Smart Infrastructure Logical Top Priority for IoT

The only issue Clinton and Trump can agree on is the need for massive improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, especially its roads and bridges. But, please, let’s make it more than concrete and steel.

Let’s make it smart, and let’s make it the top priority for the IoT because of the trickle-down effects it will have on everything else in our economy.

Global economist Jeffrey Sachs stated the case eloquently in a recent Boston Globe op-ed, “Sustainable infrastructure after the Automobile Age,” in which he argued that the infrastructure (including not only highways and bridges but also water systems, waste treatment, and the electric grid) shaped by the automotive age has run its course, and must be replaced by one “in line with new needs, especially climate safety, and new opportunities, especially ubiquitous online information and smart machines.”

I’m currently reading Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel’s The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, and the Future of Urban Life, which makes the same argument: “The answer to urban expansion and diffusion — and the host of social consequences that they bring — may be to optimize, rather than increase, transportation infrastructure.”

The IoT is perfectly suited to the needs of a new information-based infrastructure, especially one which must balance promoting the economy and mobility with drastic reductions in greenhouse gasses (transportation produces approximately a third of the U.S.’s  emissions). It can both improve maintenance (especially for bridges) through built-in sensors that constantly monitor conditions and can give advance warning in time to do less-costly and less-disruptive predictive maintenance, and reduce congestion by providing real-time information on current congestion so that real-time alterations to signals, etc., can be made rather than depending on outmoded fixed-interval stoplights, etc.

Sachs points out that infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen since the Reagan years, and that it will require much more spending to bring it up to date.

A good place to look for a model is China.  The country already sports the largest concentration of M2M connections in the world: “74 million connections at the end of 2014, representing almost a third of the global base,” much of that in the form of smart bridges, smart rails, and smart grid, and critical because of the country’s rapid economic growth (Ratti cites a Beijing traffic jam that immobilized cars for an astounding 12 days!). Similarly, the government aims to have 95% of homes equipt with smart meters by next year.The country has used its investment in smart infrastructure to build its overall IoT industry’s ability to compete globally.

Sachs argues for a long-term smart infrastructure initiative:

“I propose that we envision the kind of built environment we want for the next 60 years. With a shared vision of America’s infrastructure goals, actually designing and building the new transport, energy, communications, and water systems will surely require at least a generation, just as the Interstate Highway System did a half-century ago.”

He says we need a plan based on three priorities to cope with our current national and global challenges:

“We should seek an infrastructure that abides by the triple bottom line of sustainable development. That is, the networks of roads, power, water, and communications should support economic prosperity, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. The triple bottom line will in turn push us to adopt three guiding principles.

First, the infrastructure should be “smart,” deploying state-of-the-art information and communications technologies and new nanotechnologies to achieve a high efficiency of resource use.

Second, the infrastructure should be shared and accessible to all, whether as shared vehicles, open-access broadband in public areas, or shared green spaces in cities.

Third, transport infrastructure should promote public health and environmental safety. The new transport systems should not only shift to electrical vehicles and other zero-emission vehicles, but should also promote much more walking, bicycling, and public transport use. Power generation should shift decisively to zero-carbon primary energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear power. The built environment should be resilient to rising ocean levels, higher temperatures, more intense heat waves, and more extreme storms.”

The IoT, particularly because of its ability to let us share real-time data that in turn can regulate the infrastructure, is ideally suited to this challenge. It’s time for Congress to not only spend on infrastructure but to do so wisely.

The result will be not only the infrastructure we need, but also a more robust IoT industry in general.


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

What do you think constitutes “SmartAging?”

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

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

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

SmartAging Manifesto (draft)

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

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

Cautionary Note: Takes More Than #IoT to Make a City Smart

Posted on 8th September 2016 in cities, government, Internet of Things, smart cities, US government

“….I yield to no one in my love of smart city technologies, but I’ve been mixing it up in government for far longer, so I was appropriately chastised by this Boston Globe op-ed arguing that technology alone does not a city make smart…

Julian Agyeman, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts, and Duncan McLaren,  an independent researcher, coauthored “Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities.”

They argue that one of my favorite examples of public-private IoT-based collaboration, how WAZE data is shared instantly with Boston’s Traffice Management Center, resulting in things like rapid removal of double-parked cars, and real-time signaling based on current traffic flow,”

“….. merely represents a Band Aid slapped over a problem that still requires brave new political thinking and much-needed infrastructure investment. Rather than using the latest app to help manage traffic flow within an overburdened system, Boston — perhaps more than any other US city — needs a wider, well-resourced, truly integrated package of measures designed to actually decrease the volume of cars in the city. Failing to do this will ultimately undermine quality of life and regional character.”

