Share It (Data) and They Will Come: Crowdsourced Citywide IoT Network

I haven’t been as excited about anything for a long time as I am about a global revolution that began last week in Amsterdam!

Cities are rapidly becoming the very visible and innovative laboratories for IoT innovation, which is logical, because they’ve been in the forefront of open data — as I saw first-hand when I was consulting for Vivek Kundra when he opened up vast amounts of real-time data as CTO for the District of Columbia as part of its Apps for Democracy initiative in 2008 that was part of the larger democratizing data movement.

Now there’s an exciting new development in Amsterdam, that really is bringing power to the people: The Things Network, the first crowdsourced free citywide IoT district. Astonishingly, volunteers brought the whole system to launch in only four weeks!

So far, the creators are visualizing a wide range of uses, but I particularly liked a particularly local one for a city synonymous with canals:

“A pilot project to demonstrate the Things Network’s potential will see boat owners in the city (there are many, thanks to its network of canals) able to place a small bowl in the base of their vessel. If the boat develops a leak and starts taking on water, the bowl will use the network to send an SMS alert to a boat maintenance company that will come along and fix the problem.”

How cool is that?  It also illustrates what I think is one of the key intangibles about the IoT: when you empower everyone (and I mean that literally!) by opening up data, people will find more and more innovative IoT devices and services, stimulated by their own particular needs, desires — and sometimes, even pain (that’s why I think even the most optimistic views of the IoT’s impact will be dwarfed as it becomes ubiquitous!).

Even more exciting, the group’s goal is to bring the technology to every city in the world! That, my friends, will be an incredible global game-changer. Think of it: EVERY city will become an open laboratory for change.

The Things Network uses low-power, low-bandwidth LoRaWAN technology to create the network: ten $1,200 hubs covered the whole city!  Having been hiding under a rock, I must admit I’d never heard of LoRaWan. Here are the benefits:

  • don’t need 3G or WiFi to connect with the Internet — no WiFi passwords, mobile subscriptions
  • no setup costs
  • low battery usage
  • long range
  • low bandwidth.

The whole scheme reminds me of the old Andy-Hardy-it’s-crazy-enough-it-might-work thinking:

“Dutch entrepreneur Wienke Giezeman came up with the idea for the Things Network just six weeks ago when he came across a €1,000 ($1,100) LoRaWAN gateway device and realized that with 10 such devices, the whole of Amsterdam could be covered. He pitched his idea at an Internet of Things meetup in the city and received a positive response.

“Work then began to create a community-owned data network that developers could build on top of without any proprietary restrictions. Companies including The Next Web and accountancy giant KPMG have agreed to host gateway devices at their premises, and the City of Amsterdam local authority is enthusiastic about the idea.”

How’s this for a vision?

“Because the costs are very low, we do not have to rely on large telco corporations to build such a network. Instead, we can crowdsource the network and make it public without any form of subscription. Our mission is to enable a network by the users for the users.” (my emphasis)

Most important from a democratizing data standpoint, it will all be open source:

“Our goal is to make the network architecture as decentralized as possible. And avoid any points of failure or control. We already have a community of 10 developers writing network software and equipment firmware.”

Giezeman wants to cut the cost before launching his plan of making the concept worldwide. He will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a smaller, €200 ($220) LoRaWan (vs. the $1,200 current ones). He may offer consulting services to capitalize on the idea, but that’s not the current priority.

That kind of openness and lack of strings attached, IMHO, is going to really lead to incredible innovation!  We’re holding a Boston IoT MeetUp hackathon next month to try to bring similar innovation to The Hub, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if cities everywhere launched a virtuous competition to speed smart cities’ adoption (and, don’t forget: this has huge implications for companies as well: there’s nothing to stop smart companies from creating new products and services to capitalize on the shared data!).

I note Amsterdam is 84 square miles, and The Hub of the Universe is 89 sq. miles, so I suspect the costs would be similar here.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet: let’s make Boston the second IoT city!

Let a thousand neighborhoods bloom!

