A Vision for Dynamic and Lower-Cost Aging in Cities Through “SmartAging”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently about how my vision of I0T-based “SmartAging” through a combination of:

  • Quantified Self health apps and devices to improve seniors’ health and turn their health care into more of a partnership with their doctors
  • and smart home devices that would make it easier to manage their homes and “age in place” rather than being institutionalized

could meld with the exciting developments in smart city devices and strategy.  I believe the results could make seniors happier and healthier, reduce the burdens on city budgets of growing aging populations, and spur unprecedented creativity and innovation on these issues. Here’s my vision of how the two might come together. I’d welcome your thoughts on the concept!

 

A Vision for Dynamic and Lower-Cost Aging in Cities Through “SmartAging”

It’s clear business as usual in dealing with aging in America won’t work anymore.  10,000 baby boomers a day retire and draw Social Security. Between now and 2050, seniors will be the fastest growing segment of the population.  How can we stretch government programs and private resources so seniors won’t be sickly and live in abject poverty, yet millennials won’t be bankrupted either?

As someone in that category, this is of more than passing interest to me! 

I propose a new approach to aging in cities, marrying advanced but affordable personal technology, new ways of thinking about aging, and hybrid formal and ad hoc public-private partnerships, which can deal with at least part of the aging issue. Carving out some seniors from needing services through self-reliance and enhancing their well-being would allow focusing scarce resources on the most vulnerable remaining seniors. 

The approach is made possible not only by the plummeting cost and increasing power of personal technology but also the exciting new forms of collaboration it has made possible.

The proposal’s basis is the Internet of Things (IoT).  There is already a growing range of IoT wearable devices to track health indicators such as heart rates and promoting fitness activities, and IoT “smart home” devices controlling lighting, heat, and other systems. The framework visualized here would easily integrate these devices, but they can be expensive, so it is designed so seniors could benefit from the project without having to buy the dedicated devices.

This proposal does not attempt to be an all-encompassing solution to every issue of aging, but instead will create a robust, open platform that government agencies, companies, civic groups, and individuals can build upon to reduce burdens on individual seniors, improve their health and quality of life, and cut the cost of and need for some government services. Even better, the same platform and technologies can be used to enhance the lives of others throughout the life spectrum as well, increasing its value and versatility.

The proposal is for two complementary projects to create a basis for later, more ambitious one.

Each would be valuable in its own right and perhaps reach differing portions of the senior population. Combined, they would provide seniors and their families with a wealth of real-time information to improve health, mobility, and quality of life, while cutting their living costs and reducing social isolation.  The result would be a mutually-beneficial public-private partnerships and, one hopes, improve not only seniors’ lives, but also their feeling of connectedness to the broader community. Rather than treat seniors as passive recipients of services, it would empower them to be as self-reliant as possible given their varying circumstances. They would both be based on the Lifeline program in Massachusetts (and similar ones elsewhere) that give low-income residents basic Internet service at low cost.

Locally, Boston already has a record of achievement in internet-based services to connect seniors with others, starting with the simple and tremendously effective SnowCrew program that Joe Porcelli launched in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. This later expanded nationwide into the NextDoor site and app, which could easily be used by participants in the program.

The first project would capitalize on the widespread popularity of the new digital “home assistants,” such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.  One version of the Echo can be bought for as little as $49, with bulk buying also possible.  A critical advantage of these devices, rather than home monitoring devices specifically for seniors, is that they are mainstream, benefit from the “network effects” phenomenon that means each becomes more valuable as more are in use, and don’t stigmatize the users or shout I’M ELDERLY. A person who is in their 50s could buy one now, use it for routine household needs, and then add additional age-related functions (see below) as they age, amortizing the cost.

The most important thing to remember about these devices regarding aging is the fact that they are voice-activated, so they would be especially attractive to seniors who are tech-averse or simply unable to navigate complex devices. The user simply speaks a command to activate the device.

The Echo (one presumes a variation on the same theme will soon be the case with the “Home,” Apple’s forthcoming “Home Pod” and other devices that might enter the space in the future) gets its power from “skills,” or apps, that are developed by third-party developers. They give it the power, via voice, to deliver a wide range of content on every topic under the sun.  Several already released “skills” give an idea of how this might work:

  • Ask My Buddy helps users in an emergency. In an emergency, it can send phone calls or text messages to up to five contacts. A user would say, “Alexa, ask my buddy Bob to send help” and Bob would get an alert to check in on his friend.
  • Linked thermostats can raise or lower the temperature a precise amount, and lights can also be turned on or off or adjusted for specific needs.
  • Marvee can keep seniors in touch w/ their families and lessen social isolation.
  • The Fitbit skill allows the user who also has a Fitbit to trace their physical activity, encouraging fitness.

