900 MHz Carrier Board
Case Studies

Case Study: Building An Open-Source Artificial Pancreas Using Ecosystem Magic

What I like about the hardware industry is the wide range of projects being built by the ecosystem. Once and awhile, a project comes along which has the possibility to directly impact lives and change people’s living conditions for the better. Enter: OpenAPS and Dana Lewis. Of all the projects that I have helped my ecosystem partners solve, this has been a personal favorite and it shows how ecosystems can come together rapidly to solve very challenging technical problems for very low cost in a very short period of time. 

There are numerous challenges faced by people suffering from Type I Diabetes. In particular, patients have to constantly monitor their blood sugar level or risk falling into a coma and face potentially life-threatening circumstances. Because Type I Diabetes is such a challenging condition to manage, many patients have decided to take their health into their own hands and build their own solutions to help them manage and monitor their conditions,resulting in the OpenAPS project by Dana Lewis.

OpenAPS was founded out of a desire for Type I Diabetes patients to be able to directly control their healthcare solutions and own their own data. At the time, the government had been delaying the approval of a compact and affordable artificial pancreas (a hardware gadget which helps patients regulate their blood sugar). The objective of the OpenAPS project is to disintermediate patients from their own healthcare solutions and put them in charge of their own health. The best way to do that? Let people build their own artificial pancreases using off-the-shelf hardware and open source software. 

I first met Dana Lewis at Maker Faire. The original OpenAPS solution was incredibly bulky and made use of a heavy battery pack combined with a Raspberry Pi and other hardware peripherals (see below). She and her team of volunteers had begun experimenting with the Intel Edison and had assembled an early stage prototype of the board. Through the power of ecosystem magic, I helped Dana with building An Open-Source Artificial Pancreas by assembling a cross-functional team of engineers to streamline her prototype and achieve her goal of building a complete OpenAPS “Rig” which could fit entirely inside a Tic-Tac box. 

Building An Open-Source Artificial Pancreas With Ecosystem Magic

Open APS Rig
This was the original OpenAPS “rig” based on the Raspberry Pi. Imagine how annoying it would be to carry this around all day long, navigate airport security and so on. Pretty Annoying!

When I saw Dana’s initial prototype of a next-generation open-source artificial pancreas design, I wanted to help but wasn’t quite sure about how to proceed. The biggest requirement was that we needed to find an embedded engineer capable and skilled with designing 900MHz capable radios. There are not many people out there who have these skills and there are an even fewer number of such people willing to work for next to free to support a good cause. 

Not everything in the world of hardware and software ecosystem is simple or straightforward. Sometimes you have to “get lucky on purpose” by pulling together a cross-functional team of people to see who is going to have the interest, energy, skill and motivation to contribute to building a project. And that is just what we did!

OpenAPS Meeting
Morgan Redfield talks to Dana Lewis and Scott Leibrand about how to optimize their OpenAPS prototype

From my work at Intel, I had built a global network of more than 200+ partners and personally supported more than 60 hackathons as well as founding multiple large hardware and software Meetups in the Seattle area. As a result of my community work: I had a good idea of who might be able to help Dana optimize her solution. 

So I scheduled a meeting and invited everyone who I thought could help at a local coffee shop. This time, we got lucky (on purpose): The right collection of people were available to be in the right place at the right time and the rest is now history. 

Open APS Prototype
The Intel Edison prototype was literally composed of a battery, several SparkFun blocks scotch-taped together into a portable configuration.

Satellite engineer and all-around good-guy and genius Morgan Redfield volunteered to design the 900 MHz carrier board and write all the open-source software for the project. After several iterations and rounds of refinement, documentation and sample code tire-kicking, we were ready to prepare for launch 

I organized a special workshop at Intel to bring in a cross-functional team to set up and test the Intel Edison and 900 MHz board plus software. We spent a day kicking the tires of the hardware and software and ironing out details as well as preparing a plan for launch. Once we had tested and validated the solution with our team of cross-functional experts, it was ready for launch and went live on GroupGets where it sold hundreds of units. 

Explorer Board

The result of all this work was the Intel Edison Explorer Board. It was so small you could put it into a Tic-Tac box and carry it with you anywhere you wanted to go. I will always remember this project fondly as well as the team of amazing, talented people who came together to make it happen. This project and many others like it can only be built by bringing the best people together in the right way at the right time. It takes ecosystem magic to do that!

Intel Edison Explorer Team
Here is to the talented people who made the Intel Edison Explorer 900MHz board a reality.

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