Great Podcast Discussion of #IoT Strategy With Old Friend Jason Daniels

Right after I submitted my final manuscript for The Future is Smart I had a chance to spend an hour with old friend Jason Daniels (we collaborated on a series of “21st Century Homeland Security Tips You Won’t Hear From Officials” videos back when I was a homeland security theorist) on his “Studio @ 50 Oliver” podcast.

We covered just about every topic I hit in the book, with a heavy emphasis on the attitude shifts (“IoT Essential Truths” needed to really capitalize on the IoT and the bleeding-edge concept I introduce at the end of the book, the “Circular Corporation,” with departments and individuals (even including your supply chain, distribution network and customers, if you choose) in a continuous, circular management style revolving around a shared real-time IoT hub.  Hope you’ll enjoy it!

IoT Design Manifesto 1.0: great starting point for your IoT strategy & products!

Late in the process of writing my forthcoming IoT strategy book, The Future Is Smart, I happened on the “IoT Design Manifesto 1.0” site. I wish I’d found it earlier so I could have featured it more prominently in the book.

The reason is that the manifesto is the product (bear in mind that the original team of participants designed it to be dynamic and iterative, so it will doubtlessly change over time) of a collaborative process involving both product designers and IoT thought leaders such as the great Rob van Kranenburg. As I’ve written ad nauseam, I think of the IoT as inherently collaborative, since sharing data rather than hoarding it can lead to synergistic benefits, and collaborative approaches such as smart cities get their strength from an evolving mishmash of individual actions that gets progressively more valuable.

From the names, I suspect most of the Manifesto’s authors are European. That’s important, since Europeans seem to be more concerned, on the whole, about IoT privacy and security than their American counterparts, witness the EU-driven “privacy by design” concept, which makes privacy a priority from the beginning of the design process.

At any rate, I was impressed that the manifesto combines both philosophical and economic priorities, and does so in a way that should maximize the benefits and minimize the problems.

I’m going to take the liberty of including the entire manifesto, with my side comments:

  1. WE DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. We pledge to be skeptical of the cult of the new — just slapping the Internet onto a product isn’t the answer, Monetizing only through connectivity rarely guarantees sustainable commercial success.
    (Comment: this is like my “just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should” warning: if making a product “smart” doesn’t add real value, why do it?)*
  2. WE DESIGN USEFUL THINGS. Value comes from products that are purposeful. Our commitment is to design products that have a meaningful impact on people’s lives; IoT technologies are merely tools to enable that.
    (Comment: see number 1!)
  3. “WE AIM FOR THE WIN-WIN-WIN. A complex web of stakeholders is forming around IoT products: from users, to businesses, and everyone in between. We design so that there is a win for everybody in this elaborate exchange.
    (Comment:This is a big one in my mind, and relates to my IoT Essential Truth #2 — share data, don’t hoard it — when you share IoT data, even with competitors in some cases [think of IFTTT “recipes”] — you can create services that benefit customers, companies, and even the greater good, such as reducing global warming).
  4. WE KEEP EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING SECURE. With connectivity comes the potential for external security threats executed through the product itself, which comes with serious consequences. We are committed to protecting our users from these dangers, whatever they may be.
    (Comment: Amen! as I’ve written ad nauseum, protecting privacy and security must be THE highest IoT priority — see next post below!).
  5. WE BUILD AND PROMOTE A CULTURE OF PRIVACY. Equally severe threats can also come from within. Trust is violated when personal  information gathered by the product is handled carelessly. We build and promote a culture of integrity where the norm is to handle data with care.
    (Comment:See 4!).
  6. WE ARE DELIBERATE ABOUT WHAT DATA WE COLLECT. This is not the business of hoarding data; we only collect data that serves the utility of the product and service. Therefore, identifying what those data points are must be conscientious and deliberate.
    (Comment: this is a delicate issue, because you may find data that wasn’t originally valuable becomes so as new correlations and links are established. However, just collecting data willy-nilly and depositing it in an unstructured “data lake” for possible use later is asking for trouble if your security is breeched.).
  7. WE MAKE THE PARTIES ASSOCIATED WITH AN IOT PRODUCT EXPLICIT. IoT products are uniquely connected, making the flow of information among stakeholders open and fluid. This results in a complex, ambiguous, and invisible network. Our responsibility is to make the dynamics among those parties more visible and understandable to everyone.
    (Comment: see what I wrote in the last post, where I recommended companies spell out their privacy and usage policies in plain language and completely).
  8. WE EMPOWER USERS TO BE THE MASTERS OF THEIR OWN DOMAIN. Users often do not have control over their role within the network of stakeholders surrounding an IoT product. We believe that users should be empowered to set the boundaries of how their data is accessed and how they are engaged with via the product.
    (Comment: consistent with prior points, make sure that any permissions are explicit and  opt-in rather than opt-out to protect users — and yourself (rather avoid lawsuits? Thought so…)
  9. WE DESIGN THINGS FOR THEIR LIFETIME. Currently physical products and digital services tend to be built to have different lifespans. In an IoT product features are codependent, so lifespans need to be aligned. We design products and their services to be bound as a single, durable entity.
    (Comment: consistent with the emerging circular economy concept, this can be a win-win-win for you, your customer and the environment. Products that don’t become obsolete quickly but can be upgraded either by hardware or software will delight customers and build their loyalty [remember that if you continue to meet their needs and desires, there’s less incentive for customers to check out competitors and possibly be wooed away!). Products that you enhance over time and particularly those you market as services instead of sell will also stay out of landfills and reduce your pduction costs.
  10. IN THE END, WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS. Design is an impactful act. With our work, we have the power to affect relationships between people and technology, as well as among people.  We don’t use this influence to only make profits or create robot overlords; instead, it is our responsibility to use design to help people, communities, and societies  thrive.
    Comment: yea designers!!)

I’ve personally signed onto the Manifesto, and do hope to contribute in the future (would like something explicit about the environment in it, but who knows) and urge you to do the same. More important, why start from scratch to come up with your own product design guidelines, when you can capitalize on the hard work that’s gone into the Manifesto as a starting point and modify it for your own unique needs?


*BTW: I was contemptuous of the first IoT electric toothbrush I wrote about, but since talked to a leader in the field who convinced me that it could actually revolutionize the practice of dentistry for the better by providing objective proof that  patient had brushed frequently and correctly. My bad!

Apple Watch 85% Accuracy in Detecting Diabetes May Be Precursor of Early Diagnoses

Permit me to (re-)introduce myself, LOL.

I haven’t posted since the end of October, because I was totally absorbed in writing The Future is Smart, my book about IoT strategy, which will be released in August by AMACOM, the publishing wing of the American Management Association. A major theme of the book is that the IoT lifts what I term the condition of  “Collective Blindness” that used to plague us before the advent of real-time data from sensors and the analytical software to interpret that data. Collective Blindness meant that we were frequently operating in figurative darkness, having to guess about how things worked or didn’t without direct observational data, which meant that we frequently didn’t learn about problems inside things until after the fact, which could mean costly (and sometimes fatal) corrective maintenance was all that was possible.

Those “things” unfortunately included the human body.

Usually the only way to uncover a problem inside our bodies pre-IoT was through costly pre-arranged tests at the doctor’s or a hospital. They could only provide a snapshot in time, documenting your body’s state at that precise moment (when, after all, you might be flat on your back wearing a johnny — not exactly representative of your actual condition as you go about your daily routine!). If you had no complaint warranting such a test, the condition might go undiagnosed until it was significantly worse (remember the contrast between prompt predictive maintenance of a jet turbine and costly emergency repairs when a disaster loomed?).