Again looking to Boston for precedent, related apps include the Children’s Hospital and Kids’ MD ones from Children’s Hospital. Imagine how helpful it could be if the gerontology departments of hospitals provided similar “skills” for seniors!

Most important to making this service work would be to capitalize on the growing number of city-based open-data programs that release a variety of important real-time data bases which independent developers mash up to create “skills”  such as real-time transit apps.  The author was a consultant to the District of Columbia in 2008 when it began this data-based “smart city” approach with the Apps for Democracy contest, which has spawned similar projects worldwide since then.  When real-time city data is released, the result is almost magic: individuals and groups see different value in the same data, and develop new services that use it in a variety of ways at no expense to taxpayers.

The key to this half of the pilot programs would be creating a working relationship with local Meetups such as those already created in various cities for Alexa programmers, which would facilitate the relationship) to stage one or more high-visibility hackathons. Programmers from major public and social service institutions serving seniors, colleges and universities, and others with an interest in the subject could come together to create “skills” based on the local public data feeds, to serve seniors’ needs, such as:

  • health
  • nutrition
  • mobility
  • city services
  • overcoming social isolation (one might ask how a technological program could help with this need. The City of Barcelona, generally acknowledged as the world’s “smartest” city, is circulating an RFP right now with that goal and already has a “smart” program for seniors who need immediate help to call for it) .

“Skills” are proliferating at a dizzying rate, and ones developed for one city can be easily adapted for localized use elsewhere.

Such a project would have no direct costs, but the city and/or a non-profit might negotiate lower bulk-buying rates for the devices, especially the l0wer price ($59 list) Amazon Dot, similar to the contract between the Japan Post Group, IBM, and Apple to buy 5 million iPads and equip them with senior-friendly apps from IBM which the Post Group would then furnish to Japanese seniors. Conceivably, the Dots bought this way might come preloaded with the localized and senior-friendly “skills.” 

The second component of a prototype SmartAging city program would make the wide range of local real-time location-based data available by various cities usable by cities joininh the 100+ cities worldwide who have joined the “Things Network” that create free citywide data networks specifically for Internet of Things use.

The concept uses technology called LoRaWAN: low-cost (the 10 units used in Amsterdam, each with a signal range of about 6 miles, only cost $12,000 total — much cheaper ones will be released soon), and were deployed and operative in less than a month!  The cost and difficulty of linking an entire city has plummeted as more cities join, and the global project is inherently collaborative.

With Things Network, entire cities would be converted into Internet of Things laboratories, empowering anyone (city agencies, companies, educational institutions, non-profits, individuals) to experiment with offering new services that would use the no-cost data sharing network.  In cities that already host Things Networks,  availability of the networks has spawned a wide range of novel local services.  For example, in Dunblane, Scotland, the team is developing a ThingsNetwork- based alarming system for people with dementia.  Even better, as the rapid spread of citywide open data programs and resulting open source apps to capitalize on them has illustrated, a neat app or service created in one city could easily be copied and enhanced elsewhere — virtuous imitation!

The critical component of the prototype programs would be to hold one or more hackathons once the network was in place.  The same range of participants would be invited, and since the Things Network could also serve a wide range of other public/private uses for all age groups and demographics, more developers and subject matter experts might participate in the hackathon, increasing the chances of more robust and multi-purpose applications resulting.

These citywide networks could eventually become the heart of ambitious two-way services for seniors based on real-time data, similar to those in Bolsano, Italy

The Internet of Things and smart cities will become widespread soon simply because of lowering costs and greater versatility, whether this prototype project for seniors happens or not. The suggestions above would make sure that the IoT serves the public interest by harnessing IoT data to improve seniors’ health, reduce their social isolation, and make them more self-sufficient. It will reduce the burden on traditional government services to seniors while unlocking creative new services we can’t even visualize today to enhance the aging process.

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!

Amazon Echo: great tech present for your tech-averse parents!

Never let it be said that I get serious about my Christmas shopping until about this date!

This year, my major suggestion is about a product that it took me a full year to buy after my mother-in-law of a certain age sent last Christmas’s check: never let it be said that I rush into purchases of any kind (I should explain that I’m like the Beacon Hill Brahmin lady who explained to a New York counterpart asking where she bought her hat: “We don’t buy hats. We have hats.” Similarly, I try to avoid buying absolutely anything: I just have what I absolutely need. A strange and complex bird, I am …).

The item in question? An Amazon Echo, which, characteristically, I bought refurbished for $50 off!

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

That leads me to a last-minute suggestion for an unlikely use of said Echo: introducing your tech-averse parent to the benefits of smart home and Quantified Self technology (AKA my “SmartAging” paradigm to keep seniors healthy and in their own homes instead of an institution).

