Tag Archives: wearables

Digital Tech to Fight Childhood Obesity

Parenting in the modern world means worrying about how much time your child spends in front of a screen. Pediatricians may recommend only two hours of screen time a day, but kids actually spend as much as seven hours a day looking at TVs, computer monitors, video games, tablets, and cell phones. Study after study has linked those sedentary hours to the skyrocketing rate of childhood obesity in the U.S.

I realize that it’s not realistic in today’s high tech world to restrict screen time to two hours, especially for teenagers. So here’s an alternative: How about harnessing some of that technology to make our children healthier? The need couldn’t be more dire. One in three children in America is overweight or obese, and obesity remains one of the biggest threats to the health of our children, both now and as they grow into adults. That’s why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced that it will pledge $500 million over the next 10 years to expand efforts to ensure that all children in the U.S. — no matter who they are or where they live — can grow up at a healthy weight.

Building on a $500 million commitment made in 2007, this brings our funding of this issue to $1 billion. To get the biggest impact for those dollars, we need to come up with fresh ideas, creative approaches, and new tools that will help us build a culture of health for our children, and their children. What better tool than the digital devices our children have already mastered?

And adults can lead by example, because many of us have already embraced digital health tools. There are currently 17,000 mobile apps designed to improve our health; according to industry estimates, half of the world’s 500 million smartphone owners will have a health app on their device this year. Plus, some 70 million wearable fitness trackers were sold in 2014, and people are expected to buy another 160 million by 2016.

Of course, having health apps and using them is not always the same thing. And getting kids to use digital technology and social media for health is yet another challenge. But it’s not that big of a leap from Snapchatting with friends, or searching YouTube and Vine, to sharing stats and photos about how many days you walked to school, vegetables you ate or miles you rode on your bike. Almost 95% of 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. have Internet access at home or school. Why not meet them in their online world?

We already know it can work. Zamzee, a children’s online activity meter and motivational website designed by HopeLab, with feedback from actual kids (and funding from RWJF) is meant to get kids moving more. Research shows that Zamzee increased physical activity in kids by 59% on average over a six-month study period.

There is a growing number of such digital health tools designed with kids in mind. The Weigh2Rock.com website, founded by a pediatrician, allows overweight teens, pre-teens and their parents to form support groups, share tips and track their personal fitness goals online. It also allows healthcare providers to follow the progress and interact with their patients online. Leapfrog’s Leapband, introduced in August, is a personal fitness tracker for children. Worn like a watch, it uses games to get kids moving and allows them to rack up points as they progress though the challenges. FoodnMe.com, a site that promotes healthy eating, has a fun SmashYourFood mobile app that lets kids smash or explode a variety of foods (virtually, of course) while learning about their fat, sugar, and salt content. Actually, this one is fun for adults, too

I’d like to see a lot more of these digital health tools for children. My hope is that developers, parents, health professionals and coaches will start thinking more like kids. Or, better yet, ask some kids what technologies and apps would most entice them to embrace healthier choices. I’ll bet they’d come up with some pretty creative ideas. Let’s start now. If you have some ideas about how to harness personal data, digital technologies and social media in ways that can help kids, and their families, get and stay healthy, please share in the comments. Because even $1 billion won’t solve this problem without lots of help.

Where Are the New Wearables Heading?

It’s hard to imagine that Humphrey Bogart became one of the fashion setters of his time by wearing a wristwatch in his films. That made pocket watches a novelty. Since then, wristwatches have been a cool men’s accessory. There were glow-in-the dark watches — until radium was discovered to be dangerous. Other styles have added lunar phases, chronographs, timers and alarms, and don’t forget the trendy but forgotten 1970 Pulsar red LED watch.

Now, is the wristwatch at risk of being replaced by new wearables? The real question in my mind from a risk management perspective relates to our personal habits vs. technological advances. Historically, relying on technology alone to change behavior has been more hope than strategy. People like style, convenience, comfort and practicality, and many old habits are hard to change. How many devices do I need to wear? Will a wearable ever truly be a personal protective device (PPD) in the workplace?

