The Next Devices We Will Use

tricorder-okI’ve always thought that it’s hard to predict the future of how technology will affect the average person because it’s very hard to predict the kinds of devices that most people will use in the future. There certainly were not many people thirty years ago predicting how ubiquitous smartphones would be today. Nothing defines our technology culture any more than the devices that most of us use each day. We are now into an era where we adopt and then abandon new devices in short order. For example, look at the relatively short life-span of the iPod. I remember a day not too many years ago when everybody on a plane had one and now I rarely see them when traveling. I’ve run across several new devices that have the potential to become widely used.

HearablesHearables are a new class of wearable wireless devices that will sit in your ear. Think of them as earbuds without the wires. But they won’t just be for talking on the phone or listening to music. They could become your connection to the Internet as you move through your day, always connected live without the distraction of having to look at a smartphone screen.


Hearables seem a lot more practical than smart watches. With a hearable you will always be connected no matter what you are doing. It’s hard to imagine any practical use for a smart watch while driving a car. The simplest application of hearables will be a new interface to your smart phone. But the real potential is to tie them in with your own personal assistant so that they are with you all the time.


To see a first generation device that will be hitting the market soon look at the Dash, by Bragi, a German firm. It’s hard to know how hearables might change our life, but they will. For instance, you might be walking past a restaurant and you can check the specials of the day. You will always be able to check facts by talking to your personal assistant, and so our future might consist of a lot of people walking around mumbling to themselves. Certainly the personal assistants we use are going to have to improve, but everything I read says that they will be doing so soon. There are some experts predicting that hearables will be big business by 2018.


Finally, A Real TricorderEven more exciting to a science geek like me is to see the first device that could legitimately be called a tricorder. The device is a tiny molecular sensor called Scio built by Consumer Physics. This device will be hitting the market later this year and is the first personal device that will be able to detect and identify any substance except metals. The uses for it are almost unlimited. A dieter can use the device to count the calories in something before they eat it. Somebody who is allergic to shrimp could check every restaurant meal for shrimp residue before they eat it.


Consumer Physics will be building a substance database in the cloud, and so after a user of the device has sampled something into the database, every user of Scio will be able to identify that substance. The device could be used to test for chemical residues in food. It can search for pollution in soil. Or it could be used by a little old lady in the grocery store to find the most perfectly ripe pear as you patiently wait behind her. You should be able to check if the meat or milk you are about to eat is still good, or if the pill you are about to take is what it is supposed to be.


I’ve wanted a tricorder since watching the original Star Trek (I think I just dated myself) and this device can put one into everybody’s hands. You do not want to be with me the first month after I get one of these because I will be testing everything. There will definitely be a test to see if it can tell the difference between pale ale and a hoppy IPA. After all, you don’t want to consume the wrong beer!

The IoT of Home Medical Care

Medical_Software_Logo,_by_Harry_GouvasIf you read my blog much you will know that I talk a lot about the Internet of Things, and that I often mention how the IoT is going to transform medicine. The reason for this is personal, not just to me, but to the whole generation of baby boomers. We are now 60ish and, while that is not yet old, we all can look into the future in a decade or two and see ourselves as old.

I think the biggest fear that a lot of us have is losing control of our lives and ending up in an institution. Many institutions are dehumanizing and even the best run ones are a far cry from staying in your own home. And so, to me, the part if the IoT that probably interests me the most is the technologies that are going to let people stay in their homes as long as possible. I don’t know about you, but if I had one wish to make with a genie it would be to live to a ripe old age with good health and then die in my own bed.

While the IoT is a relatively new thing, there has already been a lot of thought and research put into using technology to take care of the elderly. Let’s take a look at where some of this early research is headed.

Smart Motion Detectors. One brilliant idea is to install smart motion detectors around the home. Motion detectors can tell a lot about a person without being as intrusive as surveillance cameras. Motion detectors coupled with good software can learn an elderly person’s habits and can then send out an alert or an alarm if something seems amiss. This system ought to be able to tell if somebody has fallen or if they are unconscious and not moving and alert a caregiver if they won’t respond. At first this might create some false alarms when somebody is napping hard, but over time the system will get to know the patient and will know the difference between napping and a real trouble.

This does raise the issue of privacy. Most of the technologies on the horizon are going to compromise some privacy. It’s going to be up to each person to determine how much privacy they will trade for getting to stay in their own home, and I think for most people they will choose the monitoring over the alternative.

Health Monitors. I wrote recently about the Qualcomm Foundations$10 million XPrize to create a tricorder like the one in Star Trek. There are going to be small unobtrusive devices that can keep tabs on temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar and a number of other statistics that can let the patient be monitored for general health. This kind of monitoring is going to alert the health system that there is a problem before the patient even realizes it. This is taking preventative care to the next level.

Smart House. There are a lot of devises that can be incorporated into the smart house that can help the elderly. Probably the most useful will be the ability to talk to your house and tell it what you need. This means that everything from a call to 911 to making a room warmer are just a voice command away. But there are many other things a smart house can do. It can do things like remind a person when it’s time to take medication. It can remind the elderly to turn off the stove or to lock doors.

Robots. And finally, let’s not forget robots. There should be robots in a few years that can do a lot of the mundane tasks around the house like cleaning, taking out the trash, watering the plants, etc. that can be a real benefit to the elderly person living alone. And if it can play a mean hand of gin rummy, all the better!