True, and I stand corrected.

While also citing initiatives such as CCTV-enabled congestion pricing in London, the authors argue that a range of improvements to make traffic flow better and other civic improvements “… will not come about through ‘smart’ city partnerships but through political will. There’s no app that substitutes for public engagement and responsive leadership.”

Technology is not a panacea for urban issues, health care, or aging, but, I do believe that it can become one of the tools that could and should be debated by policy makers and the public.


Concurrent Engineering: Great Tool to Make IoT “Circular Company” Reality!

Simultaneously sharing real-time data and collaborating (vs. linear methods where departments work in isolation from each other and sequentially) is a major theme of my “Circular Company” vision.

At the PTC ThingWorx expo in June one of the themes was “concurrent engineering“), which could be a major tool in making the circular company a reality.  The company’s Creo Advanced Assembly Extension  lets the the lead designer plan the assembly’s “skeleton” to give all the subassembly teams a common work basis and to include critical design info in the subassemblies. This lets each team work in parallel. If the lead engineer modifies the primary design, all the subassemblies will modify automatically. The process transfers seamlessly to the assembly line.

According to Wikipedia, the concept also fits nicely with the “circular economy” concept that’s gaining strength, by considering factors such as end-of-life disposal and recycling,  which is a great bonus of the “circular company”:

“.. part of the design process is to ensure that the entire product’s life cycle is taken into consideration. This includes establishing user requirements, propagating early conceptual designs, running computational models, creating physical prototypes and eventually manufacturing the product. Included in the process is taking into full account funding, work force capability and time. A study in 2006 claimed that a correct implementation of the concurrent design process can save a significant amount of money, and that organizations have been moving to concurrent design for this reason.[3] It is also highly compatible with systems thinking [which, BTW, is what originally introduced me to this concept, many years ago, through the writings of Peter Senge and Jay Forrester, who, BTW, is still kickin’ at 97!] and green engineering.”

Come on, gang: hierarchy and linear processes are soooo 20th century. Get with the program.

I’ll be on live Thursday morning talking the IoT and Smart Cities

Cities are the future of global civilization and the economy, and smart cities are the only way they’ll survive and prosper!

Join me and two SAP experts on the subject, Dina Dayal (global vice president for Digital Enterprise Platform Group) and Saj Kumar (vice president of Digital Transformation and Internet of Things) as we guest on Bonnie D. Graham’s always-enjoyable Coffee Break With Game Changers, 11 AM EDT, 8 AM PDT (it will be archived at the site if you can’t listen live.

Bonnie likes us to start with a provocative (and relevant) quote, and mine will be from Jane Jacobs’ great Death and Life of American Cities:

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because,
and only when, they are created by everybody.”

… with the emphasis on everybody: I’ll explain that there really is an important role in smart cities for city government, the private sector, and — often ignored — grassroots innovators.

A critical key is the global Things Network, created by Wienke Gieseman and his Gang of Ten in Amsterdam,  who created a free LoRaWAN city-wide data network for $12,000 and in less than a month, and then went on to create a global network and a crowdsourced campaign to bring the cost of LoRaWAN hubs down to $200.

I like to think I was there at the beginning, working with Vivek Kundra, then the DC’s CTO (before his accomplishments there led Obama to name him the first US CIO). Vivek and Mayor Fenty took the bold move of releasing more than 40 major city data bases on a real-time basis, then held a contest to get smart developers to create new-fangled “apps” (remember, this was 2008!) to capitalize on them. Because the apps were open-source, they’ve been constantly copied and improved in the years since then.

And that’s only the beginning:

  • creative startups such as Alicia Asin’s Libelium, working with an enlightened city government, have made Barcelona a massive testlab for the Iot, and arguably THE smart city of the day
  • Columbus OH won the Obama Administration’s Smart City competition for its all-inclusive transportation scheme (and I do mean all-inclusive: who ever thought a better transportation network could be used to cut infant mortality???)
  • Smart Cities organizations have been formed in cities worldwide to share ideas — we’re all in this together!

And, of course, I’m going to bring the discussion down to earth by really getting down and dirty — yessiree, we’re gonna talk trash cans.

