Last week Stephen Carter, UK Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, launched the Government’s Interim report on Digital Britain. I’d recommend reading it – its scope is wide and it contains a refreshing amount of joined up thinking. The initial press coverage concentrated on its aim to bring broadband to all UK homes by 2012. That’s a highly laudable aim, but by concentrating on that one conclusion the media missed much of the more promising underlying detail, particularly its relevance to home telecare.
This is going to be the year of the Femtocell. At least that’s the message that the industry is putting forward. Next month at the Mobile Congress in Barcelona, the industry is likely to be united in singing off that particular hymn sheet. However, an RFQ from a network operator that was put out just before Christmas suggests that opinion might not be as solid as the industry hype portrays. Rather than looking for femtocells, this particular operator was contemplating the deployment of small 802.11 access points around the home, connected together and to the broadband line using HomePlug. The implication is that instead of providing a personal 3G cell in the home to compensate for their lack of indoor coverage, they’d prefer to flood it with Wi-Fi. It’s an interesting approach…
It’s always good to have a heart-warming story to start the year off. What made this a particularly good start for me in 2009 was the fact that the story appeared in New Scientist. In their opening issue on 3rd January, they tell the story of the “Rise of the garage genome hackers”. It’s all about the research on genetic modification that is going on in sheds, garages and bedroom cupboards around the world. It’s is a largely unreported phenomenon, but signals a growing trend which is the return of the scientific amateur or hobbyist.
Just before Christmas, when most of the press and the rest of the world had their minds on other things, the European Commission released a momentous set of documents detailing their strategy for Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s a great shame that it got ignored, as it provides the clarion call that the industry so desperately needs.
The Action Plan identifies the shortcomings of previous initiatives, where ITS has been deployed in a fragmented way, leading to a patchwork of solutions with no cohesion or integrity. Its intent is to put in place a framework that will lead to Europe wide systems, using legislation if necessary to speed up the process.
To coincide with the Medica exhibition I wrote a White Paper called “Trust me – I’m not a Doctor” to explore some of the changes that I think are necessary for the development of usable consumer health devices.One reader came back to me with a very pertinent question – “It’s one thing to say what needs to change, but what steps can manufacturers take in order to keep up with the latest developments in technology?”
It’s a very good question.Much of the medical industry concentrates on gradual evolution.It’s not an industry that is either particularly fast moving, or prone to disruptive influences.Certainly Medica was very much about more of the same and not doing anything new.
That poses a real problem, and to address it I think you have to take a deliberatively disruptive approach by thinking outside the box.Rather than asking how to keep abreast of technology, which is only likely to increase the pace of the current linear evolution, I’d suggest the more heretical view of thinking about what happens to the market when the clinician is excluded from it.
This year will see the arrival of a new short range wireless standard that is set to revolutionise the way that devices are made. That’s not a new claim – I recall it being made for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Home-RF and DECT, amongst others. Some succeeded massively, some struggled on and some failed. This year sees another technology join the fold and I’m confident that it will make a bigger change that any that has preceded it.
The technology I’m talking about is called Bluetooth low energy. Don’t be fooled by thinking it’s a variant of Bluetooth – that would be a mistake. Although it’s part of the Bluetooth family of standards, and designed to coexist within an existing Bluetooth chip, it’s a totally new standard, designed from the bottom up to fulfil a new set of requirements.
Those requirements are to enable a new generation of products that can connect to mobile phones. It covers everything from fashion accessories, watches, fitness and medical devices to office and security products. The essential thing is that they can be low power, low cost devices that only need to send small amounts of data. That allows them to be run off batteries that don’t need regular charging. In fact most of them will run for years on single coin cells.
As well as connecting to your phone as accessories, they’ll also be able to use the phone to send their data over your mobile network to a remote web service. That’s where Bluetooth low energy becomes really powerful, as it allows your mobile phone to act as a gateway.