If you’ve been working in technology for a while, you’ll probably have heard the phrase ‘Internet of Things’, usually from a bright-eyed evangelist who needs to switch to decaf.
The concept, if you’re unaware, is that the various ‘smart’ devices in your house: Fridge, T.V, Lights, Thermostat, Toaster (yes, really) will one day talk to each other, and you, via the internet. You’ll be able to control them all remotely, via a phone or tablet application. We’ve seen huge leaps in technology in the last couple of years but we’re not quite there yet.
There are a few problems with this. The most obvious problem is that no one standard has emerged for these devices yet, so co-ordinating them through one centralised control point is an uphill struggle.
The other is that appliance manufacturers are, well, appliance manufacturers, and not really used to the demanding schedule of updates that modern security requires. But these are, generally speaking, first-generation problems. Think of all the competing smartphone Operating Systems that have fallen by the wayside: Windows CE, Firefox OS, Ubuntu OS, Palm OS, etc. The ecosystem has standardised, more or less, on three competing platforms: iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Android’s security reputation is still less-than-stellar, but the situation is gradually improving, and whatever standard emerges (one suspects a Google offering), it will not make the same mistakes of software fragmentation (hopefully).
The promise of these technologies is an enticing one for connected healthcare, especially the care of the elderly.
The Connected, Caring Home
Imagine an elderly person who is still in their own home, or in managed accommodation. With an IoT connected house, the heating can be remotely controlled by a care-giver. Smart fridges are designed to detect out-of-date products, reducing the risk of food-poisoning with increasingly absent-minded people. An IoT connected pillbox could dispense the correct medication at the correct times, and broadcast alerts to take it throughout every connected device, including the television.
With an IoT connected front-door lock, paired with a wireless IP camera, caregivers and relatives can gain entry in the event that someone has become unresponsive, and grant the same access to the emergency services.
Beyond emergency situations and everyday tasks, connected healthcare can also provide an opportunity to remotely and persistently create observations of daily life. The L!vely watch (http://www.mylively.com/), for example, is a smart watch designed to issue medication reminders, collect step count data, and to enable the summoning of assistance whenever necessary.
More interestingly, it also comes with a package of sensors to detect use of objects such as fridge and toilet. Using this data, or a digest of this data, downwards trends in mobility, forgetful episodes or other daily activities can be caught and monitored.
Does this mean that the doctor of the future will be a statistician? Probably not, at least not to any greater extent than they are currently.
Almost certainly, IoT will be applied to care at first by specialist service providers. The cost of potential liability issues will probably prove prohibitive to those not already embedded in the sector.
They will provide proprietary solutions based on commercial technologies. These will have the advantage of being tightly integrated, and probably linked with a second line of analysts and call-takers who can catch worrying trends before passing them on to the appropriate responder.
It’s essential that the security issues are completely solved. The level of access provided by a compromised IoT network is unprecedented. Access to the front door, access to medication, access to live feeds of the resident, the ability to alter environmental settings such as temperature or light: the robber of the future might only need an app.
The future’s bright, but it’s also a bit scary. Isn’t that always the way?