Updating my “SmartAging” device design criteria

Could seniors be the ideal test group for user-friendly consumer IoT devices?

Two years ago I created a series of criteria by which to evaluate IoT devices that seniors might use (N.B., I didn’t really focus on ones specifically designed for seniors, because I have an admitted bias against devices with huge buttons or that look like mid-century period tube radios — it’s been my experience that seniors aren’t crying out to be labeled as “different.”) to improve their quality of life.

The particular emphasis was on what I called “SmartAging,” which synthesizes two aspects of the IoT:

  • Quantified Self health devices to keep seniors healthier longer and to become partners with their doctors rather than passive recipients of care, and
  • smart home devices to make it easier to run their homes, so that seniors could remain on their own as long as possible rather than entering some drab, sterile assisted-living facility (again, my bias showing…).

A lot has happened since I compiled the list. The changes have solidified my conviction that seniors, especially the less technologically minded, might be the acid test of consumer IoT user friendliness because they can’t be expected to work as hard at mastering devices, they don’t have the automatic openness of digital natives, and encounter differing degrees of reduced agility, etc. 

Also, given the current political climate, it makes sense to try to improve seniors’ lives as much as possible without requiring costly public services that are in jeopardy (I am trying to be civil here, OK?).

The most dramatic of these developments is the amazing success of Amazon’s voice-activated Echo.  I’ve praised it before as an ideal device for seniors, partially because voice is such a natural input for anyone, and particularly because it means that the tech-averse don’t have to learn about interfaces or programs, just speak! Even better, as the variety of “skills” increases, the Echo really is becoming a unified SmartAging hub: I can now control my Sensi smart thermostats and the “Ask My Buddy” skill can even call for assistance, so it works for both halves of SmartAging.  Although I haven’t tested it, I assume much of this also holds true for the Google Home.

There’s an increasing variety of other new Quantified Self devices, some of which are specifically focused on seniors, such as the GreatCall Jitterbug Smart phone, which comes with a simplified, over-size home page featuring “brain games” a la Lumosity, and an Urgent Response system (all of these features are available on an iPhone and, I assume, on Android, but must be set in Settings rather than being the default settings).

In addition, on the personal level, I convinced my Apple Store (disclaimer: I’m at the bottom of the food chain with Apple, not privy to any policies or devices under consideration, so this is just my opinion) to let me start bi-weekly classes at the local senior center on how to use Apple devices, especially the iPad. I continue to work with a lot of seniors who come into the store who are often leery of tech products.

Silver Medal!

Most directly, last month’s companywide Apple Wellness Challenge was life-changing for me.  This year the friendly competition focused on the Apple Watch (important, since a watch is a familiar form-factor to geezers). After wasting three days trying to find the app, I really got into the event because we could share results with friends to encourage (or shame, LOL) them — that really motivated me.  Bottom line: I managed to win a Silver Medal, Apple featured my experience on the event website, and, most important, I made lasting changes to my fitness regimen that I’ve sustained since then, now exercising almost an entire hour a day. I couldn’t help think afterward that the program really did show that user-friendly technology can improve seniors’ lives.

Sooo, with a few more years to think about them and more progress in devices themselves, (as well as increased sensitivity to issues such as privacy and security) here are my amended criteria for evaluating products and services for seniors. As I mentioned the first time, Erich Jacobs of OnKöl assisted with the specs):

Ease of Use

  1. Does it give you a choice of ways to interact, such as voice, text or email? Voice in particular is good for seniors who don’t want to learn about technology, just use it.
  2. Is it easy for you to program, or — if you them give your permission — does it allow someone else to do it remotely?
  3. Does it have either a large display and controls or the option to configure them through settings?
  4. Is it intuitive?
  5. Does it require hard-wired, professional installation?
  6. Is it flexible: can it be adjusted? Is it single purpose, or does it allow other devices to plug in and create synergies? Can it be a true hub for all your IoT devices?
  7. Does it complicate your life, or simplify it?
  8. Do any components require regular charging, or battery replacement?

Privacy, Security, and Control

  1. Is storage local vs. cloud or company’s servers? Is data encrypted? Anonymized?
  2. Do you feel creepy using it?
  3. Is it password-protected?
  4. Is security “baked in” or an afterthought?
  5. Can you control how, when, and where information is shared?
  6. If it is designed to allow remote monitoring by family or caregivers, can you control access by them?
  7. Will it work when the power goes out?

Affordability

  1. Are there monthly fees? If so, low or high? Long term contract required?
  2. Is there major upfront cost? If so, is that offset by its versatility and/or the contrast to getting the same services from a company?
  3. Does full functioning require accessories?

Design/UX

  1. Is it stylish, or does the design” shout” that it’s for seniors? Is it “Medical” looking?
  2. Is the operation or design babyish?
  3. Would younger people use it?
  4. Is it sturdy?
  5. Does it have “loveability” (i.e., connect with the user emotionally)? (This term was coined by David Rose in Enchanted Objects, and refers to products that are adorable or otherwise bond with the user.)

Architecture

  1. Inbound
    1. Does it support multiple protocols (eg. Bluetooth, BluetoothLE, WiFi, etc)
    2. Is the architecture open or closed?
  2. Outbound
    1. Does it support multiple protocols (eg. WiFi, Ethernet, CDMA, GSM, etc)
    2. Data path (cloud, direct, etc)
  3. Remote configuration capability (i.e., by adult child)? If so, can the user control amount of outside access?

