An engineer uses IoT to tackle illness

Knowledge of interface design, sensors and access to off-the-shelf tech like Amazon’s IOT buttons is used to help a family

iot alzheimers

Daniel Strabley, right, developed a system for tablets called Wally to helps patients like Walter Remiger, who has dementia.

Credit: The Strabley family

Daniel Strabley's day job is helping to protect the U.S. from weapons of mass destruction. He works on a software suite that interacts with sensors to detect chemical and radiation threats. The sensor information, as you may imagine, is complicated, and one of his tasks is to make it understandable to users.

This means that anyone, from an Army private not long out of high school to a Ph.D.-holding nuclear physicist, needs an interface that is meaningful to their knowledge level.

The work on detecting weapons of mass destruction is similar in concept to what Strabley is doing to help his wife's grandfather, who is suffering from dementia. He has written software that can help people with varying degrees of cognitive issues, and is using sensors such as Amazon's new IOT buttons, to improve communication.

Walter Remiger worked as a sweet potato farmer and cement truck driver. But earlier this year he moved to an assisted living facility in St. Louis, Mo. because of health issues. Soon after, cognitive problems arrived. It's difficult for him to keep track of time and schedules or known when the Cardinals are set to play.

Strabley, a user engineer, works for WWT Asynchrony Labs; the company develops a range of software, including sensor integration, for corporate, government and military clients. It's important and meaningful work, said Strabley, although he can say the same about what he is now doing to help his family.

Using Android tablets, Strabley created a simple clock that also uses photos, such as those from his farm, to communicate time of day. Strabley kept adding to the system: pill reminders, doctor's appointments, lunch and dinner schedule, Cardinal start times and TV channel. The software can scale up to be more interactive for game playing and communication, or kept simple -- all depending on the capabilities of the user. It can be designed to show the names and faces of visitors.

"We're designing technology for people who don't know technology," said Strabley.

Amazon's "Dash Buttons" are wireless buttons connected to a specific product, such as detergent, plastic bags or crackers. When you run out of a product, press the button and an order for more is processed. Strabley began hacking the Dash Buttons for his own needs, but Amazon -- perhaps realizing that others were hacking Dash Buttons as well -- recently announced a limited release of an IOT button that can be programmed using AWS services.

For Remiger's fellow residents, the main form of communications are white boards and notes, and they are often out of date from room-to-room, said Strabley.

Strabley and his wife, Jessica, are now working on scaling the system to work in an institution, and to develop a business around their efforts. The system is named Wally, after Mr. Remiger.

The development work includes designing different types of Android tablets for different users. For some, removing all of the tablet buttons may be best, as well as sending out alerts when it is disconnected from a power source. Expanding the sensors to work with other off-the-shelf systems, such as the Leeo sensor that listens for smoke or carbon monoxide alarms and sends out alerts, is on tap. The software will also have to adjust to a user's capabilities.

The Amazon buttons are a "huge game changer" in developing a way for users to signal alerts, said Strabley, who is also working on ways to use the buttons to indicate happiness or distress.

The IOT devices open a lot of possibilities, but some static as well, said Strabley.

"It's such an emerging technology that everyone is going to be throwing IOT stuff at you" such as giving your toaster the ability to talk to your phone, said Strabley. "But how much of that actually helps people at the end of the day?"

IOT use in healthcare is seen as one of the its largest applications. In June, the U.S. government asked people to contribute ideas about the future of IOT. Among those responding was Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm, which pointed to the growing need for technology to help older people people.

The consulting firm noted that "by 2040, about 21% of the population, or more than 50 million people, will be 65 and older." Many will want to continue living at home. "But studies show that older people living alone experience higher levels of disease and disability, as well as higher health and social risks. IoT solutions can help empower older adults to thrive in their own homes, improving their quality of life and decreasing the cost of long-term care."

This story, "An engineer uses IoT to tackle illness" was originally published by Computerworld.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.