Apple Watch: killer app for IoT and lynchpin for “smart aging”

Wow: glad I put up with all of the tech problems during the Apple product launch today: the Apple Watch was worth it! It really seems as if it will be the killer device/app for the Internet of Things consumer market, and I think it may also be the lynchpin for my vision of “smart aging,” which would link both wearable health devices and smart home devices.

The elegant, versatile displays (it remains to be seen how easy it will be for klutzes like me to use the Digital Crown and some of the other navigation tools) plus the previously announced Health and Home Apps that are part of iOS 8 could really be the glue that brings together Quantified Self and smart home devices, making “smart aging” possible.

Activity AppIt will take some time to learn all about the watch and to see what apps the “Watch Kit” spawns, but here are some immediate reactions:

  • sorry, but I think it could kill the Lechal haptic shoes before they get off the ground: why have to pay extra for shoes that will vibrate to tell you where to go when your watch can do the same thing with its “Taptic Engine”?
  • I think I’ll also ditch my Jawbone UP, as much as I love it, for the Apple Watch: the video on how the Activity and Workout apps will work makes it look incredibly simple to view your fitness data instantly, vs. having to open an app on your phone.
  • (Just dreaming here): if they can pull off that neat “Milanese Loop” band on one of the versions that clamps to itself, what about not just a heart beat monitor, but a band that converts into a blood-pressure cuff? Guess that wouldn’t be accurate on the wrist, anyway, huh?

Wearables: love these new shoes that tell you where to go!

Wow! What if you were blind, and instead of a white cane, your shoes gave you directions? Or, even for people with no disabilities, you were navigating a strange city, and instead of having to constantly check Google Maps, your shoes showed the way? Pretty neat!

Lechal sensor shoe

Check out the snazzy new Lechal shoe from India’s Ducere Technologies.

The shoe, also available as an insert that can go in your own plain-vanilla shoes, was invented by two young US-educated Indian entrepreneurs, Krispian Lawrence and Anirudh Sharma, who had a vision (ooops!) of using technology to help the visually impaired.

It’s billed as the “world’s first interactive haptic footware” (bet your mom would be shocked if she knew you were wearing haptic footware, eh?).  When synched to the Lechal smartphone app, it vibrates to tell you which way to go.

And the water-resistant, breathable and anti-bacterial shoes have other features: “For those with 20/20 vision or near they are still useful – they can also calculate routes, steps taken, distance covered and calories burn to monitor workouts.”

I can see these as a critical tool for seniors as part of my “smart aging” paradigm as well, especially for those with dementia or Alzheimers.

As with other Quantified Self devices, you can share your walking and other data with friends via the device.

Here’s a cool feature: it claims to have the “world’s first interactive charger”: it gives audio feedback if you snap your fingers, and beeps to tell you the progress of charging, and the charger can be used as a fast charger for most phones, cutting down on the number of chargers you have to ride herd on.

Oh, BTW, Ducere gets extra points in my book because they don’t take themselves too seriously. To wit, “The technology that powers the shoe is embedded in its sole (pun intended).”

Will sports-star wearables make them cool enough for general public?

OK, first an admission of guilt: I don’t synch my Jawbone UP every day (although now that my wife and I are sharing results and challenging each other, that’s subject to change).  Evidently, I’m not alone: I read stats somewhere (can’t remember the source) that about 40-50% of all Quantified Self device users stop using them within the first six months.

But that’s not the big problem: that’s the fact that only a very small percentage of the population ever uses the devices at all, despite their benefits for health and fitness.

Part of the answer, IMHO, is making them sooo simple to use that you’d automatically use them (for example, I like the fact that the Lose It! app nags me every day if I haven’t entered my diet, activity, or weight), but the other factor is creating a cool factor about wearables. I read recently about a VC in Silicon Valley who always wears her Jawbone to cocktail parties because it starts conversations, but Silicon Valley VCs aren’t generally regarded as celebrities in the heartland, so I’m thinking more about sports stars.

biostamp

Now there’s a Boston-area startup, MC10, that might just make that breakthrough.  According to The Boston Globe, the company has a number of 1st-rank sports luminaries as investors/advisors, including former NBA star Grant Hill, hoop coach John Thompson III,  Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck, soccer star Kristine Lilly, and four-time Olympic women’s ice hockey medalist Angela Ruggiero.