Be there or be square!


Distributed Manufacturing by 3D Printing Revolution for IoT Comes of Age!

Two major developments in the 3-D printing world, from Fictiv and (who woulda thunk it!) UPS, make me think the time has come for “distributing manufacturing” and getting away from the old massive, manufacturing mentality exemplified by Ford’s River Rouge plant.

OK, first a confession and a little history. Being short & named David, I’ve always had a fascination with David & Goliath, and you can bet who I’d root for. I also was deeply touched by two visionaries in my past:

  • Steve Clay-Young, who used to run the workshop at the old Boston Architectural Center & turned me on to a neat, nearly-forgotten bit of WWII history: either Popular Science or Popular Mechanix (can’t remember which), organized a network of hobbyists with metal lathes, who played a major role in the war effort. The magazine published plans for turning metal for munitions, and these guys each worked in their workshops to make them.
  • Eric Drexler, the nano-tech guru, spoke at the Eco-Tech conference in the ’90s about his vision of a bread-box-size gizmo on your kitchen counter that would churn out all sorts of customized products for you.

Now, it’s all taking place, and I suspect 3D printing will be a crucial element in the IoT-based transformation of the economy.


                                   Fictiv distributed manufacturing model

Fictiv is a startup founded to “democratize manufacturing,” which just went public with its new “distributed manufacturing” service using a nationwide network of 3D high quality printers and CNC machines:


“We route parts to machine with open capacity so you don’t wait 5 days for a part that takes 5 hours…. We aggregate orders so every customer receives the benefits of large purchasing power….”

Perhaps coolest, “Parts are produced as close to customers as possible to reduce inefficiencies in logistics and shipping lead-time”  so that (for an extra charge) they’re fabricated and delivered in 24 hours, and otherwise delivered in two days.  I suspect that, just as having sensors on their products that results in real-time feedback allowing GE to compress the design cycle, especially upgrades, that this proximity and quick turn-around will allow designers to radically alter the design process by “failing rapidly,” just the way early spread-sheet software allowed business managers to do “what-if” hypotheticals for the first time.

By bundling orders, they give startups the bargaining power of large companies.As co-founder Dave Evans, an experienced product design pro, says, distributed, local manufacturing can even the playing field for smaller companies, especially startups just designing their first products:

“When ordering from a large manufacturing company, parts need to navigate through their complex system and then be shipped from the machine warehouse direct to the customer, increasing lead times.

From an engineer’s perspective, when you’re in the prototyping and ideation stages, time is everything and even a 1-2 day loss from a 3PL (third-party logistics player) matters significantly.

What’s important to consider here is that in manufacturing, things can and will go wrong. So when remote manufacturers inevitably have to manage errors, there’s a lot of complexity to deal with …. This is very evident in overseas mass manufacturing, which is why companies put engineers as close to the source as possible. It’s amazing how few companies consider the same principles during the early prototyping stages of a product when time is everything.

The beauty in working with smaller, local manufacturers on the other hand, is that parts can be picked up as soon as they’re ready or delivered via same-day courier, saving you the 1-2 days of shipping. In addition, if things go wrong (they always do), smaller shops have more agility, fewer organizational layers, and in general can respond more quickly compared with their larger counterparts.”

              3D printing at The UPS Store

Equally important is the continuing stream of 3D services being offered by UPS. which recently announced a nationwide on-demand 3D printing network.  The network will combine 3D printers at more than 60 The UPS Stores® and Fast Radius’ On Demand Production Platform™ and 3D printing factory in Louisville, KY. My friends at SAP will marry its SAP’s extended supply chain solutions will be integrated with the UPS 3D network and — most important — its global logistics network “to simplify the industrial manufacturing process from digitization, certification, order-to-manufacturing and delivery.”

If I’m correct, the UPS network will concentrate on prototyping at this point, but it’s easy to see that it could soon have a dramatic impact on the replacement parts industry. Why should the manufacturer warehouse a large supply of spare parts, just because they might be needed, when they could instead simply transmit the part’s digital file to the nearest UPS 3D printer, generate the part, and use UPS to deliver it in a fraction of the time.

Combine that with the predictive maintenance possible with feedback from sensors on products, and you truly have a revolution in product design and maintenance as well as manufacturing. It would also foster the IoT-based circular company vision that I’ve been pushing, because supply chain, manufacturing, distribution, and maintenance would all be linked in a great circle.




