Anybody that struggles with sleep will be aware of the time, money and dedication it can take to come up with a cure. People in need of understanding their sleep would often need to spend a long uncomfortable night in hospital which, can be counterintuitive owing to the strange and daunting experience of sleeping in such a clinical environment.
Enter the Belun Ring. “The name Belun comes from a German opera about a ring with magic powers, and we hope that the ring we have developed will empower people and physicians to take control of sleep health,” Lydia Leung, CEO of Belun Technology told us.
The ring is worn on the index finger and throughout the night it detects heart rate, stress level, oxygen saturation in the blood, and motion. When the patient wakes up in their own bed, they put the ring back into its cradle where it will be charged, and the data collected will be uploaded. After being worn for three or four nights, the ring can be sent back to the clinic where a sleep report is generated automatically.
This way, physicians will be able to see if patients have conditions such as sleep apnoea. According to Leung, “about 15 per cent of people over the age of 40 will have this issue, and about 80 per cent of sufferers go undiagnosed.” Lack of sleep can often be brushed off by patients and doctors alike but, untreated sleep apnoea patients are at risk of chronic conditions like stroke, diabetes or even dementia.
Belun Technology was motivated to create the ring to save people time, money and the stigma of going to the doctor. “In Hong Kong, it can take 12 to 16 months of waiting to have an appointment in a sleep lab. Many people do not have an incentive to go through this. Our motivation is not to get rid of the sleep lab, but to give patients the opportunity to do a pre-screening at home,” said Leung.
The well-designed device lacks the bulkiness of many medical-grade technologies and has the advantage of easy usage like the consumer electronics we are used to. There are very few other products like the Belun Ring with FDA clearance on the market. Belun are also working on an application for patients to upload the data directly to their mobile device in order to be more user-friendly.
So how does the Belun Ring stand out from other wearables such as the iWatch or the Fitbit for example? “These technologies record daily activity and the Belun Ring shows how they affect sleep. For example, how does walking 10,000 versus 1,000 steps a day change the way we sleep at night?”
Leung a committed technologist also believes that the future of healthcare in Hong Kong is in AI. “Due to the ageing population, there is a shortage of professional and medical staff. There are many people who need medical resources, and the rapid expansion of this age group is putting a lot of strain on the healthcare community. Artificial intelligence (AI) will not completely replace medical staff, but it can partially reduce the heavy workload faced by industry professionals. As a complementary tool, the technology can increase efficiency in areas like data analysis, patient prioritization, and resource allocation.”
Pairing AI with preventative care can lead to the diagnosis of conditions before they become a problem. AI can be used to screen and pre-screen patients at a much faster rate and potentially with more accuracy as we have seen with Google’s DeepMind retinal scanning device.
The Belun ring is already on the market in Hong Kong and the company are looking to distribute to new markets. Namely in the US, Japan, and Taiwan. The next step for the device is CFDA approval, although this is proving more challenging than expected. “The CFDA process in China is very complicated and we are not quite familiar with it yet.
The language difference is also another challenge. In Hong Kong, we are used to having all the research done in English,” told Leung. She is hoping however that the symbolic importance of being FDA approved will help to open any stiff doors.
After the unexpected quick expansion of their product, Belun Technology has received an enthusiastic response from the healthcare industry and the public. “We are hoping to continue our development not only in the hardware of the product but also the AI technology. Our major goal is to use these innovations to bring preventative health to consumers and support them in controlling chronic disease more comfortably. In the future, we are looking to also focus on other chronic conditions such as diabetes.”
The company is also working to create a product that will monitor the cardiovascular health of users. This product will be able to analyse the arterial age of users for the use of preventive care as well. “This project is in synergy with our current Belun Ring. Sleep health and cardiovascular health coincide with each other. When users see and feel the benefits, they are more motivated to take control of their health.”
Belun Technology recently won the ICT Startup Grand Award at Hong Kong ICT Awards 2018.
Read our full interview with Lydia Leung of Belun Technology here.