The company’s first product is the translucent, stick-on Biostamp, due to be released next year. “The device, a barely visible 2-square-inch patch, is designed to stick on any body part like a second skin and record biometric data from heart rate and hydration levels to muscle activity and sleep patterns.”  It’s likely to replace the current, bulky and obtrusive devices for serious athletes. 

According to The Globe, there is about a dozen companies developing similar devices for jocks.

I’ve got a big collection of ball caps (primarily those of The Team That Shall Not Be Mentioned This Year, the one that “plays” [as it were…] @ Fenway Park), and an equal number of T’s from the same guys. Obviously, fans love to bond with their fav jocks by wearing their apparel, so I’m wondering whether the advent of Biostamps and similar devices will lead to fan apparel with similar devices built in, as worn by their favorites (hmmm: somehow I can’t see comparing my caloric intake with Big Papi …).

I see a lot of guys and gals around Boston with gray hair wearing the same gear, so I suspect the same approach might be a more productive way to get seniors to wear such devices than to design ones specifically for them.

This niche bears watching!

 

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!

 

Seniors and the Internet of Things: Empowerment and Security Through Smart Aging

I was quoted extensively in a Sunday Boston Globe feature on the IoT. It was in a special section aimed at seniors, and I’d been really passionate with the reporter about the IoT’s potential to transform seniors’ lives through new products such as bedroom slippers with sensors that can detect minute variations in a senior’s gait and alert a caregiver by app in time to avoid a fall, or a gorgeous necklace that can detect the onset of congestive heart failure). However, the article just ended up as a general introduction to the IoT.

Too bad.

necklace that monitors for possible congestive heart failure

While I was doing the interview, it dawned on me that this might really be a wonderful niche in the Internet of Things.  You see, I spend part of my time caring for two seniors who have faced serious health challenges, and it has really opened my eyes to the potential benefits of ambitious IoT programs for seniors.

We don’t have any time to lose: I’ve heard that a third of all doctors in the US will retire in the next decade, while they and about 10,000 others will turn 65 each day. There is simply no way that we can sustain this loss of medical professionals just when they are needed more than ever without fundamental change in the health care system!

To me, what the IoT represents is an opportunity for a fundamental change in the doctor-patient relationship, with empowered patients becoming full partners in their care through self-monitoring.  It will end the historic pattern, driven by necessity, of placing most emphasis on encounters in the doctor’s office, where the patient is forced to recall his or her symptoms, perhaps from several weeks ago, with no objective way of measuring them (not to mention factors such as “white-coat hypertension,” that may be induced by the very setting of the encounter. My blood pressure always goes up in my doctor’s office because she’s on the third floor, and I go up the stairs quickly rather than taking the elevator). Instead, the patient will generate a constant stream of data, and, over time, we will evolve efficient ways of reporting the spikes in readings to the doctor in a way that might actually trigger preventive care to avoid an incident, or at least provide an objective means of judging its severity to improve the quality of care.

Let’s also not forget about the benefits to seniors living alone and their families living miles away, of smart home devices.

I’m going to make this a major focus of my future IoT work, in large part because my personal experience working with seniors’ health needs has sensitized me to the wide range of issues that successful IoT solutions for senior must address:

  • ease-0f-use, especially for those who aren’t comfortable with technology or who face issues such as diminished vision or arthritis
  • non-stigmatizing: hey, grey hair is enough of an identifier: seniors don’t need other things that would further identify and isolate them
  • privacy and security: seniors are already targets of enough scams and efforts to exploit them: they don’t need to become even more vulnerable, especially regarding something as critical as their health
  • affordability: especially with devices that they might be expected to pay for entirely or in part. That can be difficult on a fixed income
  • can they encourage mutual support? I’ve seen first-hand how mutual support from an exercise group can encourage frail elders to keep exercising. Done right, I suspect apps that let you voluntarily share data might be very effective motivators
  • fostering independence: smart home apps that might help seniors manage household functions easily, as well as ones that could be monitored remotely by their adult children, might increase the chance they could stay in their homes independently for longer, an important factor in both reducing hospitalization costs and fostering self-worth.

