Libelium: flexibility a key strategy for IoT startups

I’ve been fixated recently on venerable manufacturing firms such as 169-yr. old Siemens making the IoT switch.  Time to switch focus, and look at one of my fav pure-play IoT firms, Libelium.  I think Libelium proves that smart IoT firms must, above all, remain nimble and flexible,  by three interdependent strategies:

  • avoiding picking winners among communications protocols and other standards.
  • avoiding over-specialization.
  • partnering instead of going it alone.
Libelium CEO Alicia Asin

Libelium CEO Alicia Asin

If you aren’t familiar with Libelium, it’s a Spanish company that recently turned 10 (my, how time flies!) in a category littered with failures that had interesting concepts but didn’t survive. Bright, young, CEO Alicia Asin, one of my favorite IoT thought leaders (and do-ers!) was recently named best manager of the year in the Aragón region in Spain.  I sat down with her for a wide-ranging discussion when she recently visited the Hub of the Universe.

I’ve loved the company since its inception, particularly because it is active in so many sectors of the IoT, including logistics, industrial control, smart meters, home automation and a couple of my most favorite, agriculture (I have a weak spot for anything that combines “IoT” AND “precision”!) and smart cities.  I asked Asin why the company hadn’t picked one of those verticals as its sole focus: “it was too risky to choose one market. That’s still the same: the IoT is still so fragmented in various verticals.”

The best illustration of the company’s strategy in action is its Waspmote sensor platform, which it calls the “most complete Internet of Things platform in the market with worldwide certifications.” It can monitor up to 120 sensors to cover hundreds of IoT applications in the wide range of markets Libelium serves with this diversified strategy, ranging from the environment to “smart” parking.  The new versions of their sensors include actuators, to not simply report data, but also allow M2M control of devices such as irrigation valves, thermostats, illumination systems, motors and PLC’s. Equally important, because of the potentially high cost of having to replace the sensors, the new ones use extremely little power, so they can last        .

Equally important as the company’s refusal to limit itself to a single vertical market is its commitment to open systems and multiple communications protocols, including LoRaWAN, SIGFOX, ZigBee and 4G — a total of 16 radio technologies. It also provides both open source SDK and APIs.

Why?  As Asin told me:

 

“There is not going to be a standard. This (competiting standards and technology) is the new normal.

“I talk to some cities that want to become involved in smart cities, and they say we want to start working on this but we want to use the protocol that will be the winner.

“No one knows what will be the winner.

“We use things that are resilient. We install all the agents — if you aren’t happy with one, you just open the interface and change it. You don’t have to uninstall anything. What if one of these companies increases their prices to heaven, or you are not happy with the coverage, or the company disappears? We allow you to have all your options open.

“The problem is that this (not picking a standard) is a new message, and people don’t like to listen.  This is how we interpret the future.”

Libelium makes 110 different plug and play sensors (or as they call them, “Plug and Sense,” to detect a wide range of data from sources including gases, events, parking, energy use, agriculture, and water.  They claim the lowest power consumption in the industry, leading to longer life and lower maintenance and operating costs.

Finally, the company doesn’t try to do everything itself: Libelium has a large and growing partner network (or ecosystem, as it calls it — music to the ears of someone who believes in looking to nature for profitable business inspiration). Carrying the collaboration theme even farther, they’ve created an “IoT Marketplace,” where pre-assembled device combinations from Libelium and partners can be purchased to meet the specific needs of niches such as e-health,  vineyards, water quality, smart factories, and smart parking.  As the company says, “the lack of integrated solutions from hardware to application level is a barrier for fast adoption,” and the kits take away that barrier.

I can’t stress it enough: for IoT startups that aren’t totally focused on a single niche (a high-stakes strategy), Libelium offers a great model because of its flexibility, agnostic view of standards, diversification among a variety of niches, and eagerness to collaborate with other vendors.


BTW: Asin is particularly proud of the company’s newest offering, My Signals,which debuted in October and has already won several awards.  She told me that they hope the device will allow delivering Tier 1 medical care to billions of underserved people worldwide who live in rural areas with little access to hospitals.  It combines 15 different sensors measuring the most important body parameters that would ordinarily be measured in a hospital, including ECG, glucose, airflow, pulse, oxygen in

It combines 15 different sensors measuring the most important body parameters that would ordinarily be measured in a hospital, including ECG, glucose, airflow, pulse, blood oxygen, and blood pressure. The data is encrypted and sent to the Libelium Cloud in real-time to be visualized on the user’s private account.

It fits in a small suitcase and costs less than 1/100th the amount of a traditional Emergency Observation Unit.

