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The IoT of Health

To me one of the most exciting things that is promised by the Internet of Things is the way that medical care is going to move into our homes and get personalized. Within a decade we are going to be able to monitor ourselves and diagnose the more common maladies. This kind of constant and steady monitoring is going to revolutionize health care. This will make preventative medicine the norm and our IoT devices will warn of problems at the very earliest stages. The monitoring devices are going to be paired with the diagnosis power of supercomputers to bring us quick and accurate diagnosis of problems. Current software on IBM’s Big Blue is already able to diagnose things right over 95% of the time. Doctors will be freed to cure ailments rather than spend all day diagnosing colds.

The first generation IoT medical devices are starting to hit the market and there are dozens of firms feverishly trying to develop more. Here are a few of the things on the horizon right now, including some devices you can buy now or soon:

  • The Qualcomm Foundation has an ongoing Tricorder XPrize that will award $10 million to the team that develop a handheld device capable of precise monitoring and diagnosis of diseases. This must be an in-home and hand-held device capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature.
  • There are tools out today that can monitor the quality of your sleep. Research is showing that getting good sleep may be one of the most important aspects of good health. For example, a bed pad from Withing can give you a record each night of your sleep pattern and the deepness and length of your REM sleep.
  • Google announced a contact lens that is going to be a real-time monitor for blood glucose levels for diabetics. Rather than needing periodic blood tests, the lens will monitor 24/7 and will alert the wearer any time their sugar levels are high or low.
  • There are numerous devices available to monitor people while they run or exercise. These monitors have gotten very sophisticated and can even tell you when you are overtraining.
  • One of my favorites is the new biofeedback monitors. These devices are related to the devices that let people control machines using brainpower. But instead of looking externally, devices, like Interaxon’s Muse headband help you look internally and help you slip quickly into various meditative states.
  • There are also now devices that will nag you into having good behavior. One of the funniest, and yet serious devices I have seen is a pin that vibrates whenever you slouch your shoulders. My fifth grade teacher would be so proud of this device.

These new tools are just the beginning of the home medical IoT revolution. It’s really exciting when you look at what companies have on the drawing board. One of the most promising fields to me is that within a decade we ought to have a host of devices and tools that are going to let seniors stay in their homes for extra years rather than have to go into an institution. This will be transformational in terms of the quality of life and of dying.

And following that will be devices that can detect disease and cancer early and can then nip problems in the bud. There is real hope that within 50 – 75 years that most forms of cancer will be things of the past, diseases that have been cured. Cancer will hopefully become one of those diseases found only in history books.

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Looking Into 2014

Crystal ball Français : Boule de cristal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As any year comes to a close it’s always fun to look forward to the next year and to make some guesses about the direction of our industry. I have always done this, but this will be the first year I put my guesses out in public with a blog. I plan to come back at the end of next year to see how I did.

More Consolidation of the Big Players. While the new FCC Chairman says that he is pro-competition, I think 2014 is going to see a lot of consolidation among the big players in the industry, which will lead to less competition. It’s likely that there will be major acquisitions in both the cellular and the cable TV space that will reduce the number of major companies in each industry. One has to wonder at what point the FCC will say no to acquisitions, but I don’t think 2014 is going to be that year.

AT&T’s Response in Austin Will Squelch Major Market Competition. I predict that AT&T’s announcement that they will build fiber-to-the-premise to match what Google is doing there is going to kill competition in NFL cities for a while. I don’t expect any new major announcements of plans to build NFL cities in the coming year. There will still be new FTTP overbuilders in smaller markets, but everybody is going to be gun-shy against committing money to major markets.

Network Neutrality Will Erode. The FCC is going to follow the lead of the new Chairman and will support large company initiatives to weaken network neutrality. This might be done through inaction, in that some large carriers may make arrangements to give preferential treatment in the network and the FCC may fail to halt the practice.

Transition to All-IP Network Will Creep Forward. While the large telcos all would like the transition to happen overnight, it’s probably going to take 3 – 4 years for a transition of most of the POTs network to IP. However, there will be some major steps taken in 2014 to start defining the regulatory framework that will go along with an all-IP network.

