When will IoT serve for Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA)? Are the current barriers technical, economic, regulatory or social?

Based on the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now dreaming of new applications that will serve older people for their better comfort, health and security. Will our dreams come true..? Definitely yes. But the question is rather: when?

My “uncomplete” answer is: when the Internet of Things will be real…

We have all witnessed the emergence of personal computers and smart phones, which were revolutionary. However, the real revolution actually came when we had them interconnected. We invented the Internet (and then made it mobile), an open infrastructure on top of which we can build new applications that have drastically changed how we live, work, enjoy, etc.; applications which we could probably not think of only 10 years ago. Today, the Internet is real.

Similarly, with the spectacular progress of micro & nano technologies, embedded systems, networks, we can now build tiny objects that are able to perform and communicate wirelessly and be deployed in physical environments, informing us about the real world in real time. This is indeed revolutionary. We can communicate with everyday objects (and beings) which were not initially conceived to be connected, such as home appliances, water/gas/electricity meters, vehicles, street lamps, parking lots, waste bins, wearable health devices, watches, coffee cups, sofas, vine yards, cows, etc. However, the real revolution will come when we will successfully interconnect them and make them work together to provide services and applications aiming for common goals. Only then, we will be able to state that the Internet of Things is real.

Among various others, Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA) is one of the domains in which IoT has great potential to significantly improve the quality of life and security of older people. Services and applications that we do not even get to imagine today will come to the light in the very near future. AHA-IoT will contribute to provide longer and healthier lives, to alleviate pain and reduce social isolation for older people while reducing caring costs.

So why is IoT still not there? What are the current barriers? Are they A) technical? B) economic? C) regulatory? D) social? Well, my answer is E) all of them.

To start with the technical barriers, we can firstly mention the interoperability. A recent report from the AIOTI’s standardization Working Group introduces the current IoT landscape, which is still somehow chaotic, with many standards (isolated within silos), many actors, proprietary solutions, APIs, data models, etc. According to IoT-Analytics, there are currently more than 360 IoT platforms in the market, all of them with different characteristics: cloud-based vs local, proprietary vs open source, closed vs open ecosystem, horizontal vs domain specific, etc. It is quite evident that the market will not be dominated by just one platform. Interoperability among the platforms is thus essential so that each actor can find its place in the landscape with a win-win approach.

Interoperability can be achieved in 2 ways: either i) with a single language to be shared among platforms or ii) with a set of adapters, bridges, wrappers or translators allowing those platforms to communicate and understand each other. Our approach of “a no unique IoT platform”, but rather multiple collaborating platforms, in addition to the current lack of a “de facto” standard as a common language in IoT, brings us naturally to choose the 2nd option.

ACTIVAGE takes into account today’s reality about the variety of platforms, therefore providing interoperability with at least 5 European platforms: sensiNact, UniversAAL, OpenIoT, FIWARE and Sofia2. ACTIVAGE’s AIOTES (IoT Ecosystem Suite) will benefit from the different technical solutions provided by those platforms as well as from their developer and user ecosystems. This means that an AHA application compatible with the AIOTES will work with those platforms, with little or no modification, maximizing the impact of ACTIVAGE in the AHA ecosystem. ACTIVAGE has a whole work package working on building the interoperable architecture on top of which the bridges between the platforms will be built.

Which of the above-mentioned 360 IoT platforms will survive? Will the technical excellence be sufficient? This brings us to the 2nd set back in our list, the economic barrier. History has shown, especially in regard to smart phone technology, that winners are those who succeed in creating a strong ecosystem and developer community. Openness is thus the key. An open platform model is one in which the real value is in the ecosystem itself. The more the platform attracts producers, the more it will have consumers, and vice-versa, thus making the community grow naturally and rapidly. To attract producers, we need open platforms as well as easy-to-use (yet reliable) tools to help them to construct with you. Relevant and reliable win-win business models are essential for long-lasting community involvement and collaboration. This is indeed the approach of ACTIVAGE and its dedicated technical work package on Application Support Tools, as well as a work package on Outreach & Ecosystem Enlargement.

Now, let’s assume that we have a robust interoperable IoT platform and a killer business model. Is that all? Can we start to deploy AHA services? Not yet. We still need to overcome all the required regulatory barriers, which are meant to ensure compliance of the devices, services, applications (in particular in regard to health and personal data) with the quality, security and ethics criteria established by the regulatory bodies. While each country has its specific bodies and standards, the European Commission is striving to centralize many of them in order to reduce the time necessary to overcome those barriers. The latest EU regulation on personal data processing is an example of this effort. ACTIVAGE pays particular attention to those issues and will deal with them as part of its Ethics Management and Standardization programs.

The last (but certainly not the least) step is social acceptance. Without the final validation of the end-user, the preceding steps fail. It is therefore crucial to have an early validation by keeping the end-users in the loop from the very initial stages of the project. One of the important actions that the ACTIVAGE project foresees in order to avoid any unexpected failure at the last (and most critical) step is indeed to engage end-users for the validation of use case scenarios and requirements, as well as the validation of the quality of user experience. We are well prepared. We have a complete work package for the preparation and execution of trials, with a unique opportunity to access 9 deployment sites across Europe, which will certainly be key for this user acceptance and validation process. Furthermore, we have a particular work package on socio-economic impact assessment and evaluation, in which we will also be collaborating with the IoT LSP community, in particular with the U4IoT (User Engagement for Large Scale Pilots in the Internet of Things) project, for this particular topic.

Some of the topics I mentioned in this article were addressed during the European IoT Week, held in Geneva on 6th – 9th June. With about 200 sessions and activities, the event gathered over 800 experts and 300 speakers who are active in the Internet of Things domain. ACTIVAGE was strongly represented in the event, with a specific session about IoT, Smart Living & Ageing well. We have participated in the sessions organized by the Activity Groups of the IoT LSP community on various topics such as IoT standardization and Architecture, Communication and Collaboration Activities, Security, Privacy and Trust, User Engagement, Ecosystem Creation, etc. We are joining forces with the whole IoT LSP community to bring the ACTIVAGE project to success!

Stay tuned to ACTIVAGE and follow with us the end of this exciting story. 3 years to go for ACTIVAGE to provide a happy end…

Upcoming events

Follow us on Twitter