The kit was created to make it possible for m-health developers to create prototypes cheaply and quickly.

AliveCor Mobile ECG: the IoT Can Save Your Life!

Got your attention? I find there’s nothing like the fear of death to focus one’s attention.

AiiveCor

AliveCor

Somehow I managed to forget blogging about one of the real highlights of last Spring’s RE-WORK Connect Summit here in Boston: the AliveCor Mobile ECG.*

Perhaps the most important thing about the Mobile ECG is that it is not just a helpful Quantified Self fitness device, but has past the rigors of the FDA licensing process, building both users’ and docs’ confidence in its reliability as a diagnostic tool, and also underscoring that  IoT devices can be significant parts of mobile health strategies. As Dr. Albert said to Forbes, ““No one cares whether their Fitbit is accurate or not …. A point of here or there. With ECGs, that’s different.”  In 2015 the FDA also approved an algorithm instantly letting you know if your reading was normal.

Because of the FDA approval, I put the Alive ECG in that special category of IoT devices and services that are important both in their own right and because of their symbolic role, especially when they meet my test of the IoT allowing “what can you do that you couldn’t do before,” in this case, a self-administered device that isn’t just generally informative about your fitness level, but also gives reliable medical documentation (especially since this allows that documentation to come as part of your activities of daily living, not requiring you to be in the artificial setting of a doctor’s office or hospital). 

I see it as a critical tool in my “Smart Aging” paradigm.

Atrial fibrillation (a common abnormal heart rhythm), the condition the ECG documents, is a huge, and growing, problem. The latest figures I could find, from four years ago, show that people who suffer from it are hospitalized twice as frequently as those who don’t have it, and the annual costs in the US alone are $26 billion.

I found the price on Froogle as low as $86 for one to fit a 5s. Sweeeet!

Here’s how it works.  The AliveCor is always available when you suspect you may have a heart problem, because it’s your smart-phone’s case! How brilliant is that?  You just rest the two metal pads on your fingers or chest to record an ECG in 30 seconds.

AliveCor ap reading

AliveCor ap reading

AliveCor has recently beefed up its app by adding the “Heart Journal.” After each reading, you just tap on a Symptom, Activity or Diet tag to add it to your recording, or, like a lot of Quantified Self apps, you can also add in notes between readings about possible indicators such as what you’re eating or your activities. The Beat Fluctuation feature lets you see how your heartbeat changes from beat to beat.

I couldn’t help but think how the AliveCor would have helped me last Winter, when Boston endured the 1-in-26,315-years-Winter-From-Hell (nope: no typo!) .  Like everyone else, I was perilously perched on my ladder, 20′ high, sticking my left hand through the ladder to pound away at an ice dam to my right with a REALLY heavy sledge hammer.  Unlike many others doing the same thing, I’m old enough (ahem..) that this counted as Risky Business.  After several hours, I started to feel chest pain.  Two days and many heart tests later, I emerged from the hospital with my own diagnosis confirmed: just a muscle strain caused by the weird position of my hammering. Couldn’t help thinking that if I’d had an AliveCor on my phone, I could have just whipped it out, taken a reading while on the ladder, and, as the web site sez,” AliveCor’s FDA-cleared Normal Detector will determine right away when your ECG is normal,” and gone back to chipping away!

Loved this quote about the AliveCor’s significance:

“Just as the introduction of thermometers and blood pressure cuffs in the past century helped patients to monitor their health, now the ability to record one’s own electrocardiogram – and get an interpretation instantly – empowers the 21st century patient to take charge of their heart health.” –Ronald Karlsberg, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute


 

*in my defense, I was mesmerized by AliveCor founder  Dr. David Albert’s colorful bowties….

 

Real-time data sharing critical to “Smart Aging” and collaborative health care

Posted on 25th February 2015 in health, Internet of Things, open data, SmartAging

It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t encountered the phenomenon first hand, but there’s something really exciting (and perhaps transformative) when data is shared rather than hoarded. When data becomes the focus of discussions, different perspectives reveal different aspects of the data that even the brightest person couldn’t discover working in isolation.

That transformative aspect is very exciting when it involves health care.

I’ve written before about the life-saving discoveries when doctors and data scientists from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and IBM collaboratively analyzed data from newborns in the NICU and discovered early signs of infections that allowed them to begin treatment a day before there was any outward manifestation of the infection. Now, the always-informative SAP Innovation blog (I don’t just say that because they’re kind enough to reprint many of my posts: I find it an eclectic and consistently informative source of information on all things dealing with innovation!) has an interesting piece about how Dartmouth Hitchcock is sharing real-time data with patients considering knee-replacement surgery.