 As I wrote a year ago, I think the neatest thing about the Echo in that regard (and, to a lesser extent, other voice-controlled IoT devices, although they’re handicapped because they just don’t have Alexa’s quick response time and already huge and constantly growing list of “skills) is that you don’t need to know any technology to use it: you just say “Alexa:….” and she does it!

While I knew the Echo had gone far beyond its original use to stream music, I had no idea until I bought it how robust and rapidly-growing it’s “skills” have become, and that it’s really a full-fledged smart home hub (why buy a dedicated hub that just sits there and doesn’t provide any of the Echo’s other benefits? Got me..).  It’s hard to keep up, but a recent Turbo Future article, “Amazon Echo: 15 Best New Features,” gives a pretty good overview, and it seems to me that most of them involve various services that can make it a lot easier, and definitely more enjoyable, for aging parents to continue to live in and manage their homes (although some judicious Christmas morning set-up by adult children may be in order for those seniors who avoid technology like the plague), because all you have to do is talk and listen! They’ll appreciate Alexa even more if their hands are full, which is often the case in the kitchen.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • shopping lists: my wife doesn’t share my love of gadgetry, but we both love this simple service.  Say “Alexa, add flour to my shopping list,” and it’s instantly on the Alexa app on your phone, to pull out at the supermarket. As someone who dutifully makes shopping lists and then always forgets them, that’s worth the service alone.  I won’t buy my household staples from Amazon because, despite the savings, I don’t like the ecological impact that specialized service causes, but if that’s not an issue for you, you can order products directly from Amazon using Alexa.
  • ordering services: you can hail an Uber or order a Domino’s Pizza. For a senior who doesn’t have a car, that can be great!
  • music: obviously the prime market for Amazon’s and other streaming music services such as Pandora is millennials, but, guess what, you can even get Guy Lombardo (the soundtrack of my earliest years because of my parents’ 78’s) simply by asking Alexa.  The ultimate time machine!
  • books: if you parent has vision problems, audible books may be a boon, and since Amazon now owns Audible, this is also possible.
  • news: I’ve been trying to wean myself from the news since Something Bad Happened Last Month, but I’m still drawn like a moth to the flame, so I can get NPR instantly. A growing variety of other sources are also available.
  • smart home: I just installed two Sensi thermostats as I get deeper into smart home technology on the home front. Even though they have a great app that lets me adjust the temp when I’m away from home, it’s neat to just say “Alexa, turn down the heat two degrees” and have her do the work, not me! Next up? Adding my WeMo lights.
  • cooking: even though you can now get Echo’s little brothers (Dot and Tap) for use elsewhere in the home — or even outdoors — most Echos are found in the kitchen, and nothing is worse than flour-covered hands on a cookbook.  Now you can even ask Alexa for a great recipe for a certain dish, use it to make your shopping list, and follow the steps for making the dish, all just by asking her. Neato.
  • calendar: they may not be working anymore, but seniors have got a lot of appointments — the doctor, or my wife’s 95-year old aunt’s tango lessons (I kid you not!), so if you link your Google Calendar, Alexa will make sure you’re not late.

Equally important (and I suspect this will become more of a feature in the near future) the Echo can even help you stay on top of the other part of my SmartAging vision: improving your health, because you can access your Fitbit data.  There’s already a skill to help parents with kiddies’ ailments, from our Children’s Hospital, so why not one for geriatrics as well??

That’s just for now, and independent developers are adding new “skills” for Alexa at a dizzying pace.  So, if you still don’t have a present for Grannie? Get her an Echo, and since it’s from Amazon, she’ll still get it by the 25th!

 

2nd day liveblogging, Gartner ITxpo, Barcelona

Accelerating Digital Business Transformation With IoT Saptarshi Routh Angelo Marotta
(arrived late, mea culpa)

  • case study (didn’t mention name, but just moved headquarters to Boston. Hmmmmm).
  • you will be disrupted by IoT.
  • market fragmented now.

Toshiba: How is IoT Redefining Relationships Between Customers and Suppliers, Damien Jaume, president, Toshiba Client Solutions, Europe:

