Updating my “SmartAging” device design criteria

Could seniors be the ideal test group for user-friendly consumer IoT devices?

Two years ago I created a series of criteria by which to evaluate IoT devices that seniors might use (N.B., I didn’t really focus on ones specifically designed for seniors, because I have an admitted bias against devices with huge buttons or that look like mid-century period tube radios — it’s been my experience that seniors aren’t crying out to be labeled as “different.”) to improve their quality of life.

The particular emphasis was on what I called “SmartAging,” which synthesizes two aspects of the IoT:

  • Quantified Self health devices to keep seniors healthier longer and to become partners with their doctors rather than passive recipients of care, and
  • smart home devices to make it easier to run their homes, so that seniors could remain on their own as long as possible rather than entering some drab, sterile assisted-living facility (again, my bias showing…).

A lot has happened since I compiled the list. The changes have solidified my conviction that seniors, especially the less technologically minded, might be the acid test of consumer IoT user friendliness because they can’t be expected to work as hard at mastering devices, they don’t have the automatic openness of digital natives, and encounter differing degrees of reduced agility, etc. 

Also, given the current political climate, it makes sense to try to improve seniors’ lives as much as possible without requiring costly public services that are in jeopardy (I am trying to be civil here, OK?).

The most dramatic of these developments is the amazing success of Amazon’s voice-activated Echo.  I’ve praised it before as an ideal device for seniors, partially because voice is such a natural input for anyone, and particularly because it means that the tech-averse don’t have to learn about interfaces or programs, just speak! Even better, as the variety of “skills” increases, the Echo really is becoming a unified SmartAging hub: I can now control my Sensi smart thermostats and the “Ask My Buddy” skill can even call for assistance, so it works for both halves of SmartAging.  Although I haven’t tested it, I assume much of this also holds true for the Google Home.

There’s an increasing variety of other new Quantified Self devices, some of which are specifically focused on seniors, such as the GreatCall Jitterbug Smart phone, which comes with a simplified, over-size home page featuring “brain games” a la Lumosity, and an Urgent Response system (all of these features are available on an iPhone and, I assume, on Android, but must be set in Settings rather than being the default settings).

In addition, on the personal level, I convinced my Apple Store (disclaimer: I’m at the bottom of the food chain with Apple, not privy to any policies or devices under consideration, so this is just my opinion) to let me start bi-weekly classes at the local senior center on how to use Apple devices, especially the iPad. I continue to work with a lot of seniors who come into the store who are often leery of tech products.

Silver Medal!

Most directly, last month’s companywide Apple Wellness Challenge was life-changing for me.  This year the friendly competition focused on the Apple Watch (important, since a watch is a familiar form-factor to geezers). After wasting three days trying to find the app, I really got into the event because we could share results with friends to encourage (or shame, LOL) them — that really motivated me.  Bottom line: I managed to win a Silver Medal, Apple featured my experience on the event website, and, most important, I made lasting changes to my fitness regimen that I’ve sustained since then, now exercising almost an entire hour a day. I couldn’t help think afterward that the program really did show that user-friendly technology can improve seniors’ lives.

Sooo, with a few more years to think about them and more progress in devices themselves, (as well as increased sensitivity to issues such as privacy and security) here are my amended criteria for evaluating products and services for seniors. As I mentioned the first time, Erich Jacobs of OnKöl assisted with the specs):

Ease of Use

  1. Does it give you a choice of ways to interact, such as voice, text or email? Voice in particular is good for seniors who don’t want to learn about technology, just use it.
  2. Is it easy for you to program, or — if you them give your permission — does it allow someone else to do it remotely?
  3. Does it have either a large display and controls or the option to configure them through settings?
  4. Is it intuitive?
  5. Does it require hard-wired, professional installation?
  6. Is it flexible: can it be adjusted? Is it single purpose, or does it allow other devices to plug in and create synergies? Can it be a true hub for all your IoT devices?
  7. Does it complicate your life, or simplify it?
  8. Do any components require regular charging, or battery replacement?