In some cases, that data leads patients to decide — sigh of relief — their condition doesn’t warrant surgery at this point, while it confirms the need for others.  In both cases, there’s a subtle but important shift in the doctor-patient relationship that’s at the heart of my proposed “Smart Aging” paradigm shift: away from the omnipotent doctor telling the patient what’s needed and instead empowering the patient to be an active partner in his or her care.

The key is using the data to predict outcomes:

“‘Prior to anyone ever getting surgery, we want to try to predict how they’re going to do,’ Dartmouth-Hitchcock orthopedic surgeon Michael Sparks said in an SAP video. ‘But we’ve never had that missing tool, which is real-time data.’

“D-H recently began using real-time data analytics and predictive technologies to help people suffering from chronic knee pain to choose wisely and improve their outcomes. ‘It is actually a partnership to help people get ‘through this,’ Sparks said. ‘And it’s the analysis of data that adds to their ability to make a decision.’”

For the first time, the patient’s choice really becomes informed consent.

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Wearables/fitness apps & devices market heats up with Google Fit pending launch

Google appears set to give Apple’s pending Health app a run for its money with the forthcoming launch of the Google Fit tools. The competition should really benefit consumers and health care (Google has already released the developer’s kit). In announcing the kit, Google said the new tools will provide:

“… a single set of APIs for apps and device manufacturers to store and access activity data from fitness apps and sensors on Android and other devices (like wearables, heart rate monitors or connected scales). This means that with the user’s permission, you can get access to the user’s fitness history — enabling you to provide more interesting features in your app like personalized coaching, better insights, fitness recommendations and more.”

The releases only cover local storage of data, with cloud storage to follow.  As Forbes notes, that’s where the competition with Apple will be fierce:

Google Fit will integrate with a number of solutions from Google. Your Android powered smartphone or tablet is the obvious first point of contact, but you should also consider Google Fit’s potential integration with Google Glass and the Android Wear smartwatch program. All of these devices can use their sensor suite to gather and relay health data.”

As with Apple Health, Google wants developers and device manufacturers to settle on its standard as the hub for collection and integration of health and fitness data, while it may not be in the individual company’s best interests to commit to a single proprietary standard. As Forbes‘ Ewan Spence predicted, it’s unlikely that any end users are going to change platforms for their devices just because of new health apps and devices.

I guess it would be inappropriate to refer to any potential “killer apps” that could sway anyone in this category, eh?

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Detailing my “Smart Aging” through the IoT vision

The best-laid plans get canceled due to Summer vacation…

I was supposed to speak to seniors (and those who love or care for them!) today in my dear little burg, Medfield, MA, about my “Smart Aging” through the IoT vision. However, the talk has been postponed til September due to the small number of sign-ups. Oh well, I guess most revolutions start with a whimper, not a bang.

Because I believe so strongly in the idea, I’ve posted the talk (including presenter’s notes) to SlideShare.

Basically, it fleshes out what I’ve written in a number of recent posts, that I believe we can and must meld two aspects of the IoT, Quantified Self wearable devices that measure and record personal health and wellness data 24/7 and smart home devices such as the Nest thermostat and Ivee voice-activated base station, to create a new approach to aging. I defined smart aging as:

using senior-friendly home and health technology to cut your health and living costs,
improve your health and quality of life, and keep you in your own home as long as possible.

I predicted that it can “bring unprecedented health and happiness to our senior years — while saving us  money!”

While there have been efforts for a while to specifically use technology to improve aging, I predicted that

“Smart Aging will instead result from tweaking efforts underway as part of the Internet of Things to improve life for everyone, of all ages. As Joe Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, says, ‘Counterintuitively, making home automation mainstream and cool means that it’s likely to end up in the hands of older adults sooner than if home automation technologies were only designed specifically for older people.’”

(that’s why I suspect that wearables such as the Nike Fuel or prototype MC10 for jocks will be more important for seniors than anything specifically designed for them — and will face fewer obstacles to adoption).

I stressed that there are still important obstacles, not only the security and privacy ones that are essential for ANY IoT product or service, but also some that are specific to seniors, such as preserving their dignity and letting them control who will share access to their data.

I concluded that this approach will pay multiple benefits:

  • Improve your health & fitness
  • Cut your medical bills
  • Build your self-esteem
  • Cut your living costs
  • Let you stay at home, safely.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Human energy for the Internet of Things

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a cheap Scot (living in waste-not, want-not New England, to boot!), so I hate to waste anything.

