A Healthy Approach to the Internet of Things

As the Internet of things evolves from concept to reality, we’re witnessing a growing stream of products and solutions aimed at making our lives easier, better and healthier. In many cases, as demonstrated by the recent Consumer Electronics Show, the net outcome is an “Internet of Garbage.” Even the most optimistic or motivated person probably wouldn’t see much value in auto-tightening shoes or vibrating yoga pants that correct your form.

To be sure, technology advances often occur in fits and starts. Today’s fitness trackers are good, but not great. They provide valuable insights, but they’re not entirely accurate or reliable.

I’ve placed Bluetooth LE trackers on my keychain and other items in order to find them if they’re misplaced. The trackers work reasonably well, though they’re far from perfect. For instance, I’ve had the tracker’s battery die without warning, which renders it useless when it’s needed.

Advances From Connected Devices

On the other hand, connected devices could lead to enormous advances. For example, Swaive recently announced the world’s first smartphone-enabled ear thermometer. The company partnered with Sickweather, an online community that provides maps showing where people have caught the flu or common colds. Users can share their anonymous data, and machine learning takes it from there.

Already, Sickweather processes more than 6 million illness reports each month by using social media and other data. The ability to plug in connected devices increases the value immeasurably.

It’s not difficult to extrapolate on this concept and think about public health experts and others using similar technology to map all sorts of other illnesses, diseases and afflictions. Ultimately, researchers and epidemiologists might better understand how to deal with various outbreaks. At the very least, hospitals and clinics would have a far better idea of where to direct supplies and resources, and the rest of us would know when and where it’s riskier to head outside.

It’s also possible to envision similar systems—most likely grabbing data from fitness devices and other wearables—to better understand and formulate policy for everything from eating to exercise. And health care insurance providers, which today treat everyone roughly equally, could design programs to fit demographics and reward individuals for meeting minimum daily step goals and eating healthier foods.

To be sure, the journey has just begun. Over the next few years, we will likely walk, run and skip past a lot of crazy and brilliant connected devices on the road to progress.