Gadgets like Fitbit or Nike Fuelband do specific health-monitoring tasks that have a cool factor, joining yoga pants and headbands. Well, maybe not headbands anymore, but I’m an Olivia Newton-John fan. Anyway, for my daily walks, I use an app on my iPhone that seems to do very well in tracking my steps.

The real holy grail of wearables would be a simple device that could monitor your blood pressure 24/7 and communicate to you and your medical provider. Now, joining the battle for your wrist, the Apple watch (around $350-plus) is poised for release in April. A companion device with your iPhone, these colorful wrist devices strive to pack all of your wearable potential into one Dick Tracy-like, walkie-talkie-style statement with three colorful base models. Similarly, Android Wear is in the works, with as many as 15 devices packing Google’s wearable tech system anticipated to hit the market by the end of 2015.

Apple admits that users are going to wind up charging the watch daily but has declined to go into specifics. A watch runs on a small battery for a year or more.

Wearables are about to explode into an array of novel, single-function devices. The big question in my mind is something the designers of wearable tech seem to have forgotten: Does the item in question solve a need or make life easier for its user? The fact is that most wrist devices do nothing more complex than that already done on a smart phone.

Look at what happened with Google Glass in 2013 -2015. This $1,500 gizmo fizzled in the social scene although commercial uses, including in medicine, firefighting and manufacturing, seem promising. Besides its nerdiness, Google Glass lost because of legal and privacy issues. The real killer in my mind was when users were dubbed “glassholes.” Google is retooling that invention for another shot at it down the road.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of wearables is complexity. There may very well come a day when people are decked out from head to toe in technology, but it’s not going to happen unless it’s nearly invisible technology. Consumers don’t buy gadgets, as much as they buy experiences. They buy access to content and services they desire. They buy brands that deliver style and status, social acceptance and recognition. Remember the 2001 invention, codenamed Ginger, that was destined to change the world of transportation? It’s called the Segway.

“Disruptive innovation,” a term coined by a Harvard University professor, Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of the market and then relentlessly moves up-market, eventually displacing established competitors.

Wearables could bring dramatic improvement  to health monitoring and safety and assistance, but issues like battery life, transparency and simplicity need to be solved before we can expect real disruptive change like the smart phone brought us.

Over half of the world’s 7.2 billion people use mobile phones, with smartphone users growing to 2.5 billion in 2015. Besides communication and computing, think of the incredible photo and video capabilities smartphones bring to our planet’s inhabitants.

What would more wearables give us?

12 Issues Inhibiting the Internet of Things

While the Internet of Things (IoT) accounts for approximately 1.9 billion devices today, it is expected to be more than 9 billion devices by 2018—roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers and PCs combined. But, for the IoT to scale beyond early adopters, it must overcome specific challenges within three main categories: technology, privacy/security and measurement.

Following are 12 hurdles that are hampering the growth of the IoT:

1. Basic Infrastructure Immaturity

IoT technology is still being explored, and the required infrastructure must be developed before it can gain widespread adoption. This is a broad topic, but advancement is needed across the board in sensors themselves, sensor interfaces, sensor-specific micro controllers, data management, communication protocols and targeted application tools, platforms and interfaces. The cost of sensors, especially more sophisticated multi-media sensors, also needs to shrink for usage to expand into mid-market companies.

2. Few Standards

Connections between platforms are now only starting to emerge. (E.g., I want to turn my lights on when I walk in the house and turn down the temperature, turn on some music and lock all my doors – that’s four different ecosystems, from four different manufacturers.) Competing protocols will create demand for bridge devices. Some progress is emerging in the connected home with Apple and Google announcements, but the same must happen in the enterprise space.

3. Security Immaturity

Many products are built by smaller companies or leverage open source environments that do not have the resources or time to implement the proper security models. A recent study shows that 70% of consumer-oriented IoT devices are vulnerable to hacking. No IoT-specific security framework exists yet; however, the PCI Data Security Standard may find applicability with IoT, or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Risk Management Guide for ITS may.

