How can IoT & AI assist in improving life quality for people with special needs
- The elderly and our aging demographic
- Caring for specific conditions
- Voice Activated Devices
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of connected devices that operate via sensors and software allowing them to collect data. This data helps to form the basis of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in those devices through its subsets such as machine learning and natural language processing. As an example, Amazon Echo (Alexa) is an IoT device that uses natural language processing to convert our voice commands into data. The data is then processed using machine learning algorithms, sent back to the IoT device and Alexa talks back to us. Whilst platforms like Alexa are the ones we witness in everyday life, there are several other industries benefitting from IoT and AI applications. One of the key sectors, which is likely to be revolutionised over the next few years is healthcare. By 2020, McKinsey have estimated that as much as 40% of IoT devices will be health related, showing how big the industry is. This article looks at some of the examples of IoT and AI assisting people with special needs.
The elderly and our aging demographic
The population of the world is aging, especially in some of the larger growing economies such as Europe, Japan and China. It is thought that by 2050, the percentage of the world’s population that is over 60 years old will be at 22% versus just 12% in 2000. This means it is important for healthcare providers and governments to invest in solutions for the elderly. If they don’t, the costs of care could become astronomical in years to come and a burden to society. Some providers are already introducing AI into their journeys. At the very start, it has shown to be accurate in diagnosing diseases like cancer and early signs of diabetes. This means clinicians to look at the right form of treatment early on and treat the conditions effectively. Discovering the early onset of these diseases through AI can save lives but we could be some way off full adoption due to issues with trust and data privacy amongst other limitation. However, there are numerous ways that AI is helping the elderly to improve their quality of life.
At home health monitoring
Continuous supervision is key for a quick diagnosis of elderly patients. Some companies and devices are now collecting data all the time to monitor the health of their patients. One example is Biotricity who have a biometric remote monitoring solution in devices to connect remotely with patients in need. Another is CarePredict who use AI to detect any behaviour changes in their patients for early detection of any health issues. This allows professionals to administer help before an event happens rather than risk critical illness.
As Smartphones and similar devices have dropped in price, it has given everybody access to the likes of voice technology and chatbots. AI bots can help keep elderly patients keep track of medication plans and provide alerts at set times. As well as assisting with dosage, it also provides comfort and reduces anxiety from forgetting to take medication.
Some bots have gone a step beyond medication management and offer social companionship to the elderly. For example, soft toys can be programmed with social feeds about local events or healthy food choices to help them when they need it most. In having an outlet to the outside world, whilst sounding juvenile, it can extend the life of the elderly through keeping an active mind. In theory, the device could take any form with the underlying AI application and data being key. This means there is a huge opportunity for providing very personalised patient plans. As well as companionship, one of the biggest fears for seniors is falling whilst nobody else is around to help. Having a device with them alleviates these fairs and gives them more confidence and allows them to feel less isolated in their own home.
Caring for specific conditions
Some IoT devices have been created to deal with very specific patient needs.
When somebody has a fracture, a device called The Myo can be used as a motion controller for patients who need to exercise during their recovery. It can be controlled via a phone or computer and allows doctors to measure the angle of movement and provide better medical advice.
Devices such as the Zio Patch can monitor heart rate and ECG. It can monitor 24 hours per day for up to 2 weeks, collecting vital data to diagnose and prevent conditions.
For those with diabetes, apps such as EverSense can send the results of blood sugar tests to an app and monitory the trends. It is also possible to provide access to caregivers such as parents or those looking after the elderly who cannot manage the medication easily on their own.
Asthma and COPD
Devices have been made available to help track both of these breathing related conditions. The sensor can attach to a standard inhaler and send data on usage to an App via Bluetooth. The data provides trends and generates potential triggers that can heavily reduce the effects.
Brain Power offer game-like apps that use AI to produce quick insights for the children, parents and teachers. The apps teach skills for anybody on the spectrum, geared to the specific individual. Some of the key metrics are measuring anxiety at different points whilst using the app or checking body language of the app user. Many of the apps deal with emotions which are usually hard for those with autism to detect. Analysis using AI techniques could create significant breakthroughs in time.
Voice Activated Devices
Devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, whilst a novelty to some, have created a new world for those with special needs. For example, people with limited sight or mobility have been provided a brand new way of finding things out or getting things done. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has a page dedicated to how Alexa can help blind people interact with the internet. The elderly and disabled can have instant access to learning materials, friends and family through simple voice commands rather than having to learn complicated new technology. Caregivers can check on activity where applicable e.g. ensuring an elderly person has taken their medication (or at least listened to the notification). Families are less anxious about those they care for and those in need are provided with the comfort that somebody is on the other end of the device. Alexa and Google Home are still becoming more conversational through learning and in time, may be able to perform predictive functions e.g. predicting if there is a problem if nobody has spoken for XX hours or ignored notifications.
Image and Visual Recognition
Devices like Microsoft’s Seeing AI app narrates the visual world for the blind and low vision community, helping them to do things like see currency, read handwriting and text, recognise products from barcodes, recognise colours and recognise people around them and their emotions – all through their mobile phone cameras. IoT and AI such as this can provide a far better quality of life for so many people which is why enterprises including Microsoft, Google and Facebook have all made significant recent investments into that area. These companies have so much data available now, making all this very possible whereas we didn’t have the computing power or vastness of information 3, 5 or 10 years ago.
Whilst the opportunity for using IoT and AI in healthcare is huge, adoption to date has been slow for several reasons. Both consumers and doctors have data privacy concerns with the massive amounts being stored in the cloud and prone to hacking and malicious use. Professionals also argue that in using AI, there is a lack of ownership and therefore responsibility in making decisions on patient diagnoses. For example, if AI does get it wrong, who is to blame? What must be remembered, is that AI and IoT are not designed to replace human expertise, but rather to aide it. AI can take care of the repetitive and tedious jobs to allow human professionals to focus on the patients. It will enable patient care to come before admin. The examples in this article are revolutionary and as we enter a new decade, there is a whole lot more to come.