Privacy, Security, and Control

  1. Is storage local vs. cloud or company’s servers? Is data encrypted? Anonymized?
  2. Do you feel creepy using it?
  3. Is it password-protected?
  4. Is security “baked in” or an afterthought?
  5. Can you control how, when, and where information is shared?
  6. If it is designed to allow remote monitoring by family or caregivers, can you control access by them?
  7. Will it work when the power goes out?

Affordability

  1. Are there monthly fees? If so, low or high? Long term contract required?
  2. Is there major upfront cost? If so, is that offset by its versatility and/or the contrast to getting the same services from a company?
  3. Does full functioning require accessories?

Design/UX

  1. Is it stylish, or does the design” shout” that it’s for seniors? Is it “Medical” looking?
  2. Is the operation or design babyish?
  3. Would younger people use it?
  4. Is it sturdy?
  5. Does it have “loveability” (i.e., connect with the user emotionally)? (This term was coined by David Rose in Enchanted Objects, and refers to products that are adorable or otherwise bond with the user.)

Architecture

  1. Inbound
    1. Does it support multiple protocols (eg. Bluetooth, BluetoothLE, WiFi, etc)
    2. Is the architecture open or closed?
  2. Outbound
    1. Does it support multiple protocols (eg. WiFi, Ethernet, CDMA, GSM, etc)
    2. Data path (cloud, direct, etc)
  3. Remote configuration capability (i.e., by adult child)? If so, can the user control amount of outside access?

Features and Functions

  1. Reminders
    1. Passive, acknowledge only
    2. Active dispensing (of meds)
  2. Home Monitoring
    1. Motion/Passive Activity Monitoring
    2. Environmental Alarms (Smoke, CO, Water, Temp)
    3. Intrusion Alarms (Window etc)
    4. Facilities/Infrastructure (Thermostat)
  3. Health Monitoring
    1. Vitals Collection
    2. Wearables Activity Monitoring
    3. Behavioral/Status Polling (How are you feeling today?)
    4. Behavioral Self-improvement
  4. Communications Monitoring
    1. Landline/Caller ID
      1. Identify scammers
    2. eMail and computer use
      1. Identify scammers
    3. Mobile phone use
  5. Fixed Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  6. Mobile Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)
  7. Fixed Fall Detection/Prediction
  8. Mobile Fall Detection/Prediction
  9. Telehealth (Video)
  10. New and Innovative Features

If you’re thinking about developing an IoT product and/or service for seniors I hope you’ll consider the SmartAging concept, and that these criteria will be helpful. If you’re looking for consulting services on design and/or implementation, get in touch!

Eureka! MYLE TAP: Nice Example of IoT Letting You Do Something You Couldn’t

I like to occasionally feature products that aren’t earth-shaking in their own right (such as the cameleon shoes that can change their appearance with the swipe of an app) , but nicely illustrate one of my IoT acid tests: what can you do that you couldn’t do before?

I love those, because they can get our creative juices boiling to think of other unprecedented IoT devices.

The MYLE TAP Thought Recorder

Here’s a nice example that I suspect may itself facilitate a lot of “Archimedes Moments” (just coined that one, LOL), where IoT users will leap from their baths and run nude through the streets, shrieking “Eureka,” because of their sudden insights into some great new IoT device (actually not sure of that image.  Are IoT enthusiasts slim and attractive?),

One little factoid really makes this one come alive: “the average person generates over 70,000 thoughts a day.” Now that’s a staggering unstructured data challenge!

Might be of particular interest, Dear Readers, to those of us on the far side of 50 who have a ton of great ideas but, how shall we say this delicately, don’t always remember them 15 minutes later).

At any rate, the crowd-funded ($83,707 raised so far, by 755 people in 15 days, compared to a $50,000 goal. As of this writing the campaign goes for 16 more days, so you can still get in on the ground-floor.) MYLE TAP will allow users to effortlessly record their thoughts in real-time (which, BTW, is a crucial element in how the IoT really transforms everything: instead of limited data, obtained retroactively, we can get limitless data now, when we can still act on it).

To activate the attractive device you simply tap it.  It understands 42 languages right out of the box!