  • time of tremendous transformation
  • by end of ’17, will surpass PC, tabled & phone market combined
  • 30 billion connect  devices by 2020
  • health care IoT will be $117 billion by 2020
  • 38% of indiustry leaders disrupted by digitally-enabled competitors by 2018
  • certainty of customer-supplier relationship disruption will be greatest in manufacturing, but also every other market
    • farming: from product procurement to systems within systems. Smart, connected product will yield to integrated systems of systems.
  • not selling product, but how to feed into whole IoT ecosystem
  • security paramount on every level
  • risk to suppliers from new entrants w/ lean start-up costs.
  • transition from low engagement, low trust to high engagement, high trust.
  • Improving efficiencies
  • ELIMINATE MIDDLEMAN — NO LONGER RELEVANT
  • 4 critical success factors:
    • real-time performance pre-requisite
    • robustness — no downtime
    • scalability
    • security
  • case studies: energy & connected home, insurance & health & social care (Neil Bramley, business unit director for clients solutions
    • increase depth of engagement with customer. Tailored information
    • real-time performance is key, esp. in energy & health
    • 20 million smart homes underway in GB by 2020:
      • digitally empowering consumers
      • engaging consumers
      • Transforming relationships among all players
      • Transforming homes
      • Digital readiness
    • car insurance: real-time telematics.
      • real-time telematics data
      • fleet management: training to reduce accidents. Working  w/ Sompo Japan car insurance:
    • Birmingham NHS Trust for health (Ciaron Hoye, head of digital) :
      • move to health promotion paradigm
      • pro-actively treat patients
      • security first
      • asynchronous communications to “nudge” behavior.
      • avoiding hip fractures
      • changing relationship w/ the patient: making them stakeholders, involving in discussion, strategy
      • use game theory to change relationship

One-on-one w/ Christian Steenstrup, Gartner IoT analyst. ABSOLUTE VISIONARY — I’LL BE INTERVIEWING HIM AT LENGTH IN FUTURE:

  • industrial emphasis
  • applications more ROI driven, tangible benefits
  • case study: mining & heavy industry
    • mining in Australia, automating entire value train. Driverless. Driverless trains. Sensors. Caterpillar. Collateral benefits: 10% increase in productivity. Less payroll.  Lower maintenance. Less damage means less repairs.
    • he downplays AR in industrial setting: walking in industrial setting with lithium battery strapped to your head is dangerous.
    • big benefit: less capital expense when they build next mine. For example, building the town for the operators — so eliminate the town!
  • take existing processes & small improvements, but IoT-centric biz, eliminating people, might eliminate people. Such as a human-less warehouse. No more pumping huge amount of air underground. Huge reduction with new system.  Mine of future: smaller holes. Possibility  of under-sea mining.
  • mining has only had incremental change.
  • BHP mining’s railroad — Western Australia. No one else is involved. “Massive experiment.”
  • Sound sensing can be important in industrial maintenance.  All sorts of real-time info. 
  • Digital twins: must give complete info — 1 thing missing & it doesn’t work.
  • Future: 3rd party data brokers for equipment data.
  • Privacy rights of equipment.
  • “communism model” of info sharing — twist on Lenin.

 

Accelerating Digital Transformation with Microsoft Azure IoT Suite (Charlie Lagervik):

  • value networking approach
  • customer at center of everything: customer conversation
  • 4 imperatives:
    • engage customers
    • transform products
    • empower employees
    • optmize operations
  • their def. of IoT combines things/connectivity/data/analytics/action  Need feedback loop for change
  • they focus on B2B because of efficiency gains.
  • Problems: difficult to maintain security, time-consuming to launch, incompatible with current infrastructure, and hard to scale.
  • Azure built on cloud.
  • InternetofYourThings.com

 

Afternoon panel on “IoT of Moving Things” starts with all sorts of incredible factoids (“since Aug., Singapore residents have had access to self=driving taxis”/ “By 2030, owning a car will be an expensive self-indulgence and will no longer be legal.”

  • vehicles now have broader range of connectivity now
  • do we really want others to know where we are? — privacy again!
  • who owns the data?
  • what challenges do we need to overcome to turn data into information & valuable insight that will help network and city operators maximize efficiency & drive improvement across our transportation network?
  • think of evolution: now car will be software driven, then will become living room or office.
  • data is still just data, needs context & location gives context.
  • cities have to re-engineer streets to become intelligent streets.
  • must create trust among those who aren’t IT saavy.
  • do we need to invest in physical infrastructure, or will it all be digital?
  • case study: one car company w/ engine failures in 1 of 3 cars gave the consultants data to decide on what was the problem.

Smart Disposables: Could This Be Birth of Internet of Everything?

Could EVERYTHING be “smart?” It may be happening sooner we thought, and with implications that are hard to fathom today.

That’s the potential with new technology pioneered by Shyam Gollakota, an assistant professor at the University of Washington.  For the first time, it would let battery- and cordless-less devices harvest signals from Wi-Fi, radio, or TV to communicate and power themselves.

Astounding!

