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!

 

The New IoT Math: 1 + 1 + 3 — Jawbone UP24 now controls Nest thermostat

A chance conversation about the IoT the other day turned me on to this elegant proof-of-concept that what I call “Smart Aging” to help seniors be healthier and avoid institutionalization is possible: my Jawbone UP bracelet could now control my Nest thermostat (if I had one: with three heating zones in my house, I’m gonna wait until the NEST price drops before I’ll buy them…).

That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what I’m talking about with my concept of “Smart Aging” for seniors, which would combine:

  • Quantified Self devices such as Jawbone UPs, Nike FuelBand, the congestive heart failure necklace,  or the Biostamp sensor (more about that one in a future post!) that will easily and unobtrusively monitor your bodily indicators and, if you choose, report them to your doctor, both to improve diagnoses, and to encourage you to adopt healthy practices such as a daily walk.
  • smart home devices such as the NEST or the voice-activated Ivee hub.

Even better, if device manufacturers get it about one of my Essential Truths about the IoT:  who else could use this data?, they will allow free access to their algorithms, and someone will realize that 1+1=3: the two devices are even more powerful when linked! In this case, the Jawbone UP is powerful, and so is the Nest, but something totally new is possible when they are linked:

“By connecting your UP24 with your Nest Thermostat, the temperature of your house will automatically adjust to a temperature you prefer – the moment you go to bed or wake up.

“Through UP Insights, we have shared the fact that an ideal sleeping environment is cooler, between 65 and 72 degrees. With the Nest integration, we no longer just tell you this fact. We make it a reality. Once your band enters Sleep Mode, your thermostat will kick down to your ideal temperature. And when you wake? You guessed it. Your thermostat will automatically adjust to a warmer temperature… all without leaving your bed.”

Nest-2_thermostatJawbone_UpHow cool (or hot, depending on the season…) is that?

I particularly like it for seniors because of one UP feature: instead of setting a precise wake-up alarm, you also have the option of creating a 30-minute window when it it should vibrate to wake you, with the exact time determined by what the UP determines is the ideal point in your natural sleep cycle.  Some working people on extremely tight morning schedules may not want to take advantage of that option, but for seniors, answering to no one but themselves, that would be an added benefit: get the best possible sleep, AND get up in a warm house (oh, and while you’re at it, why not link in some Phillips HUE lights and a coffee pot plugged in to a Belkin WeMo socket, so that you’ll also have fresh-brewed coffee and a bright kitchen?).  Sweet!

Do the math: one IoT-empowered device is nice, but link several more of them, and 1 + 1 = 3 — or more!

Apple iWatch: could they really make wearables acceptable to mass market?

The WSJ had a piece this week speculating on the rumored Apple iWatch (Disclaimer: I work part-time in an Apple Store. In that capacity I don’t know anything you don’t know — including whether the iWatch will actually ever happen! My sources for this blog are limited to publicly-available ones.).

The Journal notes that none of the smart watches released so far have had major penetration, and, as a further cautionary note, I’d point out that most people who start using a Jawb0ne UP, Nike FuelBand, etc. stop using them in several months (HELP: I recently read the data on that claim, but I can’t find the citation. Can you help me find it???).

HOWEVER, as I speculated recently in my posts on Apple’s soon-to-be-released HealthKit and HomeKit, the company has shown time-and-time-again over the past 15 years that it knows how to create disruptive devices (even though Clayton Christensen was skeptical, LOL!) and create huge new markets that make tech devices mainstream.

Given my new-found pre-occupation with “Smart Aging” through a combination of Quantified Self and smart home devices, I really like the idea of a smart watch for seniors. I haven’t worn a watch since I got my first Palm Pilot (wow: remember when they were cutting edge??), but seniors do, and I suspect that if they could get immediate feedback on their vital signs from something that was not only functional but fashionable and didn’t require any technical savvy, they wouldn’t feel stigmatized by wearing the watch, a critical factor in its widespread acceptance.

Let’s see what happens!

 

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.

Ivee: helping seniors “age in place” through Internet of Things

Posted on 28th May 2014 in aging, home automation, Internet of Things, seniors, SmartAging

I’m still not certain I buy the oft-expressed view that seniors are inherently anti-tech (I’ve seen too many of them at various Apple Stores buying iPads so they can do FaceTime with the grandchildren…), but it’s true that, as you get older, you’re less likely to want to squint at tiny displays, or tap tiny virtual keys, etc. And, truth to tell, if you can simply give a voice command to do something you’d otherwise have to do manually, who wouldn’t choose the easy way out (hey, I know I’m late to the game, but I’m just starting to use Siri to dictate texts).

iveecover iveeThat’s why I think the voice-activated assistant ivee can be a wonderful tool to help seniors age in place, by serving as the easy-to-use access point for a growing array of smart home devices, including hubs, thermostats, and, soon, locks and lights (including the Phillips Hue — why shouldn’t seniors be able to pick from 6 million different combinations of light colors???) from a variety of vendors that can control various home functions — and, BTW, some of those devices can also let nervous adult children know you’re OK.

ivee will work with both open and proprietary communications standards.

ivee meets one of my acid tests for IoT devices for seniors, in that “she” doesn’t give off any kind of sterile home nursing vibe that would stigmatize users — when she isn’t following your every wish and command she serves as an attractive clock. But speak to her from 10-15′ away, and she’ll:

  • adjust the temperature
  • turn on the lights
  • tell you stock prices
  • tune your radio
  • tell you the weather.

Interestingly, Interactive Voice, ivee’s parent company, doesn’t mention the senior market anywhere on its site, but I think it could be the killer device for seniors who want to stay in their home.

Whether or not your Mom and Dad are tech averse, why not get an ivee to control your own smart home devices, and then let them ask you how the heck that thing works — it won’t be long until they’ll ask for one of their own, and you’ll have launched them on the road toward safely and easily controlling their home — and aging safely in place.

 

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!