The Age of the Cheap Sensor and Machine to Machine Chatter

Last post we talked about home medical sensors, and how they could easily become available for use with apps tied to a PC, IPOD, or other computing device in your home. I mentioned disposable pulse oximetry leads, thermometers, and BP cuffs, but those are not the only sensors that have become inexpensive.

Sensors are becoming easier to embed on a single chip through nanotechnology and the outcome is smaller and cheaper sensors everywhere. My camera uses an imaging sensor that’s more capable than the first one that went up in Hubble — it costs less than a thousand dollars for the sensor, camera body and application and two lenses. You can now get webcams for your PC that are cheaper than fifty dollars yet they are much more capable than studio television cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars from a few decades ago.

Bundle the ability to package an application and a sensor on small chip with the ability to wirelessly network it and you can see where this is going for home networks and the potential to have your devices constantly talking to each other. One example of this is the “Eyefi” SDHC chip for cameras. Right now these cost under $50.00 and you can expect that price to drop further over the next five years.

Now, what about a refrigerator that can talk to your computer or your phone wirelessly? What if it could also read every RFID strip on every container in your kitchen to give you an inventory while you are looking up that recipe? Why doesn’t your thermostat, water heater, furnace, and oven talk to your home computer? What could you do if they did? How about a rooftop wireless weather station? Why shouldn’t your home computer be able to interrogate your car’s computer for tire pressure or stream tunes, maps, or directions into it’s memory?

Wouldn’t you like an infrared and motion sensor array around your home that could stop motion record what’s going on through inexpensive cameras when things are detected, further shouldn’t your home security array recognize your face, and voice, and retina? Shouldn’t your outdoor camera recognize you and your car and open your garage door when you drive up? Shouldn’t there be a Kinect type sensor array in every room so you can issue gestural commands anywhere?

The possibilities are nearly endless, and we are soon crossing the horizon where much of this becomes cheap and easy to do. It’s a matter now of setting some standards and making your personal computer into a home server (since your phone by now is becoming your personal computer) and turning your wireless router into a plug and play wireless communications hub. Yes, I know that home wireless routers are supposed to be that now, but they are too difficult and insecure for the average user. When my 70 year old dad can easily connect any wireless device, from phone, to IPOD, to camera then we will be there, machines will recognize you, your gestures, and will be able to chatter with each other about you.

Another Post Surgery Milestone

It took two separate days, one for each half, but I’ve now shoveled the snow off the entire drive. Right after the open chest surgery in July you wouldn’t have been able to convince me that I’d be able to do this so soon. There are only a few medieval tortures that are as brutal to your innards as cavage, and one of the after effects is that repeated strenuous compression of your midsection can cause artificial shortness of breath and minor panic attacks like that feeling as you go down the roller coaster. I’m thinking that working your middle after an appropriate healing time is part of getting that to go away so I’ll be doing more exercise like this in the future.

The funny part is that I’m from Alaska and never shovel snow. Even in the worst snows the drill was to get out and drive back and forth on top of it until you packed it down, establishing a fine surface to drive or park on that would melt in the Spring.

Medical Devices coming to an IPOD or PC near you soon?

While in the hospital for my quint bypass last July one of the noteworthy things was how reliant the hospital is on moment by moment accurate measures of your vital signs to keep you healthy. The actual sensors they use are cheap and in some cases even disposable (pulse-ox leads, litmus tabs for blood sugar meters, etc.) The bulk of the monitoring is done by software periodically recording from a very simple sensor set.

It’s inevitable that home sensors and programs will be widely available in this decade, and in another decade every “Home PC” and possibly even wireless device will come with a med suite of apps, that can measure your vitals and upload it to your doctor’s office. Remote appointments might become more common, with health coaches and nurses calling to ask you to “plug in” so they can get your vitals.

Maybe the pulse ox lead will plug into a USB port along with a a blood pressure cuff and thermometer, all are relatively cheap, simple and easy to manufacture. Think that’s a stretch? Here’s the first entrant and with lots of baby boomers retiring the numbers of people monitoring their own vitals will increase significantly. So who is going to make the first “Home Med” kit for the PC, XBox etc? Will Doctor offices soon be handing out USB port pulse-ox/BP cuffs and prescribing an application download?

Back in March 2009 at the iPhone OS 3.0 debut event, Apple’s Scott Forstall pointed out medical devices specifically as one of the more interesting class of peripherals that could leverage the new custom app interface capabilities. And while it’s certainly an interesting concept — keeping tabs on your general health from the comfort of your own home — we haven’t really seen it catch on (only a couple of products come to mind). That isn’t stopping iHealth; the company’s blood pressure dock, available today from its online store (we’re told it should be filtering through Apple’s own channels later this month) ties in with a specialized iPhone / iPod touch / iPad app to monitor and track blood pressure from the comfort of your home, where theoretically there shouldn’t be a stranger in a white coat making you extra nervous.

Read the rest at Engadget