Internet of healthcare Things to kick up a gear in 2015
The Internet of Things (IoT) may still be caught up in the hype cycle, but new research from Embarcadero Technologies shows that software developers working on IoT solutions expect to have them in active development this year, and most are geared towards business rather than gadgets for consumers.
The Software for the Internet of Things (IoT) Developer Survey, conducted by Dimensional Research on behalf of Embarcadero, surveyed 1040 global developers, including 63 in Australia and New Zealand, to understand trends in new types of “things”, excluding laptops, smartphones and tablets.
The IoT was defined for the purposes of the survey as the network of “things” that contain interconnection technology such as Wi-Fi/Internet and Bluetooth to communicate with other devices, applications, middleware and online services.
Healthcare was identified as a bit of a laggard in harnessing the big data from the IoT in another recent survey by Microsoft Australia and Telsyte, but according to Embarcadero's Sydney-based senior director for the Asia Pacific and Japan, Malcolm Groves, there is some movement in the industry beyond traditional patient tracking and monitoring devices.
“Healthcare is one of the areas that is getting a lot of focus,” Mr Groves said. “We were speaking to a PMS provider last week who has been developing several projects, such as beacon/app combinations to check in people at medical centres, to guide them to the correct waiting areas just in time for their appointments.
“I’m also working with a hospital in South Korea [which has] several projects underway, some related to patient data but also others related to equipment tracking in the surgery 'supply chain'.”
The survey found that the majority of developers working on solutions with integrated “things” – 92 per cent in the ANZ region – are targeting business markets, with just eight per cent exclusively targeting consumers.
The vast majority (84 per cent) of Australian and New Zealand development teams involved in IoT projects expect to have their solutions in active development in 2015, with almost two thirds (62 per cent) anticipating their solutions will have an effect on business by the end of 2015.
"While things like consumer gadgets are a strong focus for Australian and New Zealand developers, these survey results confirm that IoT is crossing over to business productivity and customer engagement," Mr Groves said.
"Consumers typically connect to IoT through a single personal mobile device, with other IoT infrastructure surrounding them. However, with business solutions, IoT infrastructure encircles the business and enterprise assets while also including users.
“The IoT connected applications developers build for the enterprise are essential to connect the disparate parts of a distributed IoT business solution – from mobile devices, to wearables and sensors, to cloud and on-premises enterprise back-ends.”
Mr Groves said “things” for healthcare applications such as sensors in the home for falls alerts and home monitoring, along with tracking devices and personal fitness and health monitoring, are the areas that get most of the publicity, but there is more to it than that.
“I think these are the areas that get public attention as they are easiest for a non-medical professional to understand,” he said. “However, I’ve personally seen several that are happening within medical centres and hospitals, both public facing and also for optimising the operations.”
While most projects are not in production yet, Mr Groves said he expects to see examples increase dramatically throughout the year.
The Internet of Fridges
That doesn't mean the hype has gone away, however. It was over a decade ago that companies like LG started to bring out things like internet-enabled refrigerators, which never really took off.
Mr Groves calls the internet fridge “the poster child for IoT solutions in search of problems to solve”.
“Unfortunately this is common in the tech world,” he said. “We figure out we can technically do something, and before we figure out if we really should do it (ie. if it solves a genuine problem or provides genuine value) we go ahead and do it. I still don’t know why I’d need my fridge to talk to my toaster.
“However, while we’re still in the hype cycle, we are seeing large numbers of businesses start to invest real money in projects, and more importantly, they are investing with an expectation of an ROI.
“We’re still early, the technologies and platforms involved will go through further consolidation and maturity, but when a broad range of businesses start investing, these things tend to accelerate.”
The survey showed that local developers plan to use multiple systems, including mobile apps, desktop apps, databases, cloud services, enterprise applications, middleware and other IoT devices.
They will also use multiple methods for interaction, with the most popular being WiFi or other internet connections at 76 per cent, followed by Bluetooth low energy (LE) at 39 per cent, standard Bluetooth at 36 per cent, and REST APIs at 21 per cent.
Information generated by things will predominantly be stored in an enterprise database (53 per cent), followed by an app on mobile device (47 per cent), in the cloud (44 per cent), in a database embedded in the “thing” (44 per cent) and in a desktop application (36 per cent).
Interestingly, the way 'things' will accept input is changing. While traditional touch input using a keyboard will still be in the majority (55 per cent) – and machine input from environmental sensors and position tracking technology like GPS will also be well used – new methods are also emerging, such as line of vision (where you are looking), voice commands, biometrics and body gestures.
“Survey participants took the time to tell us that their 'Things' can take inputs from brain waves, scanners (QR, barcode, card readers), and even other 'Things',” the survey shows.
“While the ultimate vision of IoT solutions completely does away with traditional touch, we’re not there yet. More than half of all 'Things' (56 per cent) will accept input the old fashioned way.”
Haptic technologies using tactile sensors is also becoming more widely used, Mr Groves said.
“A lot of the initial uses of haptics in medicine were around virtual surgery as training or preparation for the real thing,” he said. “However, this is now starting to expand, with research into other areas such as vibration guidance for people performing rehabilitation exercises.”
Mr Groves said one of the interesting things about the different IoT projects he has seen is that while they are developed and rolled out with a view to addressing one specific opportunity, once you have sensors deployed feeding data back, invariably secondary opportunities emerge that can be addressed with the same deployment.
“The classic example is vending machines,” he said. “Vending machines have been connected for some time, alerting the vendor when stock needs to be replenished. While that provides significant business value, once they are connected a whole range of secondary opportunities emerge.
“Knowing what items are selling and when, across a network of vending machines, allows the opportunity to do real time price-adjustment, time-specific promotions\specials tailored to different locations.
“Very often the biggest value derived is not the initial use case, but one that emerges once you have time to analyse the data you are collecting for patterns. The more sensors roll out, the more data you are collecting, the more connected your infrastructure, the more opportunities emerge over time.”
To download a copy of the global report, go to http://forms.embarcadero.com/15Q1IoTSurvey.
Posted in Australian eHealth