The Journal

These 9 startups acquired by Google reveal the tech giant’s healthcare strategy

How is a tech company that began as a simple search engine starting to impact healthcare so broadly? Here’s a look at 10 Google and Alphabet acquisitions and how they fit into the tech giant’s healthcare strategy.

By Erin Brodwin

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What appears to unite those acquisitions is a strategy focused on massive data gathering and surveillance — both in people’s homes, using devices like speakers and smart thermostats, and on their bodies, using smartwatches.

Over the past half decade, Google, Alphabet, and another of its subsidiaries, Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences), have made sizable inroads across a wide range of potential health applications — from creating devices for people with hand tremor to studying algorithms designed to help clinicians better spot breast cancer.

Here’s a look at 10 Google and Alphabet acquisitions and how they fit into the tech giant’s health care strategy.

Smart homes and devices for aging in place In its first of three health-related acquisitions in 2014, Google announced it was purchasing connected device maker Nest for $3.2 billion in cash.

Led by former Apple designer Tony Fadell and founded in 2010, Nest had been working on creating home appliances includingthermostats and smoke detectors that could communicate with smartphones. Today as part of Google’s branded family, Google Nest sells smart thermostats and doorbells, cameras, and Wi-Fi hubs that double as smart speakers imbued with Google Assistant voice technology. All of these technologies are critical to helping older people.

The same year as its Nest purchase, Google acquired Lift Labs, the maker of smart silverware designed to help people with Parkinson’s or other movement related conditions . Verily now owns the company and sells the devices, called Liftware.

Rounding out its smart home and smart speaker offerings, Google nabbed Swedish startup Limes Audio in 2017. The company created an algorithm designed to help scrub ambient environmental noises from audio for more accurate listening and speaking. The acquisition could have uses in homes or hospitals, Wang said, where ambient noise can be an issue for hurried clinicians and sick patients.

The tool could also be used to build out a search engine interface for health information — a controversial project for which it is currently partnered with health system Ascension. With better listening capabilities, clinicians could more easily give a tool like Google Assistant commands to, for example, look up patients’ medical records.

Artificial intelligence for disease screening

Less than two weeks after its Nest announcement, Google scooped up another high-tech startup: the London-based artificial intelligence startup DeepMind, which it purchased for an estimated $400 million. At the time, DeepMind appeared to be focused on e-commerce and games, with no clear plans to get into health care.

Two years later, DeepMind launched DeepMind Health in partnership with the U.K.’s National Health Service.In 2017, shortly after DeepMind used NHS patient data to create and study a kidney disease monitoring app called Streams.

Most recently, Google-DeepMind researchers (including DeepMind’s founder and the former head of DeepMind Health), along with experts at Northwestern University and three British medical institutions, reported this month that they created an AI model that appeared capable of more accurately spotting breast cancer in mammograms than human experts.

Two years before, DeepMind’s AI technology was used to scan eye images for signs of disease.

Fitness tracking and wearable diagnostics Alphabet agreed to pay roughly $2.1 billion for wearables giant Fitbit last November, pending the results of an antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Aster Medical Journal
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