For a long time, the most “out there” idea about IoT sensors has been Prof. Kris Pister’s “smart dust” concept, which aimed at a complete sensor/communication system in a package only one cubic millimeter in size. Pister argued that such devices would be so small and cheap that they could be installed — or perhaps even scattered — almost everywhere. The benefits could be varied and inconceivable in the past. According to Pister, possible applications could include:

  • “Defense-related sensor networks
    • battlefield surveillance, treaty monitoring, transportation monitoring, scud hunting, …
  • Virtual keyboard
    • Glue a dust mote on each of your fingernails.  Accelerometers will sense the orientation and motion of each of your fingertips, and talk to the computer in your watch.  QWERTY is the first step to proving the concept, but you can imagine much more useful and creative ways to interface to your computer if it knows where your fingers are: sculpt 3D shapes in virtual clay, play  the piano, gesture in sign language and have to computer translate, …
    • Combined with a MEMS augmented-reality heads-up display, your entire computer I/O would be invisible to the people around you.  Couple that with wireless access and you need never be bored in a meeting again!  Surf the web while the boss rambles on and on.
  • Inventory Control
    • The carton talks to the box, the box talks to the palette, the palette talks to the truck, and the truck talks to the warehouse, and the truck and the warehouse talk to the internet.  Know where your products are and what shape they’re in any time, anywhere.  Sort of like FedEx tracking on steroids for all products in your production stream from raw materials to delivered goods.
  • Product quality monitoring
    • temperature, humidity monitoring of meat, produce, dairy products
      • Mom, don’t buy those Frosted Sugar Bombs, they sat in 80% humidity for two days, they won’t be crunchy!
    • impact, vibration, temp monitoring of consumer electronics
      • failure analysis and diagnostic information, e.g. monitoring vibration of bearings for frequency signatures indicating imminent failure (back up that hard drive now!)
  • Smart office spaces
    • The Center for the Built Environment has fabulous plans for the office of the future in which environmental conditions are tailored to the desires of every individual.  Maybe soon we’ll all be wearing temperature, humidity, and environmental comfort sensors sewn into our clothes, continuously talking to our workspaces which will deliver conditions tailored to our needs.  No more fighting with your office mates over the thermostat.
  • Interfaces for the Disabled (courtesy of Bryndis Tobin)
    • Bryndis sent me email with the following idea: put motes “on a quadriplegic’s face, to monitor blinking & facial twitches – and send them as commands to a wheelchair/computer/other device.”  This could be generalized to a whole family of interfaces for the disabled.  Thanks Bryndis!”

Now imagine that a critical component of such a tiny, ubiquitous device was removed. Because it didn’t need a battery it could be even smaller and cheaper (because of cheaper and simpler radio hardware circuitry).

The goal is having billions of disposable devices start communicating,” Gollakota said (my emphasis).

You may remember that I’ve written before about my metaphor of a pre-IoT era of “Collective Blindness,” the universal inability to peer (literally or figuratively) inside things in the past, which forced us to create all sorts of work-arounds to cope with that lack of real-time data. Imagine how precise our knowledge about just about everything will be if Gollakota’s technology becomes commonplace.

.As Technology Review reported, the critical challenge is making it possible for a device lacking a traditional power source to communicate: “Transferring power wirelessly is not a new trick. But getting a device without a conventional power source to communicate is harder, because generating radio signals is very power-intensive and the airwaves harvested from radio, TV, and other telecommunication technologies hold little energy.”

The principle making the innovation possible is “backscattering,” reflecting waves, particles or signals back in the direction they came from, which creates a new signal.

The early results are encouraging. Gollakata has made a contact lens that can connect with a smartphone. Think I’ll pass on that one, but other devices he and his team have created include brain implants and “a flexible skin patch that can sense temperature and respiration, a design that could be used to monitor hospital patients.”  Marketers will love this one: a concert poster broadcasting a bit of the featured band’s music over FM radio!

Jeeva Wireless, Gollakata’s commercial spinoff, is using a variety of the technology, “passive Wi-Fi.” Devices using it can data up to 100 feet and connect through walls.

Tiny passive devices using backscatter could be manufactured for as little as a dollar. “In tomorrow’s smart home, security cameras, temperature sensors, and smoke alarms should never need to have their batteries changed.”

Gollakata sums up the potential impact: “We can get communication for free” (my emphasis).

That’s incredible, but in light of the continuing series of major DDoS attacks made possible by weak or non-existent IoT security measures, I must remind everyone that speed, power, and ubiquity aren’t everything: we also need IoT security, so I hope the low cost and ability to function without a dedicated energy source won’t obscure that need as well.


 

BTW: a MIT profile on Gollakata mentions one of his other, related, inventions, which I think would mesh beautifully with my SmartAging vision to help seniors age in place in better health.

It’s called  WiSee, which uses wireless signals such as Wi-Fi to “enable whole-home sensing and recognition of human gestures. Since wireless signals do not require line-of-sight and can traverse through walls, WiSee can enable whole-home gesture recognition using few wireless sources (e.g., a Wi-Fi router and a few mobile devices in the living room).”