There are some really neat components of the device that could really make your life a lot simpler because you can speak what you want to record (I don’t know about you, but the more I learn about the powers of Siri and her friends, the more I think voice-interface is really the way to go in the future, especially for tech-averse seniors, the targets of my Smart Aging concept). As the site says, “your saved notes are analyzed by context to generate you meaningful results via smartphone applications.” Here are the first uses:

  • Calorie Counter: “’I had one Caesar salad and one big apple.’ MYLE calculates how many calories you have consumed.”
  • Budget & Spending: “’Spent $7 on coffee and $40 on gas’, and MYLE enters it into your personal and business expense tracker.”  IMHO, this could be a REAL value!
  • Grocery List: “Tell MYLE ‘buy eggs, milk, flour,’ Your shopping list is built automatically.”
  • Calendar: “Tell MYLE ‘Pick Sophia up from school at four,’ and a new item is added to your calendar.”
  • Social Media: “Share your memorable event or experience. One tap can post can post it on your Facebook or Twitter account.”
  • Exercise: “Excercise with your MYLE TAP. Build and keep records of your progress.”

I can already do a lot of these things with my iPhone and Apple Watch, and perhaps the Watch will eventually do all these things once developers have created new apps, but I like the idea of a single, snazzy-looking device that can do all of them. And, smart people that they are, the MYLE developers have developed an open SDK and API. Once the IFTTT community gets hold of it, they’ll come up with ideas to extend the device’s utility that the MYLE folks never would have conceived of!

The MYLE TAP — doing something that we couldn’t do before!


 

Here are the technical details, courtesy of Atmel:

“Based on an Atmel | SMART SAM4S MCU, the super compact and lightweight gadget is equipped with an accelerometer, a Bluetooth Low Energy module, a few LEDs and a built-in battery capable of running up to a week on a single charge. MYLE TAP boasts some impressive memory as well, with a storage capacity of up to 2,000 voice notes.”

 

Energy to Power the #IoT: it’s really just a matter of child’s play

Posted on 12th June 2015 in energy, environmental, Internet of Things, M2M, mobile, sensors, wearables

Saving the Earth from global warming is going to require reducing our use of fossil fuels, yet we keep coming up with new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, that will require even more energy. So how do we reconcile the two needs?

In part, through harvesting ambient energy, and, most cleverly, kinetic energy generated in the process of doing something else, from moving liquids through pipelines, wheels as vehicles move, or even as we humans move about in our daily lives.

As you’ll see from the examples below, there’s enough projects in the field that I’m confident a growing number of sensor networks will be powered through ambient energy in the future. Equally important, in the not-too-distant future we’ll laugh that we once plugged in our smartphone and watches to charge them, rather than harvesting the energy we generate every day simply by moving around.

I saw an incredible example at the recent Re-Work IoT Summit in Boston, courtesy of Jessica O. Matthews of Uncharted Play. By my calculations, Matthews’ own energy output would allow shutting down 2.3 nukes: before her session began, I saw this striking woman on the stage — Matthews –skipping rope.

In high heels!

Then the fun began. Or should I say, the energy production.

Matthews, an MIT grad, works largely in Africa, creating very clever playthings that — ta da! — harvest energy, such as the very cool Soccket ball shown in the video above (you can see here how it’s made).  It has a battery built in that’s charged by the large amount of kinetic energy created by kids on the playground who are just having fun.  At night, they take the ball home and, voila, plug a socket into the side of the ball and they have precious light to read by. How incredibly cool is that?

The Pulse jump rope powers two lights

Matthews’ jump rope (“The Pulse”)? The kinetic energy from that  powers TWO lights!