 

Apple ResearchKit will launch medical research paradigm shift to crowd-sourcing

Amidst the hoopla about the new MacBook and much-anticipated Apple Watch, Apple snuck something into Monday’s event that blew me away (obligatory disclaimer: I work part-time at The Apple Store, but the opinions expressed here are mine).

My Heart Counts app

Four years after I proselytized about the virtues of democratizing data in my Data Dynamite: how liberating data will transform our world book (BTW: pardon the hubris, but I still think it’s the best thing out there about the attitudinal shift needed to capitalize on sharing data), I was so excited to learn about the new ResearchKit.

Tag line? “Now everybody can do their part to advance medical research.”

The other new announcements might improve your quality of life. This one might save it!

As Senior VP of Operations Jeff Williams said in announcing the kit,  the process of medical research ” ..hasn’t changed in decades.” That’s not really true: as I wrote in my book, the Quantified Self movement has been sharing data for several years, as well as groups such as CureTogether and PatientsLikeMe. However, what is definitely true is that no one has harnessed the incredible power of the smartphone for this common goal until now, and that’s really incredible. It’s a great example of my IoT Essential Truth of asking “who else could use this data?

A range of factors cast a pall over traditional medical research.

Researchers have had to cast a broad net even to get 50-100 volunteers for a clinical trial (and may have to pay them, to boot, placing the results validity when applied to the general population in doubt).  The data has often been subjective (in the example Williams mentioned, Parkinson’s patients are classified by a doctor simply on the basis of walking a few feet). Also, communication about the project has been almost exclusively one way, from the researcher to the patient, and limited, at best.

What if, instead, you just had to turn on your phone and open a simple app to participate? As the website says, “Each one [smartphone] is equipped with powerful processors and advanced sensors that can track movement, take measurements, and record information — functions that are perfect for medical studies.” Suddenly research can be worldwide, and involve millions of diverse participants, increasing the data’s amount and validity (There’s a crowdsourcing research precedent: lot of us have been participating in scientific crowdsourcing for almost 20 years, by installing the SETI@Home software that runs in the background on our computers, analyzing data from deep space to see if ET is trying to check in)!

Polymath/medical data guru John Halamka, MD wrote me that:

“Enabling patients to donate data for clinical research will accelerate the ‘learning healthcare system’ envisioned by the Institute of Medicine.   I look forward to testing out Research Kit myself!”

The new apps developed using ResearchKit harvest information from the Health app that Apple introduced as part of iOS8. According to Apple:

“When granted permission by the user, apps can access data from the Health app such as weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and asthma inhaler use, which are measured by third-party devices and apps…. ResearchKit can also request from a user, access to the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors in iPhone to gain insight into a patient’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory.

Apple announced that it has already collaborated with some of the world’s most prestigious medical institutions, including Mass General, Dana-Farber, Stanford Medical, Cornell and many others, to develop apps using ResearchKit. The first five apps target asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.  My favorite, because it affects the largest number of people, is the My Heart Counts one. It uses the iPhone’s built-in motion sensors to track participants’ activity, collecting data during a 6-minute walk test from those who are able to walk that long. If participants also have a wearable activity device connecting with the Health app (aside: still don’t know why my Jawbone UP data doesn’t flow to the Health app, even though I made the link) , they are encouraged to use that as well. Participants will also enter data about their heart disease risk factors and their lab tests readings to get feedback on their chances of developing heart disease and their “heart age.” Imagine the treasure trove of cardiac data it will yield!

 A critical aspect of why I think ResearchKit will be have a significant impact is that Apple decided t0 make it open source, so that anyone can tinker with the code and improve it (aside: has Apple EVER made ANYTHING open source? Doubt it! That alone is noteworthy).  Also, it’s important to note, in light of the extreme sensitivity of any personal health data, that Apple guarantees that it will not have access to any of the personal data.

Because of my preoccupation with “Smart Aging,” I’m really interested in whether any researchers will specifically target seniors with ResearchKit apps. I’ll be watching carefully when the Apple Watch comes out April 24th to see if seniors buy them (not terribly optimistic, I must admit, because of both the cost and the large number of seniors I help at The Apple Store who are befuddled by even Apple’s user-friendly technology) because the watch is a familiar form factor for them (I haven’t worn a watch since I got my first cell phone, and most young people I know have never had one) and might be willing to use them to participate in these projects.