That’s why the news from Brandon Ballinger, the Google alum who was co-founder of the Cardiogram app (get it! I did! and I joined their Artificial Intelligence-driven Health eHeart Study as well!) is so important. In a clinical study released last week, the research team found that the Apple Watch is 85% accurate in detecting diabetes in those previously diagnosed with the disease. The paper was presented at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence last week in New Orleans.

Results from heart monitoring with Apple Watch and Cardiogram app

The study analyzed data from 14,000 Apple Watch users, finding that 462 participants through the heart rate sensor, the same type of sensor.

The investigation tested a 2015 finding by our famous local Framingham Heart Study that resting heart rate and heart rate variability significantly predicted incident diabetes and hypertension.

According to TechCrunch,  Ballinger’s team had previously used the Watch “to detect an abnormal heart rhythm with up to a 97 percent accuracy, sleep apnea with a 90 percent accuracy and hypertension with an 82 percent accuracy when paired with Cardiogram’s AI-based algorithm.”

This is important for several reasons.

We’ve read for several years about single-purpose devices that might be able to diagnose diabetes and determine the need for insulin without painful pinpricks, but the Cardiograph research might show that simply harvesting enough data with a multi-purpose fitness device such as the Watch and being able to interpret it creatively with Artificial Intelligence would be enough. That’s the logical next step with the Health eHeart Study.

It reminds me of the example I’ve mentioned several times before of neonatologists from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and IBM data scientists combining to analyze the huge amount of sensor data harvested from preemies’ bassinettes and being able to diagnose a potentially-lethal neonatal sepsis infection a full day before any visible sign of the infection.

Given these two examples, one must ask, how many other health problems might be diagnosed in their earliest stages, which cures are most likely and least expensive, if routine monitoring through devices such as the Apple Watch become commonplace and the results are crunched with AI? In particular, this could be a key part of my SmartAging concept.

Exciting!

 

NB: I work part-time for The Apple Store, but am not privy to any strategy or inside information. These opinions are purely my own as an Apple Watch user.

 

iQ handheld ultrasound: another game-changing IoT health device

As the Red Sox’ Joe Castiglione might say, “Can you believe it?” (I should add a few more question marks to underscore exactly how unbelievable this IoT device is).

That’s my reaction to the latest astounding IoT medical device, the iQ handheld ultrasound, which attaches to a smartphone.

I was mesmerized by the headline on a story about the Butterfly iQ: “Doctor says he diagnosed his own cancer with iPhone ultrasound machine.” (spoiler alert: he was operated on to remove the tumor, and is OK).

Then there’s the marketing pitch: “Whole body imaging. Under $2K.” (that’s as opposed to $115,000 for the average conventional machine).

Oh.

The video is a must watch: the doctors seem truly amazed by its versatility and ease-of-use — not to mention it can be accessed instantly in a life-or-death situation. As one is quoted saying, “This blows up the entire ultrasound playing field.”

It won’t be on the market until next year, but the FDA has already approved the iQ for diagnosis in 13 applications.  Even more amazing, due to advanced electronics, it uses a single probe instead of three, and can document conditions from the superficial to deep inside the body. The system fits in a pants pocket and simply attaches to the doctor’s smartphone.

As incredible as the iQ will be in the US, think of how it will probably bring ultrasound to developing nations worldwide for the first time!

Another video discusses the engineering, which reduced the entire bulky ultrasound machine to a far-less costly chip, (including a lot of signal processing and computational power) and capitalizes on technologies developed for consumer electronics. The approach doesn’t just equal the traditional piezioelectric technology, but surpasses it. with power that would cost more than $100,000 with a conventional machine.

In terms of manufacturing, Butterfly can use the same chip machines used to produce consumer goods such as smartphones, and can print nearly 100 ultrasound machines on less than one disk.

I thought instantly of my go-to “what can you do with the IoT that you couldn’t do before” device, the Kardia EKG on the back of my iPhone (I met a woman recently who said her Mass General cardiologist prescribes it for all of his patients). Both are absolute game changers, in terms of ease of access, lower cost, allowing on-the-spot monitoring and even potentially empowering patients (Yet another tool to make my SmartAging concept possible).