But there’s a lot of other neat stuff going on in terms of capturing kinetic energy that could also power IoT devices:

  • Texas Instruments has harvested energy to run sensors from changes in temperature, vibrations, wind and light.  I knew about harvesting the energy from pipeline vibrations, but hadn’t thought about getting it from the temperature differential between the interior of pipes carrying hot water and the outside air. TI says that yields a paltry 300-400 millivolts, but they’ve figured out how a DC-to-DC switching converter can increase it to 3-5 volts — enough to charge a battery.
  • TI is also researching how kinetic energy could charge your phone:”To power wearables, the company has demonstrated drawing energy from the human body by using harvesters the size of wristwatch straps.. It has worked with vibration collectors, for instance, about the same size as a key.”It’s possible that a smartwatch could use two harvested power sources, light and heat, from the body. These sources may not gather enough power to keep a smartwatch continuously operating without action by the user to charge it, but it may give the user’s device a lot more battery life.”
  • Perhaps most dramatically of all, as I reported before, there’s some incredible research on ambient energy underway at the University of Washington, where they use “ambient backscatter,” which: ‘…leverag[es] existing TV and cellular transmissions, rather than generating their own radio waves. This novel technique enables ubiquitous communication where devices can communicate among themselves at unprecedented scales and in locations that were previously inaccessible.’”

    PoWiFi, harvesting ambient energy

    Now, a member of that team,Vamsi Talla, has harvested energy from ambient wi-fi,  “PoWiFi,” as it’s called, to power a temperature sensor and to let a surveillance camera take a picture every 35 minutes (given how pervasive surveillance cameras are today, that could really be a godsend — or a nightmare, depending on your perspective). “For the experiment, hot-spots and routers were modified to broadcast noise when not being used for data transmission. This is because Wi-Fi signals are broadcast in bursts across different frequencies which makes the energy too intermittent to be useful.”  (TY 2 Jackie Bassett of  SealedSpeed for this one).

Bottom line: forget those charging pads that are starting to crop up. In the future, you’ll be powering your phone, and the very devices that sensors are monitoring will be powering them. A win for the IoT — and the environment!

PS: jury’s still out on whether we’ll all have to register with FERC as utilities….

Outside the (Shoe) Box Internet of Things Thinking!

Posted on 30th March 2015 in design, Internet of Things, retail, strategy, wearables

Could someone please forward this to Carrie Bradshaw? I don’t think she reads this blog, but she’d definitely be interested!

I’ve got to confess that I’m usually oblivious to the world of fashion — or appalled by it (there’s a current ad by Gucci in one of my wife’s magazines that frankly scares me: not sure which looks more weird: the emaciated, heavily-made-up model or the dress!), but this one caught my eye as a way women can have a more versatile wardrobe that takes up less space and saves them money!  Neat, huh?

Equally important, it may be the precursor of a wide range of mass-customized Internet of Things devices of all types that are more personal, create new revenue streams, and provide valuable feedback to the manufacturer on customer tastes.

Ishuu, a Lithuanian startup, is creating a new line of très stylish women’s shoes, Volvorii, that include a strip of e-ink material (similar to a Kindle screen) that can be customized by the owner simply by opening an app on her phone! The requisite electronics are housed in the heels.

As of this writing, the Volvorii Indegogo campaign has raised $34,000 of its $50,000 target, with 14 days to go. If I didn’t send every spare dollar to Loyola University – Maryland for my son’s tuition, I think I’d drop a few on this one: it really intrigues me!

If Ishuu is smart, I’d suggest that they throw open the API for the shoes, and allow bright young fashion design students to submit new designs for the insert.

As for those IoT-based products that are more personal, create new revenue streams, and provide valuable feedback to the manufacturer on customer tastes, here are a few more exciting examples to get you noodling about how you might redesign your own products to capitalize on this potential:

What I love about this as a consumer is that we will no longer have to make difficult binary choices between products: instead of either/or, it will be this/and this (in the case of the Watch and these shoes, I love that there will be so many choices that you’ll be able to change your choice on the fly depending on your mood or other factors.  I’m going to choose toe-tapping Mickey when I’m with my grandchildren, the Utility to keep track of biz during the day, and the Simple for more dignified evening wear.

These fall into my What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before category. It’s going to take us a while to ditch our old, more limited mindsets, but the rest will be better for everyone.

Smart Aging: Kanega watch for seniors Kickstarter campaign ends today

“Independence with Dignity” is the motto for Jean Anne Booth’s Kanega Watch, which is in the last day of its Kickstarter campaign.