N0w, if you’ll excuse me, I just downloaded the My Heart Counts app, and must find out my “heart age!”


 

Doh!  Just after I posted this, I saw a really important post on Ars Technica pointing out that this brave new world of medical research won’t go anywhere unless the FDA approves:

“As much as Silicon Valley likes to think of itself as a force for good, disrupting this and pivoting that, it sometimes forgets that there’s a wider world out there. And when it comes to using devices in the practice of medicine, that world contains three very important letters: FDA. That’s right, the US Food and Drug Administration, which Congress has empowered to regulate the marketing and research uses of medical devices.

“Oddly, not once in any of the announcement of ResearchKit did we see mention of premarket approval, 510k submission, or even investigational device exemptions. Which is odd, because several of the uses touted in the announcement aren’t going to be possible without getting the FDA to say yes.”

I remember reading that Apple had reached out to the FDA during development of the Apple Watch, so I’m sure none of this comes as a surprise to them, and any medical researcher worth his or her salt is also aware of that factor. However, the FDA is definitely going to have a role in this issue going forward, and that’s as it should be — as I’ve said before, with any aspect of the IoT, privacy and security is Job One.

 

 

TellSpec: IoT device that can be a life-saver — and the killer app!

Posted on 10th December 2013 in design, environmental, health, Internet of Things, M2M

Whenever someone tries to dismiss the Internet of Things as a nice future vision, I love to rebut them with an example — such as the bassinettes in the Toronto Hospital for  Sick Children that allow doctors to diagnose a life-threatening infection a day before there are visible symptoms — that shows the IoT’s not only a reality, but is also saving lives!   That usually stops them in their tracks.   .

Now there’s a great new example on the horizon: the TellSpec food inspector.

In fact, because of the service’s three components, I’d say it’s a near-perfect example if you want to introduce the IoT to someone! Once in widespread use, it might well be the “killer app” that finally makes the IoT a household phrase — extremely useful (and easy to use), affordable, and allowing you to do something that couldn’t be done before.

For a variety of reasons, the rate of food allergies is increasing alarmingly, and adults with gluten allergies or parents whose kids are allergic to peanuts can’t always depend on package labels or appearances to warn them of when a given food may trigger a deadly attack of anaphylaxis. Then there’s the rest of us, who are increasingly dubious about whether our foods include pesticides, transfats or other unwanted substances. Or, we may just want to track our calorie consumption. TaDa! The TellSpec!

The crowd-sourced (yea! The people know best) system is a a classic IoT service, because it combines:

  • a device: the TellSpec scanner, which is small enough to go on a key chain — and would have been impossible without the revolution in sensors and nanotechnology (specifically, nanophotonics): its guts are a low-power laser and a spectrometer on a chip that measures the reflected light, analyzing any food’s chemical composition in less than 20 seconds. This kind of analysis used to require a bulky, stationary spectrometer.
  • analysis in the cloud: the data is transmitted to the cloud, where an algorithm analyzes the spectrum information. As you can imagine, doing this kind of analysis on a large scale and in real time was impossible until the cloud.
  • the app: within seconds, you get an easy-to-understand message that details the food’s components, such as transfats, caloric content, allergens, etc.

How cool is that?

The system is in prototype right now. They’re taking pre-orders now, for delivery in August. The scanner plus a year of the analysis support will be $320, and after that, it will cost $7.99 per month or $69.99 yearly. My normally acceptable range of cost for an app is $.00 or less, LOL, but even a cheapskate like me realizes that this is well worth the price.

What a marvelous invention, and what a proof of concept!

As always, I’m indebted to Postscapes for the tip on this one.

It’s Official: Tom Friedman Anoints the IoT; Plus Jobs Issue Is Raised!

Posted on 16th September 2013 in 3-D printing, Internet of Things, M2M, maintenance, manufacturing, services

OK, the Internet of Things is officially a Big Thing: Tom “World is Flat” Friedman wrote about it in the Sunday NY Times.

