Wednesday, 23 April 2014

some thoughts on the Internet of Things and telecare

The latest in a line of buzzwords is the Internet of Things (IoT). It refers to the use of sensor technologies embedded in object (similar to ubiquitous computing) and making objects recognisable. An example of this is QR codes which are imply representation of URLs and when scanned can direct a mobile device to a web page. Near Field Codes (NFC) are also becoming popular, and are entering the shopping arena. You can now pay for things without ever pressing a butting just by holding your credit card over or close to the NFC scanner.

The excitement around IoT is not what exists currently but what the potential for this technology is.
Ubiquitous and ambient technologies have been around for a while now, but using IoT in conjunction with Ubicomp or Ambient sensors adds a new dimension.  For telecare the possibilities are interesting.  It should be possible to embed sensors into the fabric of the home to monitor people at home. Sensors could be embedded in clothing, and provide GPS coordinates to friends and family when someone can no longer recall the right direction to travel.

Sensors in clothing could also provide biosensor data on heart rate, blood pressure, and other critical data which could be fed wirelessly to a localised hub in the home.  This means the home occupier owns their own data, but the data could be sent to specific people, such as doctors, in the event of an issue arising.

Sensors that detect when someone falls could be embedded in clothing and bedding. 

Most importantly and most excitingly, these sensors can be integrated together so the data is amalgamated to provide a clear picture of a person’s life style and habits. They could provide traceability when accidents and other things occur.  

The advances in sensors mean that sensors can be developed for specific issues such as Parkinson's or Epilepsy. Every condition will require different settings on sensors to measure bespoke things.  Most importantly, the necessity for call centres will disappear as the technologies should be able to contact the correct people depending on the event.

IoT has the potential to make sensors and data SMART.  The task of the programmer is to work with the range of data that could be available and build realistic algorithms to harness the potential of this technology.  I suspect this is where things might have to wait for humans to catch up. But as with mobile technologies, there is no reason for this technology to be harnessed for the benefit of everyone.  

As we see with the various fitness bracelets that gather data on exercise, this technology could be employed to work as a support for everyone.  Working away in the background, forgotten about until it is needed.  What we have to ensure is that we do not build a need which is unsustainable or itself a problem. So I would recommend liberal use of the off button when required.