I love the concept for seniors, because (like Echo, which I’m finally getting!!) it doesn’t require technical expertise, which many seniors lack and/or find intimidating, to launch and direct automated devices. In this case, the activation is through sensing and recognition of human gestures. According to Gollakata,“’Gestures enable a whole new set of interaction techniques for always-available computing embedded in the environment. As an example, he suggests that a hand swiping motion in the air could enable a user to control the radio volume while showering – or change the song playing on the stereo in the living room while you are cooking in the kitchen.”

He goes on to explain:

“…. that the approaches offered today to enable gesture recognition – by either installing cameras throughout a home/office or outfitting the human body with sensing devices – are in most cases either too expensive or unfeasible. So he and his group members are skirting these issues by taking advantage of the slight changes in ambient wireless signals that are created by motion. Since wireless signals do not require line-of-sight and can traverse through walls, he and his group have achieved the first gesture recognition system that works in those situations. ‘We showed that this approach can extract accurate information about a rich set of gestures from multiple concurrent users.”

Combine that with speaking to Alexa, and even the most frail seniors could probably control most of the functions in a smart home. Gollakota says that the approaches offered today to enable gesture recognition – by either installing cameras throughout a home/office or outfitting the human body with sensing devices – are in most cases either too expensive or unfeasible. So he and his group members are skirting these issues by taking advantage of the slight changes in ambient wireless signals that are created by motion. Since wireless signals do not require line-of-sight and can traverse through walls, he and his group have achieved the first gesture recognition system that works in those situations. “We showed that this approach can extract accurate information about a rich set of gestures from multiple concurrent users, “he says.

Incredible work, professor!

SmartAging Manifesto (draft): improve quality of aging & cut costs through IoT

What do you think constitutes “SmartAging?”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about my IoT-based “SmartAging” concept, which combines:

  • Quantified Self health monitoring devices to make it easier to monitor your health conditions around the clock and help your caregivers better understand your health, and — hopefully — to motivate you to more activity and better eating.
  • smart home devices that make it easier to manage your home as you age and thereby avoid institutionalization.

However, I have been giving the concept a lot of thought, and have created a draft of a manifesto on the concept to guide my own work and hopefully provoke some discussion.  Here it is!

SmartAging Manifesto (draft)

  • Aging is a natural, lifelong process, so why fear and avoiding talking about it, especially how to make it more enjoyable and less costly?
  • We seniors aren’t all the same, so don’t treat us as if we were. Look beyond our wrinkles, and you’ll see some of us still work, some have just retired, and still others are long retired. When it comes to technology, some us us are afraid of it, some of us embrace it, and there are many others in the middle. Respect us for who we really are — and our choices.
  • We don’t want to have to work to master technology: we worked for 40 or 50 years, and now we want to enjoy ourselves. If you want to sell us technology, make it easy to learn and use. Maybe even fun…  Mark Weiser, credited as the IoT’s intellectual father, wrote that“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” That sounds pretty good to us!
  • We want to shift gears and have more fun. That doesn’t mean shutting off our brains, but it does mean that we now have time to explore new hobbies, play games, spend time with our families (especially grandchildren), and travel. We’re particularly interested in technology that can help us do these things.
  • We’re also more concerned about our health. We want to be as healthy as possible, as long as possible, and we’re worried about debilitating illnesses and becoming dependent on others. We’ll be very interested in new devices to help us stay healthier longer — especially if it isn’t obvious we’re using them and they don’t make us look weird and pitiful.
  • We’re also concerned about independence (most of us do live independently, incidentally) and staying in our own homes instead of being carted off to some smelly, dehumanizing institution. We’re interested in technology that can make it easier to run our homes and stay in them.
  • We’re got something that kids don’t: wisdom and perspective, gathered from long lives and tough experience. Don’t just look at us as buyers of your stuff: ask us for our ideas. You may be surprised what you’ll learn.

That’s what I’ve got so far, but I wanted to circulate the draft ASAP, to gather others’ thoughts as well (I’ll credit you if you contribute any ideas!). e-mail me your ideas.

Alexa and Aging: more on voice as THE interface for “SmartAging”

 Amazon Alexa & services it can trigger!

Amazon Echo & services it can trigger!

I predict every elderly person will soon have a personal home assistant, ready to respond to their every command.

However, that home health aide may not be human, but sit on the kitchen counter, and look suspiciously like Amazon’s breakthough IoT device, The Echo.

The late Mark Weiser, “the father of the Internet of Things,” famously predicted that “the best computer is a quiet, invisible servant,” and that’s certainly the potential with Echo, or the just announced Google Assistant (how sexy is that name? I like the fact it’s so impersonal. Let’s you fire one voice “assistant” and hire another without becoming personally attached, LOL), or the much-rumored Apple version, which might also include a camera (disclaimer: while I work part-time at an Apple Store, I ain’t privy to any inside dope, no way, no how).