What other factors do you think might be relevant to creating effective IoT devices for seniors?  Let me know.

The other day I had an e-mail exchange with one of my fav IoT pioneers, Dulcie Madden of Rest Devices, maker of the PEEKO “onesie” for babies, which (among other things) can reduce the possibility of SIDS among babies. Years ago, I was a day-care teacher, and now that I help care for seniors, I’ve noticed how similar their needs can be. IMHO, infant care and senior care are two of the most promising areas for life-improving IoT solutions. For both social and economic reasons, they should be a priority.

Let’s go!

 

Get your vote in for best IoT products of 2013!

Posted on 28th January 2014 in energy, environmental, health, home automation

(sorry: WordPress and I didn’t agree on the formatting for this entry, and WordPress wins!)

Postscapes‘ annual Best of the IoT contest wraps up on the 30th, so don’t miss your chance to vote for last year’s best IoT products!  You owe it to yourself to check out all the nominees: it will give a good overview of how the state-of-the-IoT has evolved, especially when you go back and compare the winners from the past two years.

Here are my personal choices in the various categories, and my reasons for choosing them — the primary criterion being my friend Eric Bonabeau‘s perennial question of new technology, “what can you do now that you couldn’t do before?”

  • Connected Home: I vote for the Mother smart home hub (probably because she looks like something from a Wallace & Gromit short..), cute, efficient, and open source (the leading vote-getter in this category is the iAquaLink pool control system: pardon my doubts, but there ain’t no way any automation system could control my pool: it’s basically a law unto itself!)
  • Connected Body:  Libelium Open Source e-Health Sensor Platform     Libelium does such great work in general, and this one is, to my knowledge, the most all-encompassing Quantified Self monitoring system, monitoring, with 10 different sensors: pulse, oxygen in blood (SPO2), airflow (breathing), body temperature, electrocardiogram (ECG), glucometer, galvanic skin response (GSR-sweating), blood pressure (sphygmomanometer) and patient position (accelerometer). I think it was Dave Evans who said that 30% of all docs will retire in the next decade, while the number of senior/Boomers will increase exponentially. The only way we’ll be able to cope is by making it easy for doctors to know what’s happening with us — in real time!
  • Smart City: On the day we mark environmental activist Pete Seeger’s death, what better than the open-source, crowd-funded Smart Citizen Kit, which empowers citizen activists to monitor environmental conditions! Power to the people, right on!
  • Enterprise: The HyGreen Hand Hygiene Monitoring System.  As I remarked before about a competing system, this is personal, because my cousin acquired a terrible Hospital Acquired Infection. Hand-washing is an absolutely critical hospital procedure, but until now we lacked a fool-proof method to make sure it was done!
  • Technical Enabler: Thingworx expanded their offerings this year with the Thingworx Marketplace, providing developers ..”with the necessary building blocks to rapidly build innovative applications that integrate those connected devices with business systems, social and cloud services, and external systems, enabling them to drive value in the connected world.”
  • Social Impact: OK, I’ll admit a soft spot for any reformer, so I count all these as “winners.” But the one that really caught my I was the Natalia Project, a wristband that alerts people if human rights workers are endangered.  Here’s the story:”In 2009, human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was kidnapped and later found murdered in Chechnya. In part of honoring her and the incident the Swedish organization Civil Rights Defenders is launching the Natalia Project. At the heart of the idea lies a GPS and GSM equipped wristband that when triggered or is forcibly removed will send out an alert and location information to warn that its wearer could be in danger.”
  • Networked Art: as the page says “Artists are often the first to see the potential in new technologies, even before those technologies are mature enough to be used to the consumer” (hmm, don’t think that’s what he meant to say, but you get the drift..) — and don’t forget the Arduino board came from a design school! My choice — hey, why not? — is Alex Kiesling’s “Long-Distance Art” — but the other ones look kewl too!
  • Design Fiction:  I’m going to pass on this one! I must be a little too literally minded!
  • DIY Project: oooh: this harkens back to my “Data Dynamite” book, on liberating data!  Here’s the description of my winner, the Data Sensing Lab:

    “Hardware hacking for data scientists”. By deploying custom wireless hardware at tech conferences like Strata and Google I/O the team is looking to advance what real-time sensor network data collection, analysis, and visualizations will look like in the near future.“We will soon begin to move in a sea of data, our movements monitored and our environments measured and adjusted to our preferences, without need for direct intervention. What will this look like? How can we create and shape it? How can we introduce the relevant hardware to people who already possess data analytics skills?”