The Large Telcos Will Continue to Shed Copper Networks. The large telcos have made it clear that they would like to get out of the copper business. AT&T’s recent decision to bail on Connecticut is just the beginning. I think all that is probably stopping telcos from shedding more copper immediately is the lack of companies capable of buying large numbers of customers. But there will be more piles of customers shed in the next year.

The Smart Phone Will Begin to be the Hub For the Internet of Things. The main thing lacking for the Internet of Things to leap forward is consolidated platform to bring devices together. While there is the chance that some sort of home platform could eventually win this battle, I think 2014 is the year when more and more IoT devices are integrated with smartphones as the hub. If smartphones capture this role early they will be the de facto hub for a decade to come.

Customers Will Bail on Cable Faster Than Predicted. The phenomenon of households dropping or downsizing cable subscriptions will pick up steam this year and will go faster than predicted by the cable companies. The industry is not going to implode, but it will become obvious by the end of the year that there has to be a new paradigm created for delivery of programming and that traditional cable bundles cannot be the only product offered. It is going to take five years for the current cable model to break, but 2014 will be the year when the erosion becomes obvious.


How the Internet of Things Will Transform the World

ASIMO is an advanced humanoid robot developed by Honda. Shown here at Expo 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read a lot about the Internet of Things. One of the best articles recently is a series being written by Christopher Mims for Quartz. In the two articles he’s written so far he is talking about how the IoT is going to transform our lives. I don’t think very many people are yet aware that this change is coming and how life altering it will be.

It’s easy to think about the IoT as being a smart device evolution that will make our lives a little easier. People today talk about putting together smart homes where the lights turn on and off as you enter the room and where you can change the temperature and other household settings from your smart phone. And today that is the IoT. Right now companies that make devices are starting to allow them to be IP and WiFi addressable so that we can communicate with them using a smart phone, tablet or computer.

But if that is all that the IoT is going to be it would be an incremental improvement in daily life for the geekiest of us, but it would be far from transformational. I believe that we are entering the century where IoT will transform our world. Within a decade we are going to see huge changes on our lives akin to the sort of changes that came from the introduction of the Web. And I am not sure any of us can really imagine what the IoT will do by the end of this century. But I know that the year 2100 will be as different from 2000 as that year was from 1900. We went from a world of horse drawn vehicles to a computerized world in a century, and the changes due to IoT will make today’s world look just as quaint as the horse and buggy does to us now.

So what are these big transformational changes? The article talks about some of the tools that the IoT will use. All of the types of new tools and techniques noted in the article are the necessary underpinnings of making a new world where people and devices become fully integrated. That total integration is the biggest change coming from the IoT.

Imagine a world where you walk into a party and nobody there is a total stranger to you because your personal computer will tell you who everybody there is and what their connection is to you. You will know without asking that the guy you don’t recognize is your neighbor’s brother visiting from Cleveland and the couple you’ve never seen are your friend’s dentist and his wife. The social changes coming from the IoT will be transformational because social media will move off the Internet and into the world and will be everywhere you go.

The IoT will also finally bring the early promise of the Internet to pass that all information will be instantly at your fingertips. Today you can search for things on the web, but you generally have to do a lot of work to separate fact from fiction. Web search engines bring up every reference to the topic you are interested in without helping you know what is true or false. But we are not far from a time when you will always be connected to the web by some personal device and there will be smart enough programs to automatically separate fact from fiction to bring you answers you want. Arming the world with instant facts will be transformational.

Probably the most astounding change to people will be in the medical field. We will have nanobots in our bloodstream that will be alerting us when they see something wrong. This means we will be able to head off colds and infections immediately and the day of the flu epidemics will be in the past. And many of our current medical practices will look like the dark ages. If a child needs to have their tonsils out we will let these nanobots gently remove the tonsil, cell by cell, over weeks so that there is no need for a scalpel and the associated risk and trauma. People with various chemical imbalances will finally have a local and effective treatment and cure. By the end of the century people will have to ask what cancer was because it will be a ‘disease’ of the past.