That’s particularly the case when it comes to seniors, and my SmartAging vision of an IoT-based future for them combining Quantified Self health monitoring devices that can motivate seniors to improve their fitness levels, and smart home devices that can make it easier to manage their homes as they age, to avoid costly and soul-deadening institutionalization (or, even better, combining the two, as with one of my favorite IFTTT “recipes,”  programming your Jawbone to wake you gently at the best time in your sleep cycle, AND gradually turn on your Hue lights. How better for a senior — or anyone — to start their day on a positive note (OK, I know what you’re thinking: better turn on the coffee maker automatically!).

      KidsMD for Amazon Alexa

What really got me thinking about the advantages of a voice-activated future for seniors was a recent story about a similar app for the other end of the age spectrum, developed by our Children’s Hospital, for Alexa: KidsMD. What better for a harried mom or dad, with his or her hands full, AND a sick child to boot, than to simply ask for advice on temperature, fever and the like? That got me thinking that the same would apply to seniors as well, needing advice with some of the unwanted aspects of aging (I could mention here an example from a senior I care for, but that would be most unpleasant…). As I’ve said before, this would be helpful under any circumstances, but when the person needing help is a frail, tech-averse senior, it would be superb if s/he only had to speak a simple command or request to get needed help, or advice on something such as the proper amount of an over-the-counter drug to take.

There are tons of other life-improving reasons for such an approach for seniors, including:

Of course, and I can’t emphasize this enough, especially since seniors are already victims of so many scamming tricks, because these counter-top devices are always on, listening to you,  and because much of their possible use could be for reporting confidential health or financial data, privacy and security MUST be THE top priority in designing any kind of voice-activated app or device for seniors. Think of them as the canaries in the coal mine in this regard: protecting vulnerable seniors’ privacy and security should be the acid test of all voice-activated apps and devices for people of all ages.

Having said all that, as I noted in a piece last week about what a stunning combination of services Amazon has put together to become the dominant player in the retail IoT sector, one of those offerings is the $100 million Alexa fund to fuel advances in the voice-activated arena.  I’m ready to put their money where my mouth is  (LOL) in this regard, to design voice-activated devices and services for seniors.  If you’d like to partner, E-mail me!!

Zoe: perhaps even better than Echo as IoT killer device?

Zoe smart home hub

I’ve raved before about Echo, Amazon’s increasingly versatile smart home hub, primarily because it is voice activated, and thus can be used by anyone, regardless of tech smarts — or whether their hands are full of stuff.  As I’ve mentioned, voice control makes it a natural for my “SmartAging” concept to help improve seniors’ health and allow them to manage their homes, because you don’t have to understand the underlying technology — just talk.

Now there’s a challenger on the horizon: start-up Zoe, which offers many of Echo’s uses, but with an important difference that’s increasingly relevant as IoT security and privacy challenges mount: your data will remain securely in your home. Or, as their slogan goes:

“So far, smart home meant high convenience, no privacy, or privacy, but no fun. We are empowering you to have both.”

You can still get in on Zoe’s Indegogo campaign with a $249 contribution, which will get you a hub and an extra “voice drop” to use in another room, or the base level, $169 for a single room. Looks kinda cool to me, especially with the easily changed “Art Covers” and backlight coloring (the Che Guevera one looks appropriate for a revolutionary product) …  The product will ship in late 2016.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Echo & will be getting mine soon, but there is that creepy factor given government officials’ fascination with the potential of tapping into smart home data as part of their surveillance. Remember what US Director of Intelligence James Clapper said, ““In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.” Consider then, that Echo sits there on your kitchen counter, potentially hacked and then hoovering up all of your kitchen chit-chat to relay directly to the spooks.  Wouldn’t you rather that data remained totally under your control?

In addition to storing the data on site rather than in the cloud, Zoe also touts that it has advanced voice-recognition so it can learn IFTTT-style “recipes,” or be operated by apps. She comes with 1,500 built-in voice commands, or, if you stump her, (and only if you choose to, preserving that in-house-only option) web-based Advanced Voice Recognition steps in, with a cloud-based voice recognition system. Her recognition capabilities will grow over time.. Zoe will work with WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and other standards.

The company will ship the developers’ kit in six months. It will be open source.

Not being cloud based will mean it loses to Echo on two important counts. For many people, the ability to order things from Amazon simply by speaking may be more important than security concerns,. Also, I notice it doesn’t mention any speakers, so it may be lacking the ability to also serve as a music source (obviously it wouldn’t work with Amazon Music or Apple Music if it isn’t cloud-connected, but it would at least be nice to be able to use it to play your own collection — advantage to Echo on that one.

At least this means there’s competition in the field (and, BTW, I’d love to see Apple swoop in and make THE voice-activated device!)


BTW: Thanks to good buddy Bob Weisberg for the tip about Zoe! Follow him!