That’s why I was so excited to read about this Columbia U research project on harvesting human energy (MIT, among other institutions, has also been researching this subject for years), especially as a way to power wearable devices.

This could really be a win-win for my pet project, using wearables and the Quantified Self approach to help seniors become empowered partners in their health care: get them moving, providing power for the devices reporting on their health indicators! Sweet!

The EnHANTs (Energy Harvesting Active Networked Tags) study, the first extensive one of human-generated energy, attached flexible tags – so called EnHANTs – across a range of everyday objects and participants, allowed the researchers to actually document how much energy various human activities produce. 40 people participated over 9 days, including activities such as walking, running and cycling.

Toss these out during your next trivia night:

  • people generate enough energy to continuously transmit data at a rate of 1 kilobit per second
  • walking “generates the same quantity of power – about 150 microwatts – as indoor lighting”
  • “Periodic motion – such as writing with a pencil – produces more harvestable energy (10-30 microwatts) than the acceleration involved in a 3-hour flight (5 microwatts)”
  • “Taller people generate around 20% more power than shorter people” (um, have you seen the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia in action? I’d question that one…)
  • “Walking downstairs – as it involves higher acceleration – generates more energy than going upstairs. 95% of the total harvestable energy you produce is generated in less than 7% of the day.”

The ENHANTS project aims to not only document human energy production, but to harvest it:

“EnHANTs are small, flexible, and energetically self-reliant devices that can be attached to objects that are traditionally not networked (e.g., books, furniture, walls, doors, toys, keys, clothing, and produce), thereby providing the infrastructure for various novel tracking applications. Examples of these applications include locating misplaced items, continuous monitoring of objects (items in a store, boxes in transit), and determining locations of disaster survivors.

Recent advances in ultra-low-power wireless communications, ultra-wideband (UWB) circuit design, and organic electronic harvesting techniques will enable the realization of EnHANTs in the near future. In order for EnHANTs to rely on harvested energy, they have to spend significantly less energy than Bluetooth, Zigbee, and IEEE 802.15.4a devices. Moreover, the harvesting components and the ultra-low-power physical layer have special characteristics whose implications on the higher layers have yet to be studied (e.g., when using ultra-low-power circuits, the energy required to receive a bit is significantly higher than the energy required to transmit a bit).

The objective of the project is to design hardware, algorithms, and software to enable the realization of EnHANTs.”

Coupled with some of the research I’ve cited earlier about batteries the size of a grain of sand or harvesting energy from “ambient backscatter” makes me confident that, in the near future we’ll be able to have effective wearable devices for reporting health conditions that will require little or no external energy sources.

New #IoT Health Paradigm: Partnership Between Doctor and Patient

With all the Internet of Things emphasis on making “dumb” things “smart,” we shouldn’t ignore how it will make all of us smarter as well.

Nowhere will that be as important as in healthcare, where I believe it will produce a dramatic paradigm shift in which patients will become empowered and will be full partners in their care, improving health, and cutting costs. Today’s post follows up on one I wrote recently focusing on seniors’ health care, which I believe will dramatically improve due to the IoT.

I was provoked to write by the annual report from the Partners (appropriately enough….) Health Center for Connected Health (full disclosure: my wife directs the women’s physical therapy program @ Brigham & Women’s Hospital, part of Partners, although her particular service isn’t working with the Center), which reports on a wide range of initiatives to address key issues such as reducing re-admissions, improving access to care, and helping with the transition from hospital to home.

IMHO, there’s an inevitability to this shift, because the current health care system is unsustainable, at least in the US. Costs are too high, many physicians will retire in the next decade, and the number of seniors is increasing dramatically. Oh, yea: we ain’t getting what we’re paying for either: our health is lousy compared to other nations.

But something amazing happens when people start to track and report their own health indicators, either on their own or as part of the fast-growing Quantified Self movement. As Dr. Joe Kvedar, founder and director of the Center  for Connected Health, says, “People can and do take very good care of themselves when you give them the tools to do so.”

We’ve got the essential tool for this transition right in our hands: the Center for Connected Health has found that 70% of patients in one of Partners’ community health centers have smartphones.

The apps  — there are now more than 100,000 health care ones! — and related devices such as Fitbits, Nike Fuels or Jawbone UPs to monitor health via smartphones still aren’t fully accurate, but they’re still valuable because they do accurately demonstrate personal activity trends, so you can compare your activity from day to day.

