Image from The Guardian
Tim Omer is a 31-year-old diabetic. Rolling up his sleeve, he reveals a small box, about half the size of a cigarette packet, taped to his upper arm. From the box, a sensor runs under his skin, delivering a readout of his blood glucose level to his mobile phone.
A self-confessed geek, he bought an old continuous glucose monitor (CGM) from the internet and used his skills as an IT specialist to re-engineer it so that it communicates, via a self-built Tic Tac box receiver he keeps in his pocket, with his mobile phone and his smartwatch – something even the full-price version will not do. The total annual cost is about £1,000. With a couple of taps on the screen, his blood glucose level is displayed as a graph.
“I now have more information about my condition, so I better understand what I am doing. I feel more in control – and that is a massive improvement,” he says.
Citizen hackers have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, working on improvements to existing aids for sick and disabled people. A recent article in the Washington Post described how technologically savvy patients have tweaked hearing aids so they play music, used 3D printers to make their own prosthetics and improved breast pumps for new mothers. These ideas emerged not from scientists in research labs, but from patients at the grassroots who are actually using the devices they have developed.
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