Friedman, searching for evidence of American “exceptionalism” in a bleak landscape of Capitol Hill paralysis, etc. zeroed in on GE’s “Industrial Internet” initiatives as a ray of hope. As he wrote,

“I wanted to see what new technologies, and therefore business models — and therefore jobs — it might be spawning that public policy, and education policy, might enhance. I have no idea whether or how G.E. will profit from any of these breakthroughs, but I saw the outlines there of three radically new business trends that the United States should want to dominate.”

One of those themes was how 3-D printing could streamline the design and production process.

The second, which I wrote about earlier, was the concept of crowdsourcing design, in particular the contest GE held to design a new jet turbine mount (more about that later!!!).

Finally, Friedman zeroed in on the IoT, specifically widespread use of sensors:

“Lastly, we are on the cusp of what G.E. calls ‘the Industrial Internet’ or the ‘Internet of Things’ — meaning that every major part of a G.E. jet engine, locomotive or turbine is now equipped with online sensors that constantly measure and broadcast every aspect of performance. Computers capture all this big data and use it to improve everything from the flight path to energy efficiency.”

He gave several examples, such as wind turbines and hospital beds, where data from sensors can help to optimize efficiency and cut operating costs. He pointed out that the data allows GE to create new services “… that offer not just to manage an airline’s or railroad’s engines, but how fast all its planes or trains go, how flight and train schedules are coordinated and even how its equipment is parked to get optimal performance and energy efficiency (aside to marketing managers: what kinds of services would the IoT allow you to introduce, perhaps replacing actual sales of products with leases based on use? Think about it!).

Friedman concludes, “Watch this space, even if Washington doesn’t: When everything and everyone becomes connected, and complexity is free and innovation is both dirt-cheap and can come from anywhere, the world of work changes.”

Indeed! Nice to have someone with Friedman’s clout recognizing the IoT is a paradigm shift!

MEANWHILE: Make certain to read the comments following the column. They are primarily negative, and zero in on one thing: the IoT’s threat to jobs. In particular, the critics focused on the GE engine mount design contest.  One was particularly pointed:

“According to CNNMoney, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt pocketed $25.8 million in total compensation in 2012. That’s about $20,000 every hour and a half. How come 8 geniuses cost only 90 minutes of CEO time?”

You’ve gotta agree, $20,000 ($7,000 to the winner) is a pretty paltry sum considering what GE gets in return, and given readers’ suspicions that companies may let go their salaried designers and instead exploit freelancers (I’ve thought the same about some of the incentives offered by Innocentive member companies for some of the crowdsourcing projects that they’ve offered), you can bet that there will be more criticisms in the future if this becomes a common practice.

The IoT will undoubtably result in loss of some jobs — disruptive technologies do that — although optimists say they will create jobs as well. But if companies don’t want to reap a lot of criticism for their IoT initiatives, they’d better put some thought into the job creation aspect as well!

 

GE Crowdsourcing Design For 3-D Printing Project

OK, I admit to losing all sense of objectivity on this one! After all, it hits all my sweet spots:

  • Internet of Things (AKA General Electric’s “Internet of Things”)
  • 3-D printing
  • crowdsourcing/collaboration.

As I wrote earlier, about GE’s collaboration with Electric Imp and Quirky, this exemplar of Industrial Age might (what could be more powerful than a GE locomotive???) really seems to get it that the Internet of Things is as much about new attitudes of collaboration and sharing data as it is about Internet technology.

GE jet engine mount

So it’s no surprise that Industry Week reports on a new GE initiative, soliciting crowdsourced designs for a new jet engine bracket that will be produced through 3-D printing.

As Christine Furstoss, technical director of Manufacturing and Material Technologies at GE Global Research, explains:

“‘For any industry to be successful, you really need to develop communities or ecosystems of partners and thought leaders…

‘No sustainable, established industry technology exists without multiple players, multiple styles of thought, multiple ways of growing … We feel like one of the best ways to stimulate that, to find the newest and best ideas, is to start with open collaboration.'”

Bravo!

