IoT is now preventing problems, not just solving the call of the lost left sock

Dennis Moynihan, UK director, EIT Digital

It’s funny how, to many, the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) initially conjured up images of everyday objects – “things” – becoming mildly self-aware and, well, chatty. Those advancing the industry couldn’t get away from the public idea of smart refrigerators querying half-empty cartons of milk, or lost left socks calling out plaintively for their mates.

The problem with this initial conceptualisation, says Dennis Moynihan of EIT Digital, is that in the vast majority of cases these are solutions to problems we don’t really have. These sorts of applications sometimes sounded frivolous because, in fact, too often they really were. Even as the IoT marketplace has matured, there has been a tendency to think in terms of consumer applications, solving what are, at best, “first world” problems.

In the area of health and wellbeing, this has led to glorified pedometers, smart watches that annoyingly suggest you stand up from time to time, and bathroom scales that shame their owners by tweeting their weight – one gift that probably ends up tucked away in a closet soon enough!

Thankfully, most insiders know that the real impact of IoT isn’t necessary in the consumer realm. Instead, it’s the application of IoT in infrastructure, industrial, and other commercial settings. In these applications, IoT innovations can improve efficiency, capture data for better planning, and even enhance public safety.

With this in mind, EIT Digital has made significant investments to support innovative commercial applications for IoT systems particularly in the area of Digital Wellbeing.

Our work in this area follows the notion that “an ounce of prevention is worth at least a pound of cure” and so we concentrate our efforts on leveraging digital technologies focused on prevention and early detection or management of existing conditions.

Our goal is to provide solutions, such as unobtrusive sensors and actuators and associated software services, that enable consumers to be well-informed about their wellbeing and to use digital instrumentation to monitor and improve their quality of life.

Of these solutions, perhaps the most interesting is a large-scale project to take advantage of “quantified self” wearable technology deployed in high-stress occupational settings.

50721214 - yellow moving truck on desert highway, arizona“Professionals Fit to Perform”, an EIT Digital High Impact Initiative, brought together an international consortium – including Astrata, Bittium, DFKI (the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence), Imperial College London, MAN, Philips, TNO (the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research), TU/e (Technical University Eindhoven) and UCL – to see how wearable health monitoring could be used to improve the safety and efficiency of the European long haul trucking industry, as well as for other at-risk professional workforces.

Today, long-haul drivers’ required time on the road is measured in terms of hours driven, using a digital tachometer. This low-tech approach is indifferent to driver alertness, fatigue, sleepiness, stress levels, surrounding road and traffic conditions, and a host of other considerations that truly affect driver performance.

Our activity has brought together the technology, hardware, algorithms, scientific understanding, and practical assessment to develop simple wearable devices with integrated in-cab driver information displays that revolutionise the driving experience.

Further, we know that novel technologies, by themselves, fail in the real world if practical matters like business models, legal and regulatory frameworks, and user/management acceptance aren’t thoroughly addressed. By taking this holistic approach we and our members have been able to successfully trial this solution and now aim take it to market in 2017 through a newly created start-up company.

“Professionals Fit to Perform” is just one example of how IoT health and wellbeing solutions can be profitably applied to occupational settings. As one further example, Soma Analytics, a scale-up company coached via the EIT Digital Accelerator, deploys a range of science-based strategies to reduce employee stress and improve wellbeing in work settings.

Using mobile and other devices as sensors, backed up by anonymised data analysis, employers can understand and address employee health and stress issues at an organisational level while individuals, using the feedback provided by the system, can adopt personal strategies to improve both physical and mental wellbeing.

Clearly, when thinking about health, IoT opportunities go far beyond smart toothbrushes. When deployed in the workplace, IoT solutions can have widespread, clever, positive, and profitable impacts. So, an ounce of prevention may in fact be worth a lot more than a pound of cure.

The author of this blog is Dennis Moynihan, UK director, EIT Digital

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_ OR @jcIoTnow

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