4. Physical Security Tampering

IoT endpoints are often physically accessible by the very people who would want to meddle with their results: customers interfering with their smart meter, for example, to reduce their energy bill or re-enable a terminated supply.

5. Privacy Pitfalls

Privacy risks will arise as data is collected and aggregated. The collation of multiple points of data can swiftly become personal information as events are reviewed in the context of location, time, recurrence, etc.

6. Data Islands

If you thought big data was big, you haven’t see anything yet. The real value of the IoT is when you overlay data from different things — but right now you can’t because devices are operating on different platforms (see #2). Consider that the connected house generates more than 200 megabytes of data a day, and that it’s all contained within data silos.

7. Information, but Not Insights

All the data processed will create information, eventually intelligence – but we aren’t there yet. Big data tools will be used to collect, store, analyze and distribute these large data sets to generate valuable insights, create new products and services, optimize scenarios and so on. Sensing data accurately and in timely ways is only half of the battle. Data needs to be funneled into existing back-end systems, fused with other data sources, analytics and mobile devices and made available to partners, customers and employees.

8. Power Consumption and Batteries

50 billion things are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2020 – how will all of it be powered? Battery life and consumption of energy to power sensors and actuators needs to be managed more effectively. Wireless protocols and technologies optimized for low data rates and low power consumption are important. Three categories of wireless networking technologies are either available or under development that are better suited for IoT, including personal area networks, longer-range sensors and mesh networks and application-specific networks.

9. New Platforms with New Languages and Technologies

Many companies lack the skills to capitalize on the IoT. IoT requires a loosely coupled, modular software environment based on application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable endpoint data collection and interaction. Emerging Web platforms using RESTful APIs can simplify programming, deliver event-driven processes in real time, provide a common set of patterns and abstractions and enable scale. New tools, search engines and APIs are emerging to facilitate rapid prototyping and development of IoT applications.

10. Enterprise Network Incompatibility

Many IoT devices aren’t manageable as part of the enterprise network infrastructure. Enterprise-class network management will need to extend into the IoT-connected endpoints to understand basic availability of the devices as well as manage software and security updates. While we don’t need the same level of management access as we do to more sophisticated servers, we do need basic, reliable ways to observe, manage and troubleshoot. Right now, we have to deal with manual and runaway software updates. Either there’s limited or no automated software updates or there are automatic updates with no way to stop them.

11. Device Overload

Another issue is scale. Enterprises are used to managing networks of hundreds or thousands of devices. The IoT has the potential to increase these numbers exponentially. So the ways we currently procure, monitor, manage and maintain will need to be revisited.

12. New Communications and Data Architectures

To preserve power consumption and drive down overall cost, IoT endpoints are often limited in storage, processing and communications capabilities. Endpoints that push raw data to the cloud allow for additional processing as well as richer analytics by aggregating data across several endpoints. In the cloud, a “context computer” can combine endpoint data with data from other services via APIs to smartly update, reconfigure and expand the capabilities of IoT devices.

The IoT will be a multi-trillion industry by 2020. But entrepreneurs need to clear the hurdles that threaten to keep the IoT from reaching its full potential.

This article was co-written with Daniel Eckert. The article draws on PwC’s 6th Annual Data IQ Survey. The article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Let’s Tone Down Hope for ‘Wearables’

There is an old line in Silicon Valley: “Never confuse a clear view with a short distance.” We should keep that in mind as we think about wearable devices such as the Apple watch that are designed, among other things, to help us monitor and improve our health. The view is crystal clear, but we’re still a long way from getting to the destination.

The vision is idyllic: Some day, a wearable device will monitor all our vital signs and relay the information second by second to a healthcare provider, where some combination of computers and doctors will monitor it. We’ll know two weeks ahead of time that we’re about to have a heart attack and will be able to head it off. Doctors, who currently spend only about seven minutes a year with the average patient, will mine the stream of information, spot chronic issues in more people and get them treatment for, say, high blood pressure. Our knowledge about health will increase exponentially because so many aspects of so many people will be tracked, and in real time.