I’m not crazy about it, but in general I like what you see, and hope you get on board.  It addresses three major concerns for the elderly:

Kanega watchlike what I see, and hope you’ll get on board!  It’s designed to deal with three critical aging concerns:

  • falls
  • medication reminders
  • wandering.

I met the woman behind it at a conference in Boston last Summer, and even though the prototype at that point looked very unappealing, this looks more promising.

I’m in the process of creating a list of 10 objective criteria for evaluating devices and apps that fit with my “Smart Aging” paradigm shift, which combines Quantified Self devices to encourage healthy habits and change your relationship with your doctor into a partnership, and smart home devices, which make it easier to manage your home when elderly, so you can “age in place.”  Here’s how it stacks up against my criteria (which, BTW, are still in development — comments welcomed). Bear in mind that I haven’t seen current prototype, and the site doesn’t answer all of my questions. :

Is it easy to use?

  1. Does it give you a choice of ways to interact, such as voice, text or email?
  2. Does it give you reminders?
  3. Is it easy for you to program, or allow someone else to do it remotely?
  4. Does it have a large display and controls?
  5. Is it intuitive?
  6. Does it require professional installation?
  7. Is it flexible: can it be adjusted? Is it single purpose, or does it allow other devices to plug in and create synergies?

YES: voice-activated, rather than requiring buttons. No programming.


Does it protect privacy & security?

  1. Is storage local vs. cloud or company’s servers? Is data encrypted? Anomized?
  2. Do you feel creepy using it?
  3. Does it protect against exploitation by scam artists (such as identifying callers)?
  4. Is it password-protected?
  5. Is security “baked in” or an afterthought?

NO CLUE.


Does it complicate your life, or simplify it?

YES: doesn’t require a smartphone to function, and is voice-activated rather than using buttons.

Does it protect privacy and security?

NO CLUE.

 

Is it affordable?

  1. Are there monthly fees? If so, low or high?
  2. Is there major upfront cost?
  3. Does full functioning require accessories?

IFFY: You can get one by contributing $279 to the Kickstarter campaign. If that’s the retail price, it’s a little pricey, but lower than the Apple Watch base, $349, and probably a good price considering the value added services . Didn’t see anything about a monthly fee for the fall reporting & response service.

Does it stigmatize and/or condescend?

  1. Is it stylish, or does the design” shout” that it’s for seniors?
  2. Is the operation or design babyish?
  3. Would younger people use it?

NO: it doesn’t have a stigmatizing button, & uses a familiar form factor (watch).

Does it use open or proprietary standards?

NO CLUE.

 

Is the information shareable if you choose to do so?

NO CLUE.

 

Can you learn something from it to improve your life and empower yourself?

  1. For example, does health data encourage you to exercise more, or eat better?

NO: doesn’t give you feedback, measure your activity, etc.

Does it help you do something you couldn’t do before?

  1. Does it create a new range of services that were simply impossible with past technologies?

YES: The wandering alert (offers directions home) is new. Otherwise, just does some things such as medication alerts and calling for help that other devices have done.

Is it sturdy?

YES.

 

Does it have “loveability” (i.e., connect with the user emotionally)?

(This term was coined by David Rose in Enchanted Objects, and refers to products that are adorable or otherwise bond with the user)

YES: it has a Siri-like voice, which you can name, which gives reminders about taking meds and gives you directions home if you wander.
I’d give it about a 5 out of 10: I wouldn’t call this a must have — I’d like a little more of a multi-purpose tool that combines smart home and Quantified Self functions — like the Apple Watch (again, disclaimer that I work part time at Apple Store — but don’t have any proprietary info.) The watch is a little too clunky looking for me (prefer the Jony Ive-aesthetics of the Apple Watch), but it looks promising — and doesn’t require coupling to a smartphone, which is befuddling to a lot of seniors.

Kickstarter backers will begin receiving their Kanega watches in February 2016, with general market availability in summer 2016. The site doesn’t say anything about price.

Only a few hours left to join the Kickstarter campaign!


Yeah, I couldn’t figure out the names either. Turns out it’s from Cherokee: “Unalii” is “friend”, and “Kanega” is “speak.”  You learn something every day….

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).”

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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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!

 

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.