3D printing will be transformational. Today this is a novelty, but within a few decades this is something that your house will do for you in the background without you having to do anything more than telling it what you want. Your house will order the needed raw materials for the 3D printer, which will be delivered by robot-powered delivery vans. Your smart house will then make the needed item as requested. I remember a Star Trek episode where underground robots made things that people wished for. We are not too many years away from some version of that reality.

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2014 Cyber Threats

Where the Internet is stored (Photo credit: debs)

Georgia Tech just released its annual Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2014. They have been publishing reports for several years that looks ahead to security issues with data and devices connected to the Internet. As usual, they have summarized a number of threats that companies should be aware of.

Companies Assume the Cloud is Safer than it is. Most companies store their data in the cloud in exactly the same format as it would be stored on a local LAN. This means there is no additional security other than whatever is provided by the cloud provider.

While companies can add additional encryption to cloud-stored data, there is a trade-off between encryption and the accessibility of data by employees, so few firms add the additional encryption.

Unencrypted data can be compromised as has been seen by some of the attacks by the Chinese on companies like Google. But aside from national cyberwar threats, data in the cloud can be hacked in much easier ways, including the next threat which is

Employees are Accessing Corporate Data with Bring-Your-Own Devices. Many companies are allowing BYOD since it saves them a lot of money from buying every employee smart phones and tablets, and it also lets each employee use devices they are comfortable with meaning a lot less training.

BYO Devices create an easy path to hacking into corporate data. For example, somebody hacking, or just coming into the possession of a phone from an employee might have wide-open access to corporate data.

Very Little Security for the Internet of Things. Today we are already starting to see the proliferation of devices that connect wirelessly to networks. This first generation of devices has not paid a lot of attention to security. I am not sure that I care that much if my coffee maker or smoke alarm or sprinkler system are not encrypted. It’s unlikely that anybody would take the time to hack them, and if they did all I might get are some really wet fruit trees.

But the Internet of Things is advancing faster in areas of business automation than it is in the home. The Internet of Things in an industrial setting already includes things like security cameras, devices that sense the presence of various chemicals, thermostats and the equivalent timing devices used during the manufacturing process. And soon the Internet of Things is going to include medical devices and other things that none of us want to see hacked.

And I certainly care if somebody hacks into a heat sensor or water control valve at a nuclear reactor site or hacks into the manufacturing process at an oil refinery.

Mobile Devices Will Become the Focus of Hackers. Until now there has not been a lot of successful malware used against smart phones and other mobile-connected devices. However, these devices are no less susceptible to hacking than are PCs and network servers.

Georgia Tech sees an uptick in attempts to hack into cell phones in various ways. Obviously there be malware that will be distributed in the same manner as with computer spam. But more insidious is the idea of hacking directly into apps so that millions of users download malware with a normal update of a popular application.

And of course, as mentioned above, hacking into cell phones is a lot scarier when those phones have access to work and government networks.

Expect Cyber Attacks Meant to Ruin Corporate Reputations. One thing that has been seen with attacks by foreign governments is that these attacks aren’t always aimed at government sites, but instead at the biggest and most popular companies in the country. The goal is to breach the data and security at big US companies in order to make the general population lose trust in using them. So we have seen attacks leveled at US banks and big companies like Google and Facebook.


The Internet of Things Today

Image via CrunchBase

I’ve written a number of blogs about the future potential for the Internet of Things. But there are a number of devices on the market now that make the first steps of the IoT a reality today. I look at these devices and the approaches they are taking to the word of connected things to be the precursor to where we are headed over the next few decades.

SmartThings SmartThings are selling a box of smart sensors that you can use for functions today like home security and energy management. But they also provide a developer kit for those who want to program custom applications and there is a huge range of possible functions for the system. One would thing that soon that custom apps will begin appearing on the web allowing you to do cool things without having to be a coder.

MobiPlug. Mobiplug is a start-up that promises to be able to integrate all of your wireless devices regardless of the platform or wireless protocol used. It’s most unique feature is that it makes your smart phone the hub device. Most other platforms supply a separate box as a hub and I am just picturing a closet full of old hubs one day in the same way that I gathered a pile if WiFi routers. Most IoT systems allow your smart phone to control settings, so why not just make it the hub too?

