Racing Toward Deeper Health

Real-time data insight isn't just fueling race car performance—it's pushing the boundaries of modern medicine.

By Pragati Verma, Contributor

Formula 1 typically conjures images of fast cars, checkered flags, and quick tire changes. And today, the same digital technology that optimizes race car performance is buzzing around medical facilities and in consumer wellness, monitoring improvements in patients and helping us perform at our best.

McLaren Applied Technologies—a company that uses data-driven technologies to power Formula 1 car racing—helped one British pharmaceuticals company monitor recovery in stroke victims and people suffering from severe arthritis, using smart sensors and data analytics . Much like with cars, the key is to find predictive and actionable insight (in this case, from the human body) efficiently from rich and real-time data.

To track the health of stroke patients enrolled in clinical trials, clinicians have typically relied on recording activity levels each time a patient visited the clinic. McLaren Applied Technologies provided patients with sensors to accurately monitor patient recovery with a greater degree of real-world,  evidence-based insight. The sensors correlated wearers’ activity and gait profile with disease progression, helping to provide personalized insight about the patient’s response to drug treatment.

This real-time data about patient activity has allowed clinicians to get a better understanding of patient progress between clinical visits and determine informed interventions. This kind of biotelemetry has also ensured more accurate results and increased confidence in the studies, and long-term the hope is that this technology will help to bring new drugs to market sooner, at lower cost.

According to Duncan Bradley, health unit business director at McLaren Applied Technologies, these kinds of health monitoring systems are not all that different than those used to monitor McLaren Formula 1 cars.

The McLaren team uses up to 300 sensors on a car at any one time and uses that data to build the best strategy for a race. “It started off with us saying, ‘Well, if you can continuously develop a Formula 1 car by using real-time data insight and being predictive about the outcome of the race, why wouldn’t you do that for a human, swapping the race outcome for a health outcome?'” Bradley explains.

“It started off with us saying, ‘Well, if you can manage a Formula 1 car by using real-time data insight and being predictive about the outcome of the race, why wouldn’t you do that for a human…?'”
— Duncan Bradley, Health Unit Business Director, MAT

And in fact, roughly ten years ago, McLaren Applied Technologies started applying the same scalable data analytics technology used to understand F1 cars to better understand the human element of the race: McLaren’s Formula 1 drivers. Bradley points out that understanding the makeup of a driver goes well beyond his natural driving skills to include movement, recovery, nutrition, and cognition. “We track, monitor, and predict all the key health and wellness indicators that a driver needs to be able to perform at his best over season and create  personalized interventions and programs.”

The data collected from biometric sensors enables McLaren Applied Technologies  to understand each driver’s body and personalize training programs over the course of a race season, but these same insights are directly applicable to the general population. “In the F1 world, it’s all about maximizing race performance, but in healthcare it could be recovering from a surgical procedure, managing a disease or weight loss, or running a marathon. Whilst the field of application is quite different, the technology and approach underpinning our digital health and wellness business is quite similar, directly taken from what we have learned over the years of going racing.”

The healthcare industry, he says, is at a pivotal point where it can benefit from adopting such innovative technologies, with a growing requirement for evidence-based, predictive insight to improve our well-being coupled with the availability of more high-quality human data. “Thanks to investment in motorsport, a highly competitive environment with a cutting-edge technology focus, the racing world saw a digital revolution before many other industries and learned a lot about handling data to drive decision-making,” he says, “but what we learned about processing real-time data can be very useful in providing services to the healthcare sector, from clinical research to wellness and sports performance.”

In addition to its sensor technology, McLaren Applied Technologies has upped its wearables game in a collaboration with Huami, best known for its branded fitness bands. MAT will work with the Chinese biometric device company to develop co-branded intelligent, customized-designed performance optimization solutions and wearable technologies to keep people healthier—without sacrificing personal style.

And while Bradley is excited to be working with Huami, he’s clear that McLaren Applied Technologies’ platform is not restricted to wearable data. “We collect a huge amount of structured data, such as activity level, heart rate, joint movement, and glucose information from wearbles,” he says. “But we look at a lot other datasets, such as clinical reports from hospitals and patients’ responses, to characterize someone’s management of their lifestyle.”

Solving the Bigger Puzzle

According to Bradley, McLaren Applied Technologies is focused on the application of its analytics platform in specific therapeutic areas and wellness applications—orthopedics, diabetes, and weight loss, to name a few. The core idea, he explains, is to “mechanize and scale our approach to data analytics,” which means monitoring doesn’t stop at the individual level.

As clinicians collect troves of health information, there is an opportunity for such technology to support wider health management initiatives.“These are big societal issues, and data comes from various places,” Bradley states. “We are developing technologies to drive scalability and apply insights from this huge amount of data to big patient groups and populations.”

“The future of healthcare is to use innovative technologies to save lives and drive better outcomes.”
— Duncan Bradley, Health Unit Business Director, MAT

Whether it is an individual or a population group, Bradley says, it’s not hard to monitor people and gather a lot of data about their health. But what matters most, he says, is how you deliver consistent and meaningful insights to patients and health systems. “The future of healthcare is to use innovative technologies to save lives and drive better outcomes.”