You’ve heard about the “Internet of Things” (IoT). But what is it really? As Dr. John Bates stated in his “The Internet of Thingies” article, “The Internet of Things, put simply, describes a concept where everyday objects and devices are connected to the Internet – most likely wirelessly – and communicate at some intelligent level.” But what’s the purpose or benefit of that? It’s all about having devices work together, exchanging information without human intervention, to provide benefits for users.
Fair enough. But just HOW do these devices communicate? Well, there are various enabling technologies, such as sensors, RFID, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and IPv6 (providing for more IP addresses), as well as… RESTful APIs! APIs are the interface to the underlying services which perform an action or retrieve specific information, and REST stands for REpresentational State Transfer, a particular architectural style which uses HTTP and XML protocols that are common in Web technology. Using REST APIs are a very common method of connecting devices to the Internet because they are built on a generic interface using the standard HTTP methods GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, PATCH, etc. This is very useful especially for mobile devices since their native platforms support HTML.
Let's check out the Nest programmable home thermostat and smoke detector as an example. These devices can be controlled and monitored, respectively, by an iPhone app. A voice command will set the thermostat. While that doesn’t sound very exciting by itself, note that Nest’s new owner, Google, has opened up an API for Nest devices, as part of the "Works with Nest" developer program. And Google has already gained many partners for this API. One is Mercedes. The Mercedes automobile can signal the Nest thermostat when you should be arriving home through the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) feature, ensuring your house is nice and warm when you get there without wasting energy by turning on the heat too far in advance of when it’s really needed. The Chamberlain garage door opener can also tell the Nest thermostat to enter the “Away mode” when the owner leaves the garage, changing it to a more energy efficient temperature setting.
Now let’s look at sensors and how they’re used. A sensor transmits some type of information, such as location, weather, temperature, or movement. To be useful, that information needs to find its way to some device that can use that information. Looking at the current fitness trend, there are smart scales which measure your weight, body composition, heart rate and air quality. You simply download the associated app and pair the scale with your Wi-Fi network or smartphone using Bluetooth technology. The use of sensors and APIs is how this is accomplished.
Further, there are devices which monitor your heart rate as you jog, and provide that information to your smartphone via Bluetooth technology. There is even a Pebble Smart Watch which connects to your iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth and provides this functionality in conjunction with the Pebble smartphone app. The Pebble Smart Watch also displays emails, SMS, Caller ID, Twitter and Facebook updates, and notifications from your favorite apps right on your wrist. There are numerous other downloadable apps for the Pebble to suit your hobbies, interests, and lifestyle. All of these apps use the Pebble API.
So we’ve discussed how the IoT, APIs, and the different enabling technologies allow devices to communicate and transfer data. Now… the next step would be to integrate all that data to gain a more holistic picture. For healthcare, imagine the ability to take all the data from the various devices already mentioned, as well as others, and combine it to give you a continuous update on your overall health. Aetna’s CarePassplatform is a good start. Using the CarePass Sync API, CarePass integrates data from personal health records, and mobile fitness and wellness apps to display the aggregated data in a single dashboard. CarePass enables apps to exchange data bi-directionally with a user’s personal health cloud to create customized and personalized experiences.
Monitoring your health is an excellent use of the IoT, communication, API, and Integration technologies, indeed. Stay healthy!