Tech that Actually Improves Lives

1I’ve just returned from a show where I watched robots select and warm cookies and it made me think of all the pointless stuff that technology has given us. Robotics particularly seems to struggle to find its useful place in society. Robot vacuum cleaners seem to clean less well than we do, and to be honest, I can easily warm my own cookies.

But if you follow me on twitter (@philipstoten) you will have noticed me tweeting some great products that seem to actually be improving, or even saving lives. Bionic legs that are so light paraplegics can wear them under their clothes, or intelligent socks that prevent diabetic amputations, watches that predict hypoglycaemic episodes, and the wrist wearable that provides an emergency inflation device that I saw at January’s Wearables Technology event in Munich.

For some time I’d seen 3D printing as a solution looking for a problem, until I saw it used to produce custom joint replacements, or recently skull implants that exactly fit the hole left from brain tumour surgery.

Medicine is an obvious use of technology and it really can have a huge impact. Traditional medical research and the pharmaceutical industry are driven by the development of treatments and drugs. Technology seems to offer some advancement in prevention, self-diagnosis and self-management, thanks to sensors and apps that work on the ubiquitous smartphone.

The health industry is creaking under the strain of an aging population that thanks to wealth and abundance have abused their bodies. Obesity and subsequent diabetes are at epidemic levels leaving many health services unable to cope with demand. Perhaps technology has some, if not all, of the answers. Self-monitoring and self-treatment may be concepts that can help reduce the impact on governments and if physicians can access real-time data remotely and intelligently they may be able to predict and prevent problems before they become acute.

Alongside this trend in monitoring we are seeing the medical technology industry constantly inventing new and exciting way of improving the lives of those with injuries or disabilities, like the aforementioned bionic legs and other endoskeleton systems that can achieve mobility and independence that was hitherto inconceivable. These are indeed greatly exciting developments!

Also improving the outcomes for an aging population is awareness in terms of general fitness and wellbeing. Technology seems to offer us more ways of measuring the various factors that contribute to our health. As and iPhone user, I am aware of the number of steps I take in any given day, the number of kilometres I have walked or run and the number of floors I’ve climbed. I have a heart rate monitor on my device as well as applications that tell me when I should run based on a particular goal and also when my son is running further and faster than me, and being a competitive soul, that gets me out trying that little bit harder. One hopes that this new found interest in our lifestyle and in fitness supported by our smartphones, our fitbits, our fuel bands and other wearables will help to achieve a population that is aware and as a result fitter and less prone to the diseases that come from a indulgent sedentary lifestyle. The more people participating in fitbit challenges the better off we’ll all be.

The last trend that I wanted to touch on that has a positive impact is ‘sharing’. As a society we love to share – selfies, where we are, where we’ve run, where we’re cycling, what we’re doing and what we’re eating. I’m often cynical about all this sharing, particularly when people spend so long photographing their dinner in a restaurant. But this sharing allows us to benchmark and compare our performance. I know that apps like Strava, which thousand of runners and cyclist use, make us more competitive, participating in monthly distance or speed challenges and comparing results against friends and peers. Surely this can’t be a bad thing.

So, let’s keep building tech that improve lives, using all this cool enabling technology like sensors and 3D printing to solve some real problems…



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