Researchers say the change in health will be like what has happened with cars. We used to wait until we saw steam coming out from under the hood, then fix whatever was wrong. Those cars lasted 60,000 or 70,000 miles. Now we have sensors all over the place in cars, learn about problems before they become acute and gather voluminous data on what works and what doesn’t, so cars can keep getting better. As a result, many cars last more than 200,000 miles. With people, once we can get those sensors “under the hood,” we should also see huge improvements in health and life expectancy – engine performance, too.

But three major things have to happen before we achieve that idyllic vision, and only one is even close to reality.

The one change that could at least plausibly happen soon is that people adopt wearables en masse. No more of this buy a Fitbit, wear it for a couple of months and then set it aside. At least millions of people, and maybe tens of millions, will have to buy wearable devices and keep them on 24/7 for basically forever, just to really get the movement started. That sort of adoption will require smaller and better-designed wearables and far better battery life – the early line on the Apple watch is that it won’t even go a full day on a charge. Makers of wearables will also have to agree on standards so that all health data can be integrated into any software and analyzed by any healthcare provider. At the moment, every wearable maker wants to own the standard, and standards fights can take years to sort out, but with Apple working its magic on consumers and with Microsoft introducing a well-regarded device, it’s at least possible to imagine mass adoption within a few years.

That’s the easiest problem.

The most severe problem is that wearables aren’t yet close to collecting the really useful information. Wearables can monitor your pulse and provide a reasonable estimate of how many steps you take, but that’s not the good stuff, as far as medicine is concerned.

I got a tutorial on this almost 15 years ago from Astro Teller, who cofounded Body Media, a pioneer in the wearables field. He said the data he really needed was blood pressure and information from blood tests. Astro is a seriously smart fellow – the grandson of the principal developer of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller, Astro has since 2010 been directing the Google X laboratory, meaning he has the Google Glass, driverless car and many other cutting-edge projects reporting to him – but Body Media never cracked the code before being acquired by Jawbone for $110 million, principally for its patents, in 2013. While there are glimmerings of progress all over, no breakthrough seems especially close.

Google, for one, has a project in the Google X lab that puts sensors in contact lenses that can measure blood sugar and send a constant, wireless signal to a wearable device, giving diabetics a noninvasive way to monitor themselves. But the technology must now be calibrated for different conditions. What if the wearer is crying? What if the weather is dry? What if it’s raining? It’s not clear how close to market the technology is.

Others talk about having people swallow sensors that would roam the bloodstream and report on all kinds of conditions, including watching out for cancer, but those are far enough out that they still read like science fiction.

A company has a prototype of a device that would measure blood pressure constantly, but, even if that proves workable, the device needs to go through multiple iterations and become tiny enough that it can fit into a general-use device – people may wear one health-related device on an arm, but they won’t wear two or three or four.

The final hurdle that has to be cleared is doctors and other practitioners. When I talk to doctors about the idyllic vision for the future of healthcare, they look at me like I have two heads. They’re feeling swamped just trying to keep up in a world where they see the average patient a few minutes a year, and their problems will only get worse if talk of a physician shortage proves true. Now we want them to go from seven minutes a year to 525,600 (the number of minutes in a year) for each patient? Yeah, right.

Even if doctors and other practitioners sign up for this new world of healthcare, every support system will have to change. Computer systems will have to be set up to do the vast majority of monitoring. Software will have to be written. A new class of data analysts will have to be developed. Health practices will have to reshape themselves around data streams. Insurers will have to adjust coverage. Courts will have to sort out where liability for mistakes falls – with a programmer, a doctor, someone else?

You could start the clock now on all these changes in medical practices, and they’d still take years to sort out.

The key issue to monitor in the progress of wearables is the sensors. Once someone can easily capture blood pressure information or conduct some important blood test without breaking the skin, well, then we’re talking. At that point, consumer adoption will be a solvable problem. So will adoption by medical professionals, though that will be a long slog.

In the meantime, we will soon be able to buy our Apple watches, and we’ll have fun with them. We might even get a little healthier if we keep wearing the things and somehow feel the need to walk a bit more. But that shiny vision of a world where care, insurance and everything else about health changes because of wearables? That’s still a long way out there.