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Internet of Things (IoT) for AT? Pay Attention to the Details

Internet of Things (IoT) for AT?  Pay Attention to the Details

Tony Ferack, Hearing Technology Resource Specialist

I was reading a recent article titled “AT&T unveiling Internet of Things-linked wheelchair“ and felt compelled to write this blog.  First, if you have not yet heard the buzzword “Internet of Things”, I’ll fill you in.  Internet of Things is often abbreviated IoT and has been around for several years.  In a nutshell, the “Things” in IoT are simply devices that are connected to the internet.  If you have a Smart TV, it could be considered an IoT since the TV is connected to the Internet via your home router.  Most, if not all, of the major appliance companies, are advertising Smart Appliances.  The biggest advantage of having a smart appliance is that it can update itself if the manufacturer has made improvements on how the appliance operates.  I’ve never heard of an appliance being recalled because the manufacturer found a way to make the device perform better.  With Smart technology, a manufacturer can make the improvement to your device automatically as long as the appliance is connected to the internet.  Imagine a refrigerator that can alert you if there is something wrong.  For example, wouldn’t it be cool (no pun intended) if your refrigerator sent you a text message if the temperature in the freezer went below a designated temperature?  To take it a step further, how about a reminder phone call if you are low on eggs?

Now, let’s take this technology to Assistive Technology, the whole premise of this article.  Let’s say you need to take your heart medicine at certain times during the day and you have a Smart pillbox.  If you forget to take your medicine, a Smartwatch could vibrate to remind you.  To take this further, a Smart pillbox could even detect if it has been filled with the correct medicine!

The above mentioned article talks about a Smart wheelchair.  The features that the article talks about are “Seating Position and Cushion Pressure”, “Battery Level and Predictive Maintenance Requirements”, and “GPS Location and Fleet Management”.  I am okay with this type of internet sensing since it doesn’t affect how the wheelchair moves or stops.  What gives me the willies is when manufacturers sneak in additional functionality without the users knowledge.  For example, there was a recent article that mentioned how two researchers were able to hack into the computer of an automobile.  This is scary stuff.  The end result is that the manufacturer issued a recall to correct the problem.  The problem could have been avoided.  In this case, the vehicle was designed to give remote control of some critical functions of the car.  This was indeed a MAJOR flaw.  The recall removed the ability to remotely control vehicle safety functions.  Think about how a wheelchair manufacturer might want to build in the ability to control the wheelchair.  From a service standpoint, it could eliminate the need to send a repair person to service your wheelchair.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.  If the manufacturer can control a device remotely, so could a hacker.

So, what about Internet of Things as it applies to hearing aids and cochlear implants?  To the best of my knowledge, there is no hearing aid that has direct connectivity to the internet but there is an indirect path.  This path is through a smartphone.  Since some hearing devices connect directly to a smartphone (via Bluetooth) and the smartphone can connect to the internet, there is always the possibility that a hearing device could be altered remotely.

Keep Internet of Things in mind when a Smart product fails to work properly.  There may be someone else watching you.