 

My IoT Day Interview With Sudha Jamthe

Oops: I’ve been preoccupied with all sorts of dreck since returning from my SAP event, so I haven’t been able to post.

Did want to call your attention to a long IoT Day interview I did with the estimable Sudha Jamthe, author of The Internet of Things Business Primer.  We covered a range of topics, including the state of the IoT in Boston (and my enthusiasm about GE’s move here, because of their track record of working with IoT startups and even individuals), how I got involved in my IoT-based “SmartAging” crusade, and how the IoT may make possible “circular enterprises” orbiting around real-time IoT data.  Enjoy!

Digital Twins: the Ultimate in Internet of Things Real-Time Monitoring

Get ready for the age when every product will have a “digital twin” back at the manufacturer, a perfect copy of not just the product as it left the factory floor, but as it is functioning in the field right now. That will be yet another IoT game-changer in terms of my 4th IoT Essential Truth, “rethink products.”

Oh, and did I forget to mention that we’ll each have a personal body twin from birth, to improve our health?

For the first time we’ll really understand products, how they work, what’s needed to improve them, and even how they may be tweaked once they’re thousands of miles from the factory, to add new features, fix problems, and/or optimize efficiency.

Key to circular organizations

Even better, the twin can play a critical role in accomplishing my vision of new circular organizations (replacing obsolete hierarchies and linear processes), in which all relevant departments and functions (and even supply chain members, distribution networks and customers, where relevant) form a continuous circle with real-time IoT data as the hub).  Think of the twin as one of those manifestations of the real-time data to which all departments will have simultaneous access.

GE Digital Twin visualization

               GE Digital Twin visualization

I’ve often remarked how incredible it was that companies (especially manufacturers) were able to function as well as they did and produce products as functional as they were despite the inability to peek inside them and really understand their operations and/or problems. Bravo, industrial pioneers!

However, that’s no longer good enough, and that’s where digital twins come in.  In a WSJ blog post this week, General Electric’s William Ruh, my fav IoT visionary/pragmatist, talked about how the company, as part of its “Industrial Internet” transformation, is making digital twins a key tool:

“Every product out there will have one, and there will be an ability to connect a system, or systems of digital twins, easily. The digital twin is a model of an asset, a product such as a jet engine or a model of the blades in a jet engine. Sensors on those blades pull the data off and feed them into the digital twin. The digital twin is kept current with the data that is run off the sensors. It is in sync with the reality of the blade. Now we can ask what is the best time to change the blade, how the blade performs, options to get greater efficiency.”

Proof of the pudding?

Ruh says they’ve created a wind turbine and twin they call the “Digital Windfarm,” which generates 20% more electricity than a nearby conventional turbine.

PTC is also working on digital twins. According to the company’s Executive VP for Digital Twin, Mike Campbell,:  “It’s a model that uniquely represents a physical occurrence in the real world. This one-­to­one mapping is important. You create a relationship between the digital data and a unique product occurrence from a variety of sources: sensors, enterprise data on how it was made, what its configuration was, its geometry, how it is being used, and how it is being serviced.”

Predix

The key to digital twins is GE’s “Predix” predictive analytics software platform, which the company is extending across its entire product line. As always, the key is a constant stream of real-time data:

“weather, component messages, service reports, performance of similar models in GE’s fleets—a predictive model is built and the data collected is turned into actionable insights. This model can perform advanced planning, such as forecasting a ‘plan of the day’ for turbine operation, determining a highly efficient strategy to execute planned maintenance activities, and providing warnings about upcoming unplanned maintenance events, all of which ultimately generates more output and revenue for the customer.”

Digital doppelgängers

Here’s where the really sci-fi part kicks in: Ruh also predicts (Predix??, LOL) that GE’s medical division will soon create digital twins for you and me — at birth!

“I believe we will have a digital twin at birth, and it will take data off of the sensors everybody is running, and that digital twin will predict things for us about disease and cancer and other things. I believe we will end up with health care being the ultimate digital twin. Without it, I believe we will have data but with no outcome, or value.”

And, frankly, there’s also a spooky aspect to what GE’s doing, working with retailers to create psychographic models of customers based on their buying preferences. I’m dubious on that account: I do appreciate some suggestion about what might interest me, especially books, based on my past purchases. On the other hand, a couple of weeks I shopped for — but didn’t buy — biz cards online. Now, I get AdSense ads for these cards everywhere — even on this homepage (sorry for stuff that isn’t IoT, dear reader) Get over it, OK? Count me out when it get’s down to really granular psychographic profiles — too many risks with privacy and security.

I suspect digital twins will become a staple of the IoT, yielding critical real-time info on product status that will enable predictive maintenance and, as Ruh has written elsewhere, speeding the product upgrade process because, for the first time, designers will know exactly how the products are functioning in the field, as opposed to the total lack of information that used to be the norm. Stay tuned.