Brexit and the IoT: Let’s Capitalize on the Opportunity, Not Wallow in Despair

Wow: as the old Dinah Washington ditty went, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Since last Thursday, I doubt even the most diehard IoT zealots have thought about anything but Brexit and its implications.  Now that we’ve had a little time to reflect and digest exactly how dire the possible problems are, I’d like to suggest we look at the bright side, and think the IoT could play a major role in improving everyone’s life in the future — not just the economic elites.

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

I used to be a corporate crisis manager, called in when major corporations had done amazingly stupid things and their reputations and sometimes even their survival was in question. For those occasions, I kept a battered greeting card in my briefcase with the calligraphy for wei ji, the Chinese ideogram for crisis. I’d point out that it c0mbined danger — that was obvious! — with the less-obvious one for opportunity. I still believe that, even in the global confusion and concern resulting from Brexit, and I think there’s a role for the IoT in the new world order.

Above all, this should be a wake-up call for the global economic and political elites that, going forth, change must benefit everyone, not just them.

When it comes to the IoT, that means that it can’t be yet another excuse for automating jobs out of existence, but must instead be a way of empowering workers and creating new opportunities:

  • One that occurred to me is near & dear to my heart, because I thought of a primitive version 25 years ago: creating 30″ high 4′ x 8′ garden “boxes” planted using Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” methods, that would allow people worldwide to grow their own veggies in very small spaces.  Add in IoT water sensors so that the beds could be watered precisely when and in the amount needed, and people everywhere could become self-sufficient (e-mail me if you’re interested in commercializing the approach)!  It would be the cheapie’s variation on the neat, but costly, Grove Labs home ag solution.
  • smart asthma inhaler

    smart asthma inhaler

    Increasingly, global populations will be centered in cities, so the whole smart cities approach will improve everyone’s quality of living by cutting down traffic, reducing municipal operating costs, and improving public health. Even fat cats get upset when their limos are stuck in traffic, so this is a win-win.
    One of my favorite examples of the smart city approach is the asthma inhaler cum GPS that automatically alerts public health authorities when a user — most frequently, sadly, a low-come minority person — uses the inhaler, allowing them to identify dirty air “hot spots” where cleanup efforts need to be focused.

  • I’ve always been impressed about the outside-the-box mobile device apps coming out of Africa that make their lack of conventional infrastructure into an advantage. One of the coolest examples of that when it comes to the IoT is the example INEX’s Chris Rezendes told me about: how Grundfos, the world’s leading pump company, releases the data from senors on its pumps for village water supplies in Africa and some smart guys have come up with an app that allows the village women to check in advance whether the village well is working before they trudge miles to get the watch (which, BTW, I hope they’re carrying back in these way-cool appropriate technology rolling water carriers, the “Hippo”).

  • Also, the IoT could empower assembly-line workers and others if smart managers realize that they too should be among those sharing real-time IoT data: yes, a lot of IoT data can be used on a M2M basis so one machine’s status will regulate another’s, but there’s also a potential role for workers, with their years of experience and horse-sense, using that data to fine-tune processes themselves to optimize efficiency. Artificial Intelligence is great, but I still think there’s a role for enlightened humans, even if they don’t have a lot of education and prestige within the corporation.

Those are just a few ideas on how the IoT might be used to improve everyone’s lot in the coming years and undermine the current status quo that benefits only a few.  Let me know if you have ideas on how to foster this revolution and make Brexit the catalyst for positive change.



Game-changer! AR Enables IoT merging of physical and digital

Several months ago I wrote about an analogy to the world of business prior to the Internet of Things,  in which a metaphorical illness called “Collective Blindness” affected every human for all time, so that we were unable to peer inside things. We just accepted that as an inevitable limitation, creating all sorts of work-arounds to try to be able to cope in the absence of real-time information about things of all sorts.

I then said that the Internet of Things would allow us to end Collective Blindness, getting — and sharing — the real-time data we’d need to make better decisions and work more precisely.

Now I’ve seen the tool that allows us to end that Collective Blindness: PTC’s Augmented Reality (AR), tool, Vuforia.