FitBit.  By now you have probably seen your Facebook friends with the annoying posts showing how fast and where they ran today, brought to you by FitBit. But FitBit has it in their sights to become a lot more than just a training aid and monitor and they are hoping to evolve their system into everything fitness and health related in your life. FitBit is already storing data on you that can become the future basis for a heath monitoring system.

AllJoyn. AllJoyn is not a device, but rather a platform of software being created by Qualcomm. They are taking a very different approach to the IoT and developing a platform that will work independently of the Internet. This has some basic merit in that many of the other platforms store at least some of the central core in the cloud and be non-functional during an Internet outage. But it also is a bold step in separating our IoT data from the general internet for privacy reasons. Do you really want your medical monitor data or security system to be hackable?

Evrythng. This company is looking at a totally different aspect of the IoT, in how you interact with your devices and with the outside world. Evrythng is a software platform that will let you more dynamically interface with your IoT devices in a Facebook-type of platform. However, one aspect of this system is that your devices can ‘suggest’ additional purchases to you and this platform brings advertising into your life and your smart fridge might be suggesting what you should purchase to create a recipe with what you already have stored inside.

Electric Imp. And let us not forget the geeks among us who want a fully customized IoT. Electric Imp has developed a SD Card-sized WiFi node that can then be used with any device. A user can program it to do anything they wish. And the cards are swappable because the programming is stored in the cloud. Think of this as the never-ending coding party that lets you program your toaster to perform amazing feats.

Freescale.  This is still under development, but Freescale is looking at swallowable monitors for inside of the body. Nobody is entirely sure yet just what this is going to be looking at, but the guess is that this will be partnered with some other system such as FitBit as additional health monitors. Probably one of the most promising long-term use of the IoT is in-blood monitors that will head you off from being sick from the first signs of an infection and stopping pre-cancerous cells before they get started. This technology has to start somewhere and hopefully this is the first step.


Grasping the Internet of Things

Internet of Things IoT13 Forum June 2013 040 (Photo credit: marklittlewood1)

I have written several blog entries about the Internet of Things. But I have not really defined it very well. I read as many articles about the topic as I can find since I find it personally fascinating. To me this is mankind finally using computer technology to affect everyday life and goes far beyond things you can do with a PC or tablet.

I recently saw an article that summarized the direction of the Internet of Things into three categories – and this is a good description of where this is all headed. These categories are:

Knowledge of Self. This part of the Internet of things is in its infancy. But the future holds the promise that the Internet can be used to help people with self-control, mindfulness, behavior modification and training.

Today there are gimmicky things people are doing with sensors, such as counting the number of times you have opened the refrigerator as a way to remind you to lose weight. But this can be taken much further. We are not far from a time when people can use computers to help them change their behavior effectively, be that in losing weight or in getting your work done on time. Personal sensors will get to know you intimately and will be able to tell when you are daydreaming or straying from your tasks and can bring you back to what you want to accomplish. Computers can become the good angel on your shoulder should you choose that.

Probably the biggest promise in this area is that computers can be used to train anybody in almost anything they want to know. The problem with the Internet today is that it is nearly impossible in a lot of cases to distinguish between facts and fiction. But it ought to be possible to have the needed facts at your fingertips in real-time. If you have never changed a tire your own personal computer assistant will lead you through the steps and even show you videos of what to do as you do it for the first time. But such training could bring universal education to everybody in the world, which would be a gigantic transformation of mankind – and would obviate the widespread ignorance and superstitions that still come today from lack of education.

Knowledge of Others. Perhaps the two most importance in this area will be virtual presence and remote health care.

With virtual presence you will be able to participate almost anywhere as if you were there. This takes the idea of video conferencing and makes it 3D and real-time. This is going to transform the way we do business, hire employees and seek help from others.

But perhaps the biggest change is going to come in health care. Personal medical sensors are going to be able to monitor your body continuously and will alert you to any negative change. For instance, you will know when you are getting the flu at the earliest possible time so that you can take medicine to mitigate the symptoms.

