VitalFlo Wins at NASA Tech Briefs Award

VitalFlo, a small handheld spirometer about the size of an iPhone that helps consumers monitor their breathing, recently won the Medical Design category at the NASA Tech Briefs Create the Future Contest, placing first from over 80 entries submitted by engineers from around the world.

Over 25 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma, and of those, 16 million are between the ages of 18-64. Due to the longevity of asthma, it is ranked as one of the top five most expensive diseases, costing the US over $63 billion annually, according to WebMD.

Over 60% of asthmatics own a peak flow meter (PFM); however, only about 35% actually use their PFM due to varying factors. Regular use of a reliable PFM and monitoring of one’s respiratory vitals would create a better asthma management plan, and in turn, reduce the effects and severity of their asthma.

“VitalFlo actually spawned from the Product Innovation Course offered at North Carolina State University and has had continued support from the NSF ASSIST Center,” says James Dieffenderfer, an ASSIST Center student and a member of the VitalFlo team. “Our team was specifically interested in asthma prevention because of the vast amount of people that suffer from asthmatic conditions. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the design process that we discovered our device could also be used as a Spirometer as well, opening up even more diagnostic opportunities.”

The Product Innovation Course at NC State University is a project-based course that is cross-disciplinary with teams that are made up of students in the Master of Business Administration, Industrial Design, and Engineering programs. Each team performs market research, listens to the voice of the customer, and builds prototypes and a business case. The Lab Course is co-taught by MBA, Design, and Engineering professors. The Vitalflo team was mentored by Dr. John Muth, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Deputy Director of the ASSIST Center.

The Create the Future Design Contest was launched in 2002 by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs magazine to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. The annual event has attracted more than 8,000 product design ideas from engineers, entrepreneurs, and students worldwide. The contest’s principal sponsors are COMSOL and Tech Briefs Media Group. With over 190,000 BPA-audited subscribers and 400,000 monthly readers, NASA Tech Briefs is the world’s largest-circulation design engineering magazine, distributed in both print and PDF formats.

“The Create the Future Contest is great for the Vitalflo team! It provides a platform for others to learn about their technology, and shows how a multidisciplinary team can innovate a product concept. This handheld spirometer is very low-cost to build, which may make it useful not just for asthma sufferers here in the US, but in other regions of the world where the cost of medical devices is a big problem. The students will also be featured on the cover of Medical Design Briefs Magazine which is good for NC State,” Dr. Muth commented.

The VitalFlo team is made up of Dieffenderfer, an engineering graduate student; Mike Brown, a Spring 2013 graduate of the Industrial Design graduate program; and Leigh Johnson, a Spring 2013 graduate of the Master of Business Administration program.