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Engineer's Lawsuit Stops 'Worst Abuses'

Court says engineering board has a 'history of overzealous enforcement actions'. Also, wearables for opioid overdoses and premature babies.

Wearable Sends a Text When You Overdose

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have created the HopeBand, a wearable prototype that can detect and (possibly) prevent opioid overdoses.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people die from opioid overdoses every day.

A new report from IEEE Spectrum says that the HopeBand is one of many products currently in development that attempts to address the epidemic with technology. When the wearable detects low blood oxygen levels, it sounds an alarm, flashes red lights and even sends out a text message with the wearer’s locations. The idea is that it can send a text message to someone who can hopefully arrive in time with some Narcan to bring the addict back.

According to one researcher, the HopeBand is designed to basically have someone on high alert, always. Rashmi Kalkunte, a software engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University, says, “Imagine having a friend who is always watching for signs of overdose.”

Sounds miserable. 

Right now, the prototype costs around $30, but the team is hoping to have it as low as $16. The price point is the most promising, as the device is less likely to be pawned if it isn’t particularly valuable.

The wearable uses pulse oximetry sensors that monitor blood oxygen levels using light absorption. If oxygen levels drop too low, the device processes data for 10 seconds and then sounds an alarm.

Next, the team will make sure that the HopeBand actually detects overdoses in real people, and will start by offering it free to opioid users through needle exchange programs.

Wearable Identifies Developmental Disabilities

Researchers from Harvard University have created a soft wearable sensor that could help identify developmental disabilities in children born prematurely.

It's common for kids born prematurely to develop neuromotor and cognitive development disabilities, but if they are caught early, they can be addressed.

The problem is that they are hard to catch, and the diagnostic equipment can be bulky. This is why researchers developed a soft and light wearable sensor that can attach to a kid’s hand to measure grip strength as well as hand and finger motion.

The sensor is made of a non-toxic, highly conductive liquid solution: potassium iodide, a common dietary supplement, and glycerol, a common food additive.

While it has only been tested on adults, the sensor was designed with children in mind. Kids might be a little more receptive to a small silicon-rubber sensor that sits on top of the finger rather than bulky gloves.

Harvard's Office of Technology Development is currently looking to commercialize the technology, and the researchers now plan on scaling down the device so it can actually be tested on children.

Engineer Wins Lawsuit

In 2017, Mats Järlström sued the engineering board in Oregon after he was fined $500 for engineering without a license. Järlström, a resident of Beaverton, OR, reached out to city officials with a possible update to the formula that controls yellow traffic lights. It turns out that the formula was not only 60 years old, but responsible for many drivers being ticketed for running a red even though they started turning when the light was yellow.

His pursuit of traffic-light timing justice began in 2013 when his wife received a red-light-camera ticket. Being an engineer, he had to know what happened, how it happened and, most of all, how it could be improved to keep it from happening again in the future. Järlström's problems started after he went public about his suggested changes to the yellow light timing formula.

When Oregon’s engineering board found out about Järlström, his appearances on local news shows and his speaking engagements at conferences, it launched a two-year investigation that ended with Järlström on the receiving end of the aforementioned $500 fine. The board claimed that he couldn't talk about traffic lights in public until he obtained a state-issued professional-engineer license.

The board threatened him with thousands of dollars in additional fines and up to one year in jail for the unlicensed practice of engineering. The board also said that he couldn’t call himself an “engineer,” even though he has a degree in electrical engineering and decades of engineering experience. Like many engineers in Oregon, Järlström is not a state-licensed “professional engineer,” and state law provided that only licensed professional engineers could legally use the title “engineer”. Instead of giving in and paying the fine, Järlström sued and said it violated his first amendment rights.

On December 28, 2018, Järlström won. A federal court not only said that he has a right to talk about traffic lights, but also said that the state couldn't restrict the use of the "engineer" title.

The court also stopped the state’s restriction on the title “engineer”, saying it was “substantially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.” It also said that the engineering board had a “history of overzealous enforcement actions”.

Järlström says he is “thrilled” now that the court has stopped the engineering board’s "worst abuses". He says, “Being an engineer is a big part of my identity, as it is for many people.

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