There is also great promise that medical sensors will make it possible for people to live in their own homes for longer as we all age, something just about everybody wants. Sensors might even change the way we die. Over 80% of people say they want to die at home, but in 2009 only 33% did so. Medical monitoring and treatment tied to sensors ought to let a lot more of us die in the peace of our own beds.

Perhaps the biggest promise of personal monitors is the ability to detect and treat big problems before they get started. Doctors are saying that it ought to be possible to monitor for pre-cancerous cells and kill them when they first get started. If so, cancer could become a disease of the past.

Knowledge of the World. The Internet of Things promises to eventually have sensors throughout the environment. More detailed knowledge of our surroundings will let us micromanage our environment. Those who want a different amount of humidity in the air will be able to have this done automatically in rooms where they are alone.

But remote sensors hold the most promise in areas of things like manufacturing and food production. For instance, sensors can monitor a crop closely and can make sure that each part of a field gets the right amount of water and nutrition and that pests are controlled before they get out of hand. Such techniques could greatly increase the production of food per acre.

And we can monitor anything. People living near to a volcano, for example, will know far ahead of time when there has been an increase in activity.

Monitoring the wide world is going to be the last part of the Internet of Things to be implemented because it is going to require drastic new technologies in terms of small sensors and the ability to interpret what they are telling us. But a monitored world is going to be a very different world – probably one that is far safer, but also one where there is far less personal freedom – at least the freedom to publicly misbehave.

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The Internet of Things is Here Today

Consider the following pricing chart from Vivint, one of the nationwide leaders in home security. This particular pricing chart happens to come from Fort Wayne, Indiana.


This may not look like it, but this is the beginning of the Internet of Things and I think the way that Vivint has packaged this is brilliant. Just a few years ago this company and every company in the security business would have been selling only the features in the first column. But now they have added on energy management and home automation which are the first steps into the Internet of Things. To make this work they will install a gateway in the home that is capable of monitoring or communicating with the devices in the home and also communicating back with the cloud.

This is just the beginning. As more home-ready services are created Vivint will certainly add some of them on as enhancements to the packages listed or will create new packages. The next big field is already hinted in the last item, the medical pendant. We are not too far away from the time when sensors will be able monitoring your health and keeping a constant record of your heart beat, blood pressure and other vital signs. And a few years after that, micro sensors will be in your blood looking at your blood chemistry, looking for cancer etc.

A company like Vivint will have to decide what things they will support because the scope of the Internet of Things will become immense. It’s been predicted that much of the Internet of things will be done with Apps. But households still need the gateway and will want an expert to make sure things like security and smoke alarms are connected properly. I see a prominent role for businesses willing to go into the home to make sure that everything works well together.

Since there will be so many options in the Internet of Things it’s likely that a carrier will choose a few standardized packages that will fit a large percentage of the population and will leave customized packages to somebody else. For example, even today there are a ton of other options available in the energy management field and Vivint has chosen a few common options. Today a household can also do things like control blinds for allowing or blocking sunlight, coordinate ceiling fans, change the hot water heater settings dynamically during day, and interface with external solar panels.

I believe a lot of homes are going to want these services. I also know that customers will choose somebody they know and trust if given a choice of vendors. The Internet of Things is going to grow over time while traditional services like voice and cable TV wane. If you are going to survive as a carrier selling to households, then selling the Internet of Things needs to be in your portfolio.

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My Take on the Internet of Things

I think there might be as many different predictions about the Internet of Things as there are bloggers and pundits. So I thought I would join the fray and give my take as well. The Internet of Things is that it is going to involve a new set of technologies that will enable us to get feedback from our local environment. That is going to allow for the introduction of a new set of tools and toys, some frivolous and some revolutionary.

I have read scores of articles talking about how this is going to change daily life for households. The day may come when our households resemble the Jetsons and where we have robots with more common sense than most of us running our households, but we are many years away from that.

There will be lots of new toys and gadgets that will sometimes make our daily lives easier. For instance food we buy may have little sensors put into packaging that will tell you when your produce is getting ready to go bad so that you won’t forget to eat it. There will be better robots that can vacuum the floors and maybe even do laundry and walk the dog. But I don’t see these as revolutionary and probably not affordable for the general populace for some time. For a long time the Internet of Things is going to create toys that wealthy people or tech geeks will play with, and it will take years to get these technologies to make it into everybody’s homes. Very little of what I have been reading for household use sounds revolutionary.

