Two of the biggest trends at International CES this year are the quantified self movement and the Internet of Things (IoT).
(Actually, the quantified self gadgets really took CES by storm last year, and the IoT will truly dominate CES next year. Still, both categories had a big presence this year.)
But I've noticed a few announcements at CES that suggest a growing mashup between the two. Or, more specifically, the use of quantified self data to control IoT devices.
Call it the "Internet of Self."
The quantified self idea is that biometric sensors harvest data from bodily functions -- heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, skin surface temperature, blood oxygen, respiratory rate, sleep patterns and potentially hundreds of others -- and that data is analyzed by software to provide useful information.
The IoT idea is that objects other than computers have wireless radios, IP addresses and microprocessors and can communicate with each other without conscious human involvement. One simple example: Your home security camera uploads a screen capture of your face to an application in the cloud, which recognizes your face, sending a command to a smart door lock to unlock the door. The unlocking of the door sends a command that tells your living room lights to turn on.
The "Internet of Self" idea is the combination of the two. Data harvested from your body sends commands to the IoT objects in your life.
In other words, your physical body can control aspects of your environment, and it can do so without the need for you to make decisions -- and without you even being aware that it's happening.
Let's look at a couple of examples.
The light bulb that turns on between sleep cycles
A perfect example of the Internet of Self is a wirelessly connected smart light bulb called the Bolt, from Misfit. The $49.99 product is like other smart light bulbs in that it lets you control brightness and color with an app. It's an IoT product.
But Misfit is really into sleep-monitoring technology. Sleep monitoring is a quantified self category. Misfit also offers a clip-on device/wristwatch called the Flash, which (among other things) monitors sleep patterns. It also has a sleep monitor strap called the Beddit that goes across your bed.
Clearly Misfit is a natural to embrace the "Internet of Self" movement. Its Bolt light bulb can turn on gradually and with specific lighting designed to simulate a sunrise when your body is in a wake-up state between sleep cycles as determined by a Misfit sleep-monitoring product.
Looking at this another way, the functioning of the light bulb becomes an extension of your physical body -- or at least, it's taking commands from your biological self.
The car that pulls over and parks when you're tired
The Biomechanics Institute in Valencia, Spain, has a project called HARKEN (Heart and Respiration In-Car Embedded Non-Intrusive Sensors) that focuses on seatbelts and seat fabrics that work together to monitor the driver's heart rate. Researchers expect that future iterations of the technology will prompt a car to automatically pull off the road and park when the sensors detect that the driver is getting drowsy. (The initial version may simply trigger an irritating beep.)
Conceptually, this is just like Misfit's Bolt light bulb. Biometric quantified self data is captured using sensors, then the data sends commands to an IoT device to initiate some physical change.
Volvo is working on the same problem with an entirely different kind of sensor. The automaker is testing infrared cameras that monitor the driver's face and eyes at all times to detect drowsiness. It looks at behaviors like slow blinking, eyes that aren't wide open, nodding and the position and angle of the driver's head.
Once sleepiness is detected, other systems could be triggered -- initiating actions ranging from alerts to automatic pulling over.
What's great about the Volvo approach is that the infrared sensors could also handle facial recognition. So when someone sits in the driver's seat, the system would automatically adjust the positions of seats and mirrors to accommodate that individual, with no input from the driver required.
Why the Internet of Self is inevitable
The marriage of biometric data and IoT devices -- the Internet of Self -- isn't a "maybe" technology. It's a certainty.
The reason is that the quantified self is going mainstream. I believe this will be accelerated with the shipping of the Apple Watch, which monitors the user's heart rate, and also the biometric monitoring products that are being built into most wearable devices, fitness bands and, in some cases, clothing. Quantified-self devices are cheap, proven and popular, and the category will only get better.
Meanwhile, the IoT is also definitely happening. Industry giants like Google, Samsung, Intel, Cisco and others are retooling to prepare for Internet connectivity and chip intelligence in ordinary objects of every description. Like quantified self technologies, IoT systems (mostly cheap, low-power chips and radios) are inexpensive, and they work.
The only glue needed to connect the quantified self with the IoT is an app. It's just software. And easy-to-create software at that.
Once you realize that the "Internet of Self" is just an app away -- waiting only for you to strap on a biometric wearable and buy some inexpensive Internet-connected home appliances, you can start to imagine powerful outcomes.
Your thermostat will adjust itself not according to the room temperature, but according to your comfort level.
Your stress will trigger soothing lights and music in every room in the house.
Your car won't let you drive drunk.
Sudden fear or panic may trigger an automatic 911 call that also involves relaying your emotional state and location.
The lights, TVs, thermostats and phones in your home may turn off or adjust themselves when you fall asleep and again when you wake up -- not at predetermined times when you're supposed to be asleep or awake, but based on your actual conscious state.
It's easy to imagine how powerful and useful the "Internet of Self" will be. And the feeling will be even better. It will be as if your house, car and office will be extensions of your physical body, with appliances and objects responding to your physical state and looking out for you.
The combination of quantified self technology with Internet of Things devices will magnify and multiply the effect of each. The world will be connected to your body via the Internet.
The quantified self and the IoT are transformative. But combining the two for the "Internet of Self" is the real revolution.
This story, "Here Comes the 'Internet of Self' " was originally published by Computerworld.