way to make things simple and solve this problem of falling down,” he says.  “Simple Wave is responsive.  It will automatically detect a fall and make a call to emergency number.  It analyzes your daily activity movements and then predicts when you are about to fall down.”

“When you need help, Simple Wave will send alerts to your loved ones. They will provide your location and private status updates of how soon healthcare will arrive,” says Umali.

“It is also a collaborative platform.  You can download data from other medical devices and put all of them back to your healthcare provider so that they can have a complete picture of your health,” he says.

Umali explains how the Simple Wave device works. “The sensor in the device is quite sensitive.  It is able to see trends over time, categorizes your normal behavior and if there is a deviation from that, we are going to alert you,” he says.

He says the device also works as a phone that transmits data.  “Within the device, there is a 3G cellphone that reports back to our server in the cloud.  You can also directly call because it has a SIM card that can receive calls,” he says.

The device is worn near the chest so that it can properly monitor the activity level. “We are using the sensors used in smartphones today.  It senses movement and a lot of different things. It can tell if the user was active for 10 minutes or not active for several hours or if there was a suspected call at a certain time.”

“Every day, the device reports back to our server, saying the user took these many steps, deviating from normal patterns,” he says.

“The database in our servers are studying these patterns.   Our predictive ability is able to work on deviation from that.  We will be able to tell if you are sitting down, lying down or standing.   We will show your the location... and it will call for you. The data is always on, and Simple Wearables is taking care of the fees for the first year,” he says.

Simple Wearables plans to team up with healthcare providers such as The Medical City, telecom operators and healthcare companies to take advantage of the new device.  “In the future, we will provide data analytics. We will be able to predict the onset of more diseases,” says Umali.

Simple Wearables has received various international awards.  CNN cited it as one of the 10 hottest startups in Asia in 2015.  “Recently, we tied up with AIA, the mother company of PhilamLife, for their Accelerator Program where we focus on healthcare innovations,” says Umali.

Jaime Jose Javier Jr., chief marketing officer of Philam Life, AIA’s local operating arm in the Philippines, says the cutting-edge technology “will be beneficial not only for us here in the Philippines but for the entire world.”

“The mission of PhilamLife and AIA is to be able to give the best protection and service to as many individuals in Asia-Pacific.  We congratulate Angelo [Umali] for his wonderful product and I hope that we will soon enjoy the benefits.  I also have a 77-year-old mother.  It will be perfect for her,” says Javier.

Umali says his company plans to introduce Simple Wave in the Philippines next year, with an initial pricing of P8,000 per unit. “It is not yet available, but we are manufacturing it now [in China].  Our goal is to sell as many as we can,” he says.

“I envision Simple Wave to go a long way as a platform in protecting the elderly and giving peace of mind to family members. I am thankful to AIA for helping us along the way,” says Umali.

Umali says they plan to launch the product next year. “I am very excited to launch this product in the Philippines,” he says, adding that the company has an office in Ortigas.

“In the US, my mom held three jobs to pay for our education.  She was an executive here.  She worked there at a grocery store and as bank teller trying to support her kids.  After seeing that, I wanted to create jobs for Filipinos,” says Umali.


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