The biggest revolutionary change that will directly affect the average person is medical monitoring. Within a decade or two it will be routine to have sensors always tracking your vitals so that they will know there is something wrong with you before you do. There will be little sensors in your bloodstream looking for things like cancer cells, which is going to mean that we won’t have to worry about curing cancer, we’ll head it off before it gets started. This will revolutionize healthcare to be proactive and preventative and will eventually be affordable to all.

English: A technology roadmap of the Internet of Things. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think the most immediate big benefactor of the Internet of Things is going to be at the industrial level. For instance, it is not hard to envision soil sensors that will tell the farmer the conditions of each part of his fields so that his smart tractor can fertilize or weed each section only as appropriate. There is already work going on to produce mini-sensors that can be sent underground into oil fields to give oil geologists the most accurate picture they have ever had of the underground topology. This will make it possible to extract a lot more oil and to do so more efficiently.

Small sensors will also make it a lot easier to manufacturer complex objects or complicated molecules. This could lead to the production of new polymers and materials that will be cheaper stronger and biodegradable. It will mean that medicines can be modified to interact with your specific DNA to avoid side effects. It means 3D printing that will feel like Star Trek replicators that will be able to combine complex molecules to make food and other objects. NASA has already undertaken a project to be able to print pizza as the first step towards being able to print food in space to enable long flights to Mars.

And a lot of what the Internet of Things might mean is a bit scary. Some high-end department stores already track customers with active cell phones to see exactly how they shop. But this is going to get far more personal and with face recognition software stores are going to know everything about how you shop. They will not just know what you buy, but what you looked at and thought about buying. And they will offer you instant on-site specials to get you to buy – ads that are aimed just at you, right where you are standing.

I remember reading a science fiction book once where the ads on the street changed for each person who walked by, and we are not that far away from that reality. There are already billboards in Japan that look at the demographics in front of them and which change the ads appropriately. Add facial recognition into that equation and they will move beyond showing ads aimed at middle-aged men and instead show an ad aimed directly at you. The Internet of Things is going to create a whole new set of attacks on privacy and as a society we will need to develop strategies and policies to protect ourselves against the onslaught of billions of sensors.

Probably one of the biggest uses of new sensors will be in energy management. And this will be done on the demand end rather than the supply end. Today we all have devices that use electricity continuously even when we aren’t using them. It may not seem like a lot of power to have lights on in an empty room or to have the water warm all of the time in an automatic coffee pot, but multiply these energy uses by millions and billions and it adds up to a lot of wasted power. You read today about the smart grid, which is an effort to be more efficient with electricity mostly on the demand side. But the real efficiencies will be gained when the devices in our life can act independently to minimize power usage.

Sensor technologies will be the heart of the Internet of Things and will be able to work on tasks that nobody wants to do. For instance, small nanobots that can metabolize or bind oil could be dispatched to an oil spill to quickly minimize environmental damage. The thousands of toxic waste dumps we have created on the planet can be restored by nanobots. Harvard has been working on developing a robot bee and it is not hard to envision little flying robots that could be monitoring and protecting endangered species in the wild. We will eventually use these technologies to eat the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and to terraform Mars with an oxygen atmosphere and water.

Many of the technologies involved will be revolutionary and they will spark new debates in areas like privacy and data security. Mistakes will be made and there will be horror stories of little sensors gone awry. Some of the security monitoring will be put to bad uses by repressive regimes. But the positive things that can come out of the Internet of Things make me very excited about the next few decades.

Of course there will be a lot of bandwidth needed. The amount of raw data we will be gathering will be swamp current bandwidth needs. We are going to need bandwidth everywhere from the City to the factory to the farm, and areas without bandwidth are going to be locked out of a lot more than just not being able to stream NetFlix. The kind of bandwidth we are going to need is going to require fiber and we need to keep pushing fiber out to where people play and work.

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