ISN : iSonearlythere…

What a stupid company.

I always thought it was beneath me to comment on this company, it’s truly that bad. But when I saw today’s ASX announcement about iSonea’s “second generation” wheeze monitor (a “Wheezometer” no less…), I just had to comment. Briefly. Not much more than a quick wheeze, I promise.

Now, I don’t know too much about how this company is run, but I can tell you for sure that it doesn’t have three kinds of people in its organisation. The first kind of people it obviously doesn’t have is engineers. Why? Because if they had any semi-decent technical people, they probably wouldn’t have released a product that er… didn’t work. How hard can it be to build a “wheeze” detector? I mean really. What could be so hard about placing a piezo or pressure sensor, or a microphone or some bloody thing against your neck and recording a high-sample rate, broad bandwidth audio signal?

I kid you not:

Extensive user testing revealed that incorrect positioning of the first Generation AirSonea sensor could result in recordings without breath sounds and therefore no capacity to detect continuous adventitious breath sounds (CABS)

Well, it couldn’t have been that extensive, because they don’t have many users, but ok.

What I don’t understand is that we have something like a century of technological experience in recording sounds from the general vicinity of the neck. You know, as a human race. I’m talking about the post-“silent pictures” era of Hollywood, MTV, vocal artists, divas, stuff like that. We’ve had no problems capturing the occasionally wheezy vocal harmonics of Tina Turner and Melissa Etheridge. We’ve had artificial speech aids for patients that have had a laryngectomy since pretty much the 1920s. Most of the noise cancelling technology in a cell phone is designed to remove “breathing sounds” so obviously we can detect it in all its glory. In fact my wife regularly ridicules me for sounding like a telephone pervert when using the bog-standard Apple iPhone “wired-in” hands-free system, that’s how good it is at picking up just the sound of passive breathing. For chrissake, I’ve watched the Bourne Identity and recent episodes of Madam Secretary where apparently a parabolic microphone can pick up someone wheezing from half a klick up-wind.

We have the technology, people.

The second group of people missing from this company is anyone with a basic clue about marketing and branding. Oh my goodness, what were you thinking? I’m sorry, but whoever came up with “Wheezometer”, “WHolter” and “wheezeRATE” is not very talented. Frankly, it reeks suspiciously of engineers doing product branding, instead of doing what they obviously should have been doing, which is getting the “Wheezometer” to work properly in the first place.

I’m even willing to bet that branding was done by some guy named Walter, because otherwise I just can’t explain “WHolter”.

Finally, based on the various high-quality disclosures we have seen from this company lately (like “planning commercial partnerships” … yay!), including this most recent “second gen” disclosure, investor relations isn’t really a strong suite either. Frankly, the last announcement was more like using ASX continuous disclosure for cheap advertising than anything of informational value to an existing or prospective shareholder. Also, from the announcement, it is totally clear that if you have any product-related questions you are supposed to contact the Chairman of the company, Leon L’Huillier, directly. Odd. Well, I am not going bother an important man with a trivial question, so I’ll just ask it here. According to the revised product brief:

The Second Generation AirSonea wheeze detection algorithm includes a breath-screening module to ensure the device will only record and pass sounds through to wheeze analysis when breath is detected. The app warns when breath is not detected and allows the user to reposition the sensor correctly without the need to stop recording and start again.

My question is this, what happens if the user dies in the process of trying to get the Wheezometer to analyse the Wheeze, and does the iPhone go I’m sorry Dave, I can’t measure your wheezeRATE?

dead chicken

I have two more things to say.

The first is that SmartPhone apps absolutely can help with respiratory care, and a cursory glance on the Apple App Store revealed a whole pile of applications that do various nifty things (many for free, by the way). I must confess, I didn’t see anything that specifically automated the “analysis of the wheeze” but it’s probably only a matter of time before some geezer gets a handle on the wheezer. Wheezing itself is only part of the story anyhow. Frankly, I just can’t see why anyone would bother buying an “AirSonea” sensor (a marginally better name, by the way – that must have been a “second generation” marketing person). There is no doubt that a comprehensive respiratory management application is valuable, especially if it creates a diagnostically-meaningful patient profile that can be shared with a physician.

Secondly, notwithstanding any value that may or may not be present in the iSonea “app”, I am going to throw out an engineering challenge, just to illustrate how irrelevant the “proprietary ARM technology” is. Using any “off-the-shelf” bluetooth or wired hands-free microphone (I don’t care which), even no external microphone (that would obviously be the most elegant solution), I would like to announce a competition open to all Australian secondary school students between Year 7 and Year 12 (inclusive). Your mission should you choose to accept it, is to build a “wheeze-o-meter” out of a SmartPhone.

It must, very simply and reliably measure:

  1. The % of a breathing cycle that is devoted to the “wheeze”.
  2. The rate of breathing (cycle-to-cycle).
  3. No fancy graphics, or database or anything, just two numbers on a screen capturing breathing rate and % wheeze. Of course if you really want to impress us all and show your skills, I’ll take any bells and whistles you want to show. Show us your “skillz”, and show us how convincingly you can beat a public company that has spent millions of dollars trying to accomplish the same thing (and failed).
  4. If, in your experimentation you find you need to build a holder, or a baffle or some kind of device to optimise the acoustic acquisition, fine, but no additional electronics is allowed. Obviously the use of anything other than the phone and possibly an external mic will be viewed as considerably less elegant.

The deadline is the 1st of October, 2015. Android or Apple OS is fine. It obviously doesn’t have to be released to an “App Store” (not possible in that timeline anyhow), just a demo is fine. I will offer a $5,000 reward to the first high-school science genius to email me a movie of the app working along with a brief explanation of how the problem was solved. The movie should show two minutes of data acquisition in a normal person (without asthma) and two minutes of data acquisition from a friend / family member with asthma and a bit of a wheeze going. Make sure you have the other people’s consent to be part of the movie. The winning movie will be posted on this site (i.e. in the public domain) along with a brief and highly-respectful write-up of the winner.

The (verified) winner retains the right to the application. I might add that if you can sell more than about $25 worth of a working app online, then you will have not only technologically beat iSonea, but also commercially whupped it as well…

Game on.

7 thoughts on “ISN : iSonearlythere…

  1. Ha … ISN may not have had engineer, marketing guru or investor relations expert but they did have a paid mole on HC. Which added a little bit of interest to things.

    In its hay day ISN spent $1.9m in advertising for a return of $19k in sales. Its Australia’s first big mHealth trainwreck. A fascinating story on many levels.

    Great idea for a contest and hope you get a lot of entries. Its very generous of you. If I told you I was in year 10 and mum said I could send a clip in ….. what do you reckon my chances would be?


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