Features and Functions

  1. Reminders
    1. Passive, acknowledge only
    2. Active dispensing (of meds)
  2. Home Monitoring
    1. Motion/Passive Activity Monitoring
    2. Environmental Alarms (Smoke, CO, Water, Temp)
    3. Intrusion Alarms (Window etc)
    4. Facilities/Infrastructure (Thermostat)
  3. Health Monitoring
    1. Vitals Collection
    2. Wearables Activity Monitoring
    3. Behavioral/Status Polling (How are you feeling today?)
    4. Behavioral Self-improvement
  4. Communications Monitoring
    1. Landline/Caller ID
      1. Identify scammers
    2. eMail and computer use
      1. Identify scammers
    3. Mobile phone use
  5. Fixed Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  6. Mobile Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  7. Fixed Fall Detection/Prediction
  8. Mobile Fall Detection/Prediction
  9. Telehealth (Video)
  10. New and Innovative Features

If you’re thinking about developing an IoT product and/or service for seniors I hope you’ll consider the SmartAging concept, and that these criteria will be helpful. If you’re looking for consulting services on design and/or implementation, get in touch!

Sound’s emerging IoT role

Could sound be a critical IoT tool?

I’d fixated in the past on a metaphor I called “Collective Blindness,” as a way to explain how difficult it used to be to get accurate, real-time data about how a whole range of things, from tractors to your body, were actually working (or not) because we had no way to penetrate the surface of these objects as they were used. As a result, we created some not-so-great work-arounds to cope with this lack of information.

Then along came the IoT, and no more collective blindness!

Now I’m belatedly learning about some exciting efforts to use another sense, sound, for the IoT.  Most prominent, of course, is Amazon’s Alexa and her buddies (BTW, when I ask Siri if she knows Alexa, her response was an elusive “this is about you, not me,” LOL), but I’ve found a variety of start-ups pursuing quite different aspects of sound. They nicely illustrate the variety of ways sound might be used.

technician using Auguscope to detect   sound irregularities in machinery

First is Augury.

What I particularly love about their device and accompanying smartphone app it is that they are just about the lowest-cost, easiest-to-use, rapid payback industrial IoT devices I can think of.

That makes them a great choice to begin an incremental approach to the IoT, testing the waters by some measures that can be implemented quickly, pay rapid bottom-line benefits and therefore may lure skeptical senior management who might then be willing to then try bolder measures   (this incremental approach was what I outlined in my Managing the Internet of Things Revolution e-guide for SAP, and I’ll be doing a webinar on the approach in April with Mendix, which makes a nifty no-code, low-code tool).

Instead of requiring built-in sensors, an Auguscope is a hand-held device that plant personnel can carry anywhere in the building it’s needed to analyze how the HVAC system is working. A magnetic sensor temporarily attaches to the machine and the data flows from the Auguscope to the cloud where it is analyzed to see if the sound is deviating from pre-recorded normal sounds, indicating maintenance is needed. Consistent with other IoT products that are marketed as services instead of sold, it uses a “Diagnostics as a Service” model, so there are no up-front costs and customers pay as they go. The company hopes that the technology will eventually be built into household appliances such as washers and dryers.

Presenso is the second company using sound to enable predictive maintenance.  It is sophisticated cloud-based software that takes data from a wide range of already-installed sensors and interprets any kind of data: sound, temperature, voltage, etc.  It builds a model of the machine’s normal operating data and then creates visualizations when the data varies from the norm. Presenso’s power comes from combining artificial intelligence and big data.

Finally, and most creative is Chirp (hmm: Chrome wouldn’t let me enter their site, which it said was insecure. Here’s the URL:www.chirp.io/ — try at your own risk…) , a UK company that transmits data using audio clips that really sound like chirps. It’s amazing!  Check out this video of an app in India that uses sound to pay fares on the country’s version of Uber:


Another Chirp app is a godsend to all who forget Wi-Fi passwords: your phone “chirps” a secure access code, allowing you to join the network automatically.   The company has released iOS and Android versions.  As VentureBeat reported:

“Each chirp lasts a couple of seconds, and the receiving device “listens” for a handful of notes played quickly in a certain order, in a certain range, and at a certain speed. While there are other easy ways of sharing files and data in real-time, such as Bluetooth, Chirp doesn’t require devices to pair in advance, there is no need to set up an account, and it’s ultimately a much quicker way of sharing files.

“That said, with Chirp, the file itself isn’t sent peer-to-peer, and the data doesn’t actually travel directly via audio. Chirp merely decodes and encodes the file, with the associated sound serving as the delivery mechanism. A link is generated for the recipient(s) to access it on Chirp’s servers, but the process from sending to receiving is seamless and near-instant.”

In terms of IoT applications, it could also connect with physical objects (hmm: retailing uses??). The Chirp platform is so cool that I suspect it will be a global hit (the company says it’s already used in 90 countries).

So, I’ve had my senses opened: from now on, I’ll add voice and sound in general to the list of cool IoT attributes.  Because voice and sound are so ubiquitous, they really meet the late Mark Weiser’s test:  “the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” What could be more woven into the fabric of everyday life than sound — and, potentially, more valuable?


BTW: let me put in a plug for another IoT voice product. During the past two months, I recorded 7 hours of my voice speaking a very strange mishmash of sentences drawn from, among others, Little Women, Jack London’s Call of the Wild, The Wizard of Oz, and The Velveteen Rabbit (I worried about the she-wolf sneaking up on Meg, LOL….). Using the algorithms developed for Alexa, the Vocal ID team will slice and dice my voice and create a natural sounding one for someone who cannot speak due to a birth defect or disease.  I hope you’ll join me in volunteering for this wonderful program.