And they do change behavior:

“Can trackers really change behavior in people? Last year, Dr. Rajani Larocca, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a six-week lifestyle program for 10 patients with diabetes ages 50 to 70 that included weekly sessions to encourage exercise and healthful eating; each participant also was outfitted with a Fitbit Zip tracker.

“‘Every single person increased their activity,’ Dr. Larocca said. ‘People felt more knowledgeable.’ Eight months later, about half the patients from the group still wear a tracker.

“Researchers at the Center for Connected Health in Boston have been giving activity trackers to subjects for six to nine months, then studying changes in their behavior. Dr. Kamal Jethwani, head of research at the center, said he saw three distinct groups of people among study participants.

“About 10 percent are ‘quantified selfers’ with an affinity for this kind of feedback; just by looking at the numbers, they are motivated to be more active. An additional 20 percent to 30 percent need some encouragement in addition to tracker data to effectively change their behavior.

“But most of the subjects observed by Dr. Jethwani don’t understand the data and need help making sense of it. For them, he said, social motivation from a friend or joining a team or workplace challenge may be more effective.”

As I wrote in my post about seniors’ health care, as soon as we have effective mechanisms to feed the data to doctors the quality of care will improve. It’s like with so many inanimate things whose real-time status we’re able to really observe for the first time with the IoT: doctors will no longer have to rely on our self-reporting (“um, I think that about two months ago I felt out of breath a lot”) or the measurement of vital signs in the artificial setting of a doctor’s office. Instead, they’ll have access to longitudinal data about how you actually live (in fact, Partners introduced a system last year that allows people to electronically upload data to their medical records gathered from devices such as glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, bathroom scales, and pulse oximeters.

It’s a bright — and healthy — new day!

Gotta go now: my Jawbone UP tells me I’ve got to walk to CVS and the post office to meet my 10,000 steps per day target….

PS: If you’re ready to test the waters, check out the Center’s Wellocracy.com site to learn about self-monitoring devices and how to use them!

 

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.

Dr. Joe Cafazzo — neat stuff on biomedical design!

Posted on 25th October 2013 in design, health

Empathy by design:

  • he’s a biomedical engineer. 
  • thinks we’ve lost empathy in design of medical devices
  • reminds me of “Design of Everyday Things” — what are engineers thinking???
  • talks about device to calculate location of Taliban — batteries went dead! Defaults to current position when you change batteries — called in bomb strike on themselves! Official explanation blamed the soldiers, not the engineer!
  • example of the butterfly ballot that threw the election to Bush
  • home hemodialysis turned out to help a lot of people lead better lives.
  • Asks: “What else can patients do????”
  • talks about Bant app for diabetics — more than 10,000 active daily users!!  Allows them to do self-monitoring. Private social media app lets the kids interact with their friends. The kids can get bonus points for iTune redemptions if they perform self-monitoring!! New version in beta, with more features. Gamification — kids are very competitive. VERY COOL!
  • did another app for adults, significant increase in compliance, health improved.
  • 30 days for a better heart app — you’d get a daily challenge that you could choose whether to do or not — 6,000 people did the whole 30 days.

Predicting Health Outcomes With Machine Learning

Posted on 25th October 2013 in health

Eric Horvitz, MD, PhD co-director, Microsoft Research

  • from data to predictive models to decision-making
  • costly challenge of re-admissions: they worked with Washington Medical Center, which had been accumulating lots of data on ER visits. Built a predictive model of readmissions: identified relevant evidence out of 25,000 indicators: if “fluid” is in the record, that’s an indicator the person will be readmitted.
  • Created tool called “Readmissions Manager.
  • running this program worldwide
  • example of Congestive Heart Failure. $35 b. annual cost. Should you invest in an intervention program?
  • another big challenge is hospital-associated infection. $20 b.  a year cost. In top 10 causes of deaths in the US. Beyond looking at EMR, they introduced analysis by space and time. Another factor is the patient’s path through various parts of the hospital: could predict what % of the patient population got infections in what part of the hospital. Analyzed various factors, such as which unit of hospital they were in, who was the attending doc.
  • New kinds of predictions: “surprise models” — looked at people who were re-admitteed in 72 hrs. for a condition that wasn’t on chart before.
  • new set of data: patients searching web. For example, nutritional content in logs of downloaded recipes. (Maine people downloaded a lot of recipes with high carb content). This was because they found a lot of older ppl in DC area had downloaded recipes with high sodium content in holiday season.
  • looked at Twitter feeds about birth of child — overlaid lots of people who’d just had babies: about 12% of women showed signs of crashing in terms of mood (post-partu m depression is underreported). Suggests you might be able to intervene in advance to help them.