Earlier today, Verizon has invited developers and reporters to its innovation center in San Francisco (201 Spear Street, 9th floor, there’s another one in Boston) for a showcase in the updated show room. If you did not already know about this, Verizon has committed quite a bit of effort to help developers build the next generation apps that use wireless networks. Obviously, it does so hoping that developers’ success will translate into tangible needs of its own networks, and for developers, having the backing of a large carrier such as Verizon can help with things that small structures could hardly afford or handle, such as FDA approval and analog radio expertise. Verizon knows that a healthy ecosystem is key to its own future, especially in the machine to machine (M2M) business where it is nearly impossible to predict what the next big thing is going to be. Most likely, it will be a ton of smaller things that will drive its business. Among the demos presented, a few have caught my eyes:
Vital Connect health sensor
This is a medical application that uses a wearable (and disposable) sensor that the patient wears for a few days at a time. The cost of the sensor is about $6 (this is an estimate), and it can monitor a number of signals, including heart rate, sleep, respiration rhythm, physical activity (pedometer), posture and estimate things like stress levels or calories spent.
This allows a close monitoring of a patient, in a very non-invasive way. The information is gathered at the sensor level and transmitted to a cloud by a smartphone, or a small wireless “box” that runs on Verizon’s network (the sensor uses BT 4.0 to communicate). The Box has Bluetooth LE and other connectivity means, but it basically ensures that there is an internet connection over 3G when WiFi is not available. For deployments in medical facilities or as part of a medical kit, some elements have been already approved by the FDA, and even if a device is not approved, part of the network has been FDA-approved, so the overall production and deployment are easier from the developer’s perspective.
The patient is then able to share that data with a number of providers (or specialists) who will be able to data-mine to monitor or diagnose a condition.
Wi-MM Bike+ combines GPS and anti-theft
Created by Kevin Fahrner, a bike enthusiast, Bike+ is a high-tech piece of equipment for bikes that merges anti-theft system (a rampant problem in San Francisco) and self-quantifying, since it measures distance and other metrics, thanks to its integrated GPS. The stand-alone prototype of the device looks rather innocuous as a bicycle bottle holder. But don’t let it fool you: it is in fact a system equipped with its own motion sensors, battery, GPS and a very noisy alarm.
At the moment, the stand-alone system needs to be recharged periodically, but Wi-MM told me that they were contemplating a version that was charged by the Bike+ motion – which would make sense, but I suppose that it is a secondary problem that can be easily solved once the main application is ready for production. Also, the company intends to pitch this to bike manufacturers for direct integration, so these details may fall on someone else’s laps.
When the bike is locked, any attempt to remove the system from the frame, or to move the bike will trigger an alarm (noisy!) and a possible emission of an SMS message to the owner. At the moment I’m not sure how sensitive it is, and what would happen if someone tripped on the bike by accident, but it’s probably something that its inventors will have to balance out. Car alarms work on the same principle, so there is surely a way to make this work with a low rate of false-positives.
This is an older demo, but since the topic is quite discussed about today… with high-tech helmets like this, a medical staff could track individual players in real-time over the network. Doctors don’t even need to be in the stadium to monitor the position and intensity of shocks that each player receives during a game. They can inform the coach if they believe that a player should be pulled from the game and this may help avoid repeated shocks on a particular player, which may ultimately prevent long-term health issues.
The shoes work on the same principle, but since the sensor is in the sole, it is more about recording how much pressure is exerted in order to tweak performance, or warn the athlete that he/she needs to give their joints and articulations some rest before running more. This is the type of data that is not easily retrievable in general, but the benefit of having those in real-time is to allow immediate actions to be taken to prevent injury. That’s really where the “networked” aspect of these sensors come into play. Since each Athlete will have different characteristics, it’s virtually impossible to create some kind of “rule of thumb” that applies to everyone.