Oh, and did I mention that the iQ’s Artificial Intelligence will guide even inexperienced personnel to do high quality imaging within a few seconds?

Bottom line: if you talk to someone who doesn’t believe the IoT’s potential to make incredible changes in every aspect of our lives, just say: iQ. Wow!

Mycroft Brings Open-Source Revolution to Home Assistants

Brilliant!  Crowd-funded (even better!) Mycroft brings the rich potential of open-source to the growing field of digital home assistants.   I suspect it won’t be long until it claims a major part of the field, because the Mycroft platform can evolve and grow exponentially by capitalizing on the contributions of many, many people, not unlike the way IFTTT has with its crowd-sourced smart home “recipes.”

According to a fascinating ZD Net interview with its developer, Joshua Montgomery, his motivation was not profit per se, but to create a general AI intelligence system that would transform a start-up space he was re-developing:

“He wanted to create the type of artificial intelligence platform that ‘if you spoke to it when you walked in the room, it could control the music, control the lights, the doors’ and more.”

                         Mycroft

Montgomery wanted to do this through an open-source voice control system but for there wasn’t an open source equivalent to Siri or Alexa.  After building the natural language, open-source AI system to fill that need (tag line, “An Artificial Intelligence for Everyone”) he decided to build a “reference device” as the reporter terms it (gotta love that techno speak. In other words, a hardware device that could demonstrate the system). That in turn led to a crowdsourced campaign on Kickstarter and Backerkit to fund the home hub, which is based on the old chestnut of the IoT, Raspberry Pi. The result is a squat, cute (looks like a smiley face) unit, with a high-quality speaker.  

Most important, when the development team is done with the AI platform, Mycroft will release all of the Mycroft AI code under GPL V3, inviting the open-source community to capitalize and improve on it.  That will place Mycroft squarely in the open-source heritage of Linux and Mozilla.

Among other benefits, Mycroft will use natural language processing to activate a wide range of online services, from Netflix to Pandora, as well as control your smart home devices.

Mycroft illustrates one of my favorite IoT Essential Truths: we need to share data, not hoard it. I don’t care how brilliant your engineers are: they are only a tiny percentage of the world population, with only a limited amount of personal experience (especially if they’re callow millennials) and interests. When you go open source and throw your data open to the world, the progress will be greater as will be the benefits — to you and humanity.

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.

Amazon Echo Silver: bringing a little laughter (& the IoT) to aging

Some of you may remember that I’ve blogged several times about my enthusiasm for Amazon’s Alexa as a cornerstore of what I call SmartAging, the combination of IoT health-monitoring devices to keep you healthier and smart home devices to make it easier to manage your home and avoid institutionalization.

However, I’m in awe of how the crackerjack gerontology researchers at SNL (don’t forget, kiddies, we were your age when the show began in 1975. Sobering, eh?) in “partnership” with AARP, LOL, have custom crafted a special edition Echo for the “Greatest Generation”: Amazon Echo Silver!

My particular favorite feature is the random “uh huh” to punctuation seniors’ rambling stories, but Kate McKinnon’s bit about turning up the thermostat when it’s already 100 is also priceless, and all the other vignettes are pretty over-the top as well (thank goodness I can ping my iPhone with my Apple Watch — I find increasingly creative places to put the phone down). I’ve never been that great on names, so the range of acceptable variations on “Alexa” would be welcomed (BTW: I could swear that one day recently when I was talking to Alexa Siri responded. Why can’t those gals get along?).

I could point out that the “uh huh” might really be a first step toward a really interactive device that could help seniors overcome social isolation, but why weigh down with social significance something that’s an absolute riot?

Aging: if you can’t laugh about it, you’re in serious, serious trouble.

 

 

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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!

 

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!

http://www.stephensonstrategies.com/">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management