At last week’s PTC Liveworx conference, there was a mind-blowing demo of Vuforia by Terri Lewis, director of solutions and tech at Caterpillar, as it applied to the company’s XQ Gen Set, a portable power generator for job sites and special events.  As PTC CEO James Heppelmann reiterated several times, the software is creating

a single new reality that’s physical and digital at the same time….. and democratizing AR.”
(my emphasis)

Used as a sales tool, Vuforia Studio Enterprise lets the customer look inside the product, as contrasted with a static brochure.  That’s neat, but what’s really incredible is how it lets maintenance people peer inside the device, and do so in a way (as Heppelmann said, “humans prefer to use sight an sound simultaneously”) that is much more effective in terms of zeroing in not only on what’s wrong, but also these specifics (such as replacement part numbers, etc.) to quickly repair them.  Incidentally Heppelmann and Harvard Prof. and biz guru Michael Porter are collaborating on another article, this one on how to apply AR in a business setting (turns out that Porter is a member of the PTC board, and in the past few years he’s been using it as a lab to evaluate business use of the IoT).

Another example of Vuforia’s work in maintenance demonstrated at the conference was by Flowserve, the world’s largest flow control company. Vuforia helps them manage devices in real-time (the person at the pump can see what is actually happening), cutting the number of repair trips from three to one, because they are able to diagnose the problem at the beginning, and bring the replacement parts with them. Then they can do do real-time simulations to see if the problem has been solved. The company believes they saved $2 billion in excess repart costs in 2015 alone.

 Vuforia Studio AR lets users set up augmented reality simulations in minutes without writing code, and can also be used in product design review.

I had a chance to try the XQ Gen Set visualization with an AR headset myself, and it was as powerful as promised.

I must admit the first time I tried on an AR headset — and almost jumped on one of the other users because I was jumping back to avoid falling several hundred feet off a sharp cliff into the ocean — I was amazed by the realism, but didn’t really think much about its serious business uses.  PTC’s Vuforia Studio AR made me a believer: it’s helping us cure Collective Blindness, and AR will be yet another tool to bring about unprecedented precision and efficiency in every aspect of manufacturing and product maintenance!

Liveblogging #IoT @ #Liveworx 2016

1st up is Jim Heppelmann, PTC CEO and co-author w/ Michael Porter of the great 2-part HBR series on IoT strategy & tactics.

But 1st, few words from David Pogue, the great consumer tech writer: imagine his surprise when he sees his kids at home in CT have cranked the Nest 2 66 degrees. So he turns it up, LOL.


  • part of a fundamental transformation
  • one of biggest game-changing technologies of our time
  • things evolving from being simple physical products to complex systems, systems of systems
  • “single new reality that’s physical and digital at the same time”
  • example of rapid change: Augmented Reality & Virtuality combined with IoT: Terri Lewis, director of solutions & tech at Caterpiller — XQ Gen Set — rental power for job sites & sport events — “asset utilization” big deal for rentals & for the customers — can operate from a remote device (iPad in this case). PTC’s new product is Vuforia Studio Enterprise — “democratizing AR.” When used as a sales tool, lets customer look inside the product, vs. a static brochure.
  • humans prefer to use sight and sound simultaneously: he & Porter are working on another article on adding AR to business setting.
  • analytics: analytics is the new refinery for data, which is the new oil.  Announcing Thingworx Analytics. Example: Flowserve, an industrial products company.World’s largest flow control company. Helps to do real-time management of the device. It now takes only 1 repair trip to fix assembly rather than 3 before, because they know the actual problem at beginning. Do real-time simulations to see if it was solved.  Augmented Reality allows the person right at the pump, to see what is actually happening — that wasn’t possible before. Radically reduces time & money necessary to get it back online — reducing what was a $2 billion loss in 2015 alone.
  • New announcement: HPE industrial, hardened server to run such a system.
  • Engineering products: working with a group of local STEM kids in a robotics competition, FIRST Robotics. Use AR as part of the design review process, using Google Cardboard & Agile Engineering process. Team demo’s it.
  • He thinks they are THE company for digital/physical convergence.

Michael Campbell, Vuforia Studio AR:

  • augmented reality without writing code
  • reduces the CAD data set by 150x to optimize it, but protects all the visual richness
  • use in design review
  • can create compelling AR in a few minutes! Woo!
  • can actually put the digital info on the physical product itself.  Creo Illustrate for tech illustrators: step-by-step illustrations (wow, would that be great for product assembly and repair uses!). Intuitive interface, drag-n-drop.


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

 Amazon Alexa & services it can trigger!

Amazon Echo & services it can trigger!

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

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

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

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

      KidsMD for Amazon Alexa

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

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

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

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