With a flick of the hand, app aims to help smokers kick the habit

With a flick of the hand, app aims to help smokers kick the habit

Dr. Ivan Berlin, an expert in addictions, says Israeli-founded Somatix's gesture analysis software is 'revolutionary' in detecting cigarette use

Illustrative image of a cigarette (sercansamanci, iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a cigarette (sercansamanci, iStock by Getty Images)

Somatix, a New York-based startup founded by Israelis, says it has developed gesture analysis software that can keep track of users’ smoking habits and help them get a handle on their addiction.

The software developed by the firm, which has an R&D center in Ra’anana, Israel, can be put into existing wearable devices. The firm uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to collect, analyze and act on information gleaned from hand motions, without any active input needed by its users. Its first product is SmokeBeat.

By monitoring gestures through smartwatch or smartband sensors, SmokeBeat is able to identify and distinguish the act of smoking from other hand-to-mouth gestures, like brushing teeth, drinking a beverage, eating, nail-biting and shaving. The software can also infer emotional states from simple hand gestures, the company says. The cloud-based machine learning algorithms then provide insights into both the physiological and emotional states of the users.

Illustrative image of a smoker (KatarzynaBialasiewicz, iStock by Getty Images)

The app provides its users and their physicians with information about their smoking habits: when the person smokes most, how many cigarettes are consumed, the long-term financial impact of their behavior. This data helps provide insight into the triggers that set off the urge for a smoke, and also reveals how many hours of life are wasted by smoking.

The software’s predictive analytics anticipate when a smoking episode will occur and uses this information to prompt users with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. It sends them messages like: “Don’t think about what you are giving up when you quit — focus on what you are gaining” and “Your risk of mouth and throat cancer is reduced in half five years after you quit smoking.”

What makes the software unique is that it does not require smokers to take steps to track and input their smoking habits.

Shooting for the jackpot

Smoking has been linked not only to lung cancer but also to heart disease, stroke and other chronic lung ailments.

“The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 7 million people a year,” according to a May 2017 World Health Organization fact sheet.

So companies, health professionals and governments have been striving to find a way to help smokers wean themselves off nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Those who create and market such a solution will likely have hit the jackpot. And companies like Somatix are turning to digital health technologies for answers.

In October, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a first mobile device and app to help smokers stop. The Carrot, a carbon monoxide mobile breath sensor that can be paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth, was developed by a Redwood City, California-based startup. It shows users in real-time how their cigarette smoking impacts their carbon monoxide levels.

Carrot also has its own smoking cessation program in a smartphone medical application called Pivot. But this app, unlike SmokeBeat, requires users to register the number of cigarettes they smoke and take breath samples before displaying data and other metrics.

Somatix’s SmokeBeat app sends messages to smokers, reminding them of the consequences (Courtesy)

SmokeBeat was tested in a pilot study by Reuven Dar of the Tel Aviv University.

Results of the study showed that the SmokeBeat algorithm correctly detected over 80% of the smoking episodes and produced very few false alarms. In addition, smokers fitted with the software showed a “significant decline in smoking rates over the 30-day trial,” while the control group showed no change in their smoking rate.

“These preliminary results suggest that automatic monitoring of smoking episodes and alerting the smoker in real time may facilitate smoking reduction in motivated smokers,” the study concluded. “Raising the awareness of smokers to the act of smoking in real time, as the SmokeBeat app is able to do, can counter the automaticity of the smoking habit.”

The study was recently published in the Oxford University Press’ Nicotine and Tobacco Research Journal.

Dr. Ivan Berlin, a professor in clinical pharmacology at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. (Courtesy)

Somatix technology has caught the attention of Dr. Ivan Berlin, a professor in clinical pharmacology at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris who is an expert in addiction medicine. He came on a visit to Israel last week and met with company representatives. He has no personal or business association with the company, he said in an interview with The Times of Israel.

Somatix has developed “a very interesting way to detect cigarette use,” he said. “I would say it is a revolutionary approach to follow smokers to see how much they smoke, when they smoke.”

The uniqueness of the technology, he said is that it “doesn’t need the collaboration of the individual.” Other apps ask users to input information or take other steps. “It is always a problem of compliance,” he said. “At the beginning they do, and more and more they forget to do it and they comply less and less.”

The SmokeBeat app developed by Somatix can give you data on how many cigarettes you smoked, when, and how much money and hours of life you wasted (Courtesy)

Many other applications could be addressed by this hand gesture technology, he said, such as detection of drug injections for heroin addicts, or monitoring drug medication compliance for patients who have to take medicine for chronic diseases.

What needs to be done now, he suggested, is further testing, perhaps in combination with nicotine patches or inhalers.

The best medications to help users stop smoking have an efficacy level of around 40%, compared to general drug treatments that have an efficacy level of around 70%-75%, he said. So smoking cessation medications are “not very successful. So, if you increase the 40% efficacy with this application and you manage to get to 70%-75%, it is a huge progress.”

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