  • Open Source: in many ways, the most important category of all, since without open standards the IoT just ain’t gonna go anywhere.  I’m embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of it, but my choice in this category is Alljoyn. As the description says, “AllJoyn is an open source project that provides a software framework and set of Services that enable interoperability among connected products and software applications, across manufacturers, to create dynamic proximal networks.  By integrating the AllJoyn framework codebase, manufactures can offer interoperable products and services that will engage and delight users in new, exciting and useful ways.” Yep.
  • Startup of the Year: I see Evrythng as a critical IoT marketing tool.
  • Must-Follow Company: I’d go with Libelium: they’re so ubiquitous and partner so well with so many.

So those are my choices — some are rather arbitrary because there are no so many promising IoT companies. Who are you voting for, and why??

Just thinking: could Quantified Self devices lead to #IoT BYOD for companies?

Posted on 21st October 2013 in health, Internet of Things, M2M, management, privacy, security, strategy

I’ve been noodling how do you introduce the Internet of Things to companies that haven’t even heard of it, let alone have a strategy to capitalize on it. It would probably have to be something that would have minimal up-front costs, provoke aha! moments that would stimulate other IoT initiatives, and would provide some quick return on investment.

Jawbone UP

Having just read SAP’s interactive report on mobile strategies, it dawned on me: if companies are now comfortable with creating BYOD policies covering smartphones and tablets, what if they were to create formal policies to encourage employees to bring their Quantified Self  devices — Jawbone UPs, Nike FitBits, and the like — after all, the workers are probably already doing so anyways!

What if — thinking out loud here — the company could enter anyone using one of the devices during the work day in some sort of contest with fitness prizes, or, — this is more controversial because of privacy concerns — if they offered discounts on health insurance for workers who were willing to share their QS data with the company (since companies are penalizing overweight workers, shouldn’t it work the other way as well?).

Heck, given the payback in terms of  lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and lower medical claims, I bet you could make a plausible case that it would be in the company’s enlightened self-interest to actually pay for the devices for those who don’t already have them.

It’s just a thought, and there would be a lot of details to work out, but I think it merits consideration as a way to introduce the IoT’s benefits to corporate America. Let me know how you feel!

Cautionary note about self-monitoring, Quantified Self

Posted on 3rd April 2013 in health, Internet of Things

I’m terribly excited about the potential for #IoT self-monitoring devices and their potential to change the relationship between us and our doctors from an episodic, one-way thing into a continuous dialogue in which patients are empowered  and really able to work with our doctors to increase wellness.

Having said that, this Atlantic article by Thomas Goetz is an important cautionary note. You see, diabetics have been there, done that — and, for the past thirty years they have seen self-monitoring of their glucose levels as more of a burden than an opportunity. As Goetz writes:

“In the case of diabetes, the distaste falls into three categories: Self monitoring for diabetes is an unremitting and unforgiving labor; the tools themselves are awkward and sterile; and the combination of these creates a constant sense of anxiety and failure.”

Not very pleasant, and not very encouraging for the Quantified Self movement.

Goetz draws some important conclusions from all three problems:

“Each of these issues offers lessons, not just for diabetes, but for healthcare overall, as we look to patients to start paying attention to their own bodies, start pushing Fitbits and other devices upon them. First, self-tracking needs to be as effortless and automatic as possible; friction is the enemy. Second, the tools need to be designed with the consumer in mind, not the clinician. The best practices of consumer electronics need to be applied, and the data needs to be kept in the background whenever possible. And third, it’s essential that self-tracking address the emotional needs of the patient, not just their rational side. At the end of the day, self-tracking needs to be a positive experience, because it is such a demanding one.”

I don’t think we should have second thoughts about the need for advances in self-monitoring (just wait until the Rest Devices Peeko Infant monitor “onesie” starts saving infants from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome!) but the experience of those who have been doing it the longest must be respected, and Goetz’ cautionary notes should be posted in every QS device lab!