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With AI and IoT technology against «smoker's cough»

With artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT technology (Internet of Things), a Swiss start-up and the IBM research laboratory Rüschlikon wants to provide relief for patients with chronic lung disease COPD. As part of a research project, the technology is being tested at the University Hospital Zurich.

With a sophisticated monitoring system, Swiss start-up aims to make life easier for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) based on developments at the IBM research laboratory Rüschlikon. COPD manifests itself through shortness of breath, coughing and expectoration. It is mainly caused by smoking - often referred to simply as "smoker's cough" - but also by air pollution control. "The disease is not curable," explains Ulrich Mühlner, CEO and co-founder of, during the presentation of the technology at the Media Day of the IBM Research Laboratory. According to the World Health Organization, the disease could be the third largest cause of death by 2030. According to the Pulmonary League, there are currently more than 400,000 COPD patients in Switzerland alone.

According to Mühlner, the newly presented research project, which runs under the name CAir and will be carried out next year at the University Hospital Zurich with more than 100 patients, aims to slow down the disease and improve the quality of life of the patients. With the constant monitoring of the patient but above all a so-called exacerbation avoided. This is an acute worsening of the symptoms of the disease, which usually leads to hospitalization. "Quite apart from the high costs of hospitalization, the health of patients deteriorates after each hospital admission," says Mühlner. "It is a true downward spiral that needs to be avoided".

Smartphone as a central data collection point

The pivotal point of CAir is the participant's smartphone. It collects data from various devices, such as a fitness tracker, which also measures pulse and temperature as well as oxygen content. Even a so-called spirometer is connected to the smartphone. This can be used daily or weekly lung function tests. Finally, an air-conditioner that is at home is connected to the smartphone via WLAN. "This measures, for example, certain particles in the air and thus determines the indoor climate of the patient," explains Thomas Brunschwiler from the IBM research laboratory the setting.

But also the built-in camera and the internal microphone of the smartphone are used. The latter, for example, picks up the sounds during the night. For example, the patient's cough frequency can be analyzed. In this task, techniques with AI from the research laboratory are now used. Thus, the cough is "heard out" by means of pattern recognition and separated from other sounds such as snoring and loud sniffing. In addition, the system must interpret the author correctly if several people sleep in the same room.

Also in the analysis of the ejection, in which the smartphone camera is used, is set to AI. Thus, the color determines how large the pus is in the lungs. On a dashboard developed by, the doctor can then monitor the disease process of the patient. "If the symptoms get worse, the doctor can call the patient to make an appointment," says Mühlner. A special chat platform is used. "The whole thing thus serves as an early warning system," explains the CEO. "The doctor can recognize such a deterioration in time and take countermeasures." For Christian Clarenbach from the University Hospital Zurich, CAir could even be groundbreaking for the future interaction between doctor and patient. "With the aging population, doctors are increasingly confronted with chronic diseases," he says. "We therefore want to reduce traditional practice visits and encourage our patients to take care of themselves a little bit with user-friendly technology. At the same time, as physicians, we must be able to follow the course of the disease and intervene before the patient appears in the emergency department, "says Clarenbach.


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