Contrast that attitude with what is still all too prevalent, as summarized by Paul Horn, former senior vp of research at IBM:

“Horn remembers a time before open innovation — a competitive, suspicious era when innovative and great, transformative ideas were only allowed to grow in a tightly sealed vacuum.

‘When we built the Almaden Laboratory at IBM in the early 1980s, we put it south of Silicon Valley on purpose,’ he recalls. ‘In those days, our biggest fear was the leaking of intellectual property out into the valley.'”

I suspect that one of the biggest obstacles to full realization of the IoT’s promise will be the difficulty of leaving that old zero-sum game, my-gain-is-your-loss mentality behind!

I wasn’t aware that this latest competition, to design a 3-D printed bracket strong enough to support a jet engine on a commercial plane, is part of a 2-year crowdsourcing initiative, with approximately $20 million in prizes for products, designs and processes, especially in 3-D printing:

“‘We’re trying to find thought leaders in this area — people who may know through a technique they’ve devised or a piece of software that they’ve found or just their own experiences what is the best way to design with additive for real industrial parts,’ Furstoss explains. ‘We’re really at the birth of industrial additive technology. This is a way for us to build support for that community of makers.'”

Furstoss says the crowdsourcing competitions are no knock on GE’s own 50,000 engineers: “‘We have a platform in place that can put a student in his dorm on the same plane as our engineers,’ she says. ‘We’re making sure that people who may have ideas, may have skills, may have things to offer have an opportunity to bring them forward, no matter who they are.'”

It’s that kind of openness to not only new technologies, but also new management practices, that will give GE a huge head start over competitors that have yet to come to grips with the new reality: the Internet of Things!

 

Time-critical crowdsourcing during crises

Posted on 22nd May 2013 in Homeland Security, Internet of Things

Even though I’m concentrating on the Internet of Things these days, I try to keep a hand in one of my enduring passions: using a combination of social media and mobile devices during disasters/terrorist attacks — what I call “networked homeland security.” After all, as John Arquilla has argued, we are in an era of netwars in which the enemy isn’t organized hierarchically but is networked (and, by extension natural disasters are similar: they are chaotic, opportunistic, and anything but orderly), so it takes a flexible, networked response to deal with them effectively (and, to tie in my work with the IoT, I expect that the IoT will radically increase our ability to share data and collaborate!).

Sooo, I was terribly excited to read this blog post by the brilliant Patrick Meier on how “time-critical crowdsourcing” could be used to verify critical information in near real-time during a disaster (or debunk it, in the case of erroneous information). The Patriots’ Day bombings in the Hub of the Universe underscored both the value of social media and its pitfalls, as in the case of erroneous identification of the bombers on Reddit.

Meier’s new project, Verily, will take a two-pronged approach to speed verification of data in disasters/terror attacks:

  1. time-critical mobilization & crowdsourcing. The logic is that these incidents are geographically bounded, so that people who actually are on the scene could be quickly identified through their social networks, and could use their smart-phone cameras to actually document the situation (I predicted this kind of verification in a now-laughably dated YouTube video six years ago when these cameras were first becoming widespread).
  2. the novel part is to also  crowdsource critical thinking. Meier says that Pinterest is the model for this process. “…. with each piece of content (text, image, video), users are required to add a sentence or two to explain why they think or know that piece of evidence is authentic or not. Others can comment on said evidence accordingly. This workflow prompts users to think critically rather than blindly share/RT content on Twitter without much thought, context or explanation. Indeed, we hope that with Verily more people will share links back to Verily pages rather than to out of context and unsubstantiated links of images/videos/claims, etc.”

Meier says the Verily project will try to foster this kind of critical thinking (hey, we aren’t going to do it without some guidance: my gripe with vacuous sloganeering such as DHS’ “If you see something, say something” campaign — exactly what is it that they think we might see???? Tell us, please, Sec. Napolitano, what to look for).   It will include mini-guides on information forensicsavailable to users — drawn in part from old friend Andy Carvin.

So bravo for Verily — it fascinates me that every time our mobile devices gain some new powers or some new social medium is created, bright people come up with innovative ways to crowdsource information in disasters. Verily, by adding in the important factor of critical thinking, should radically improve the quality of this information.