Published May 11. 2014 4:00AM
Stonington - For more than three decades, Kevin Logan made a good living designing software to diagnose and predict troubles with diesel and turbine engines on military and commercial ships.
So it may come as something of a surprise that the 60-year-old Logan is taking a deep dive into what seems like a whole different world: fitness monitoring systems.
Logan's newly formed company Body Biolytics won an international competition last month sponsored by the sports apparel company Under Armour to develop new capabilities for its Armour39 digital sports monitor. The win, with a $20,000 prize, came against teams that included two biomedical engineering universities and solidified Logan's belief that he was onto something.
"The digital health care field is exploding with all sorts of new devices," Logan said at his offices in Stonington Borough, where his small quarters are shared by four employees. "This is a high-growth area."
Last year, New York-based Transparency Market Research predicted that worldwide sales for digital health technologies and services would be a $10.2 billion business by 2018. That's up from $1.3 billion last year and is largely in line with another report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
The growth potential of digital health technology hasn't been lost on the business community, with Under Armour late last year purchasing MapMyFitness, the maker of a popular fitness-monitoring app, for $150 million. And Facebook just last month paid an undisclosed price for the motion-tracking app Moves.
Logan said that defense cutbacks approaching 30 percent were sure to affect the bottom line of his longtime company called MACSEA Ltd., which develops predictive and diagnostic software and installs and maintains monitoring devices on about 40 Navy ships deployed around the globe. So he began exploring the possibility of translating his previous research in monitoring the health of engines into software that could add to the understanding of the human body.
"In some ways, monitoring the body is easier," said Logan, president and chief technology officer at MACSEA.
While monitoring ships means keeping tabs on hundreds of signals at a time, body monitors are usually looking at only a few measurements, such as heart rate and calorie burn, he said. But the technology is much the same, and both systems work in real time, he said, meaning immediate feedback for the customer.
The Under Armour challenge involved finding new uses for a wearable chest strap that monitors athletes' heart rate, calorie burn and workout intensity.
"No more guessing or pretending," said an advertisement for Armour39, which bills itself as a first-of-its-kind performance monitoring system. "Now you don't just see yourself getting better; you'll be keeping score."
Logan used accelerometers - devices that measure the vibration of machines on ships - to monitor body motions in three dimensions. MACSEA employee Christian Rollins was the guinea pig for Logan's monitoring experiments, which looked at several exercises popular in gyms, such as weightlifting curls.
The idea, said Logan, was to develop an algorithm that could analyze thousands of data points and create a "digital fingerprint" associated with each exercise. The squiggly lines of the fingerprint could then be compared with previous workouts to get an idea of what kind of progress is being made.
Eventually, Body Biolytics may develop an app that will help interpret the results, Logan said, and he is hoping to maintain his relationship with Under Armour to explore a range of business possibilities. He also plans to explore financing options such as Connecticut's new Bioscience Innovation Fund that could speed up the software-development process and quintuple his current workforce.
"Sensors are cheap," Logan said. "Anything that can be sensorized will be."
Among Logan's other interests is the field of telemedicine, which allows patients to be remotely monitored so that doctors or family members could potentially identify a serious health incident in real time - maybe even before it happens.
Massachusetts-based WinterGreen Research, in a 2013 report, said telemedicine was a $1.4 billion business worldwide last year and is expected to hit $1.5 trillion in 2019.
"The world of wearable sensors is evolving," Logan said. "What are you going to do with that data: That's what we are focusing on."
The idea, said Logan, is to become good enough at interpreting health-monitoring data to improve workouts, cut medical expenses and save people's lives. And this may mean health-monitoring smartwatches or full-body sensors will be worn by more and more people, sending information into the cloud that can be interpreted by computers in real time, helping make up for future projected shortages in medical doctors.
Sensors in car seats could also help sleepy drivers so that if they drifted off during a trip control of their vehicles would be automatically shifted to a computer.
"All of this is doable; it's not blue-sky stuff," Logan said. "This is actionable information. You're empowered with data."