Category Archives: health

How Good Is Your Air? Foobot Knows



While air is all around us, colourless and odourless, we often seek a semi-mythical fresh air; at the seaside, in a spring meadow, after rain on a summer’s day, on crisp winter morning. We all have our favourite. On the other hand, bad air can be difficulty to identify too. Unless there’s mould on the wall or the smell of fresh paint, many pollutants are invisible too.

Around 5 million people in the UK suffer from various levels of asthma and for people with this condition, air quality can be an important factor in their quality of life. This was a reality for Jacques Touillon, whose son suffered from asthma. Back in 2014, he started a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for an indoor air quality monitor called Foobot (formerly Alima) and now the Foobot is available for sale in North America, Europe and Australia. Let’s take a look.

The Foobot is a semi-cylindrical gadget a little taller than a smart phone (17 cm), with what looks like an air vent on top. It’s not dissimilar to an Amazon Echo, only a little shorter. Unlike the Echo, the Foobot has sophisticated sensors to measure gases and chemicals in the air, glowing blue when air quality is good and orange when poor. In particular, the Foobot measures:

  • VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds, which are toxic gases like ammonia and formaldehyde
  • PM2.5s – Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, like dust, pollen and pet dander
  • Carbon Monoxide, which can be deadly as it binds irreversibly with the haemoglobin in the blood
  • Humidity. High humidity can lead to damp and low humidity is an irritation
  • Temperature

As a smart device, the Foobot integrates with other smart home solutions, from Google Nest to Amazon Echo, and with the help of IFTTT, Foobot can also connect to over 120 home appliances, including Hive, the connected thermostat from British Gas. Of course, there’s a complementary smartphone app for iOS and Android that shows both real-time and historical information.

Powered by a USB charger, the Foobot connects via wifi and the setup procedure is very straightforward, using the clever trick of turning the Foobot upside down to initiate the start up procedure. The app then gets the wifi connection established, owner’s account set up, timezone confirmed, room location set, Celsius v Fahrenheit chosen. All exactly what you’d expect from an indoor air quality monitor.

What you might not expect is that the Foobot takes about a week to calibrate the sensors and settle down. Until this happens, there are warnings about the inaccuracy of the readings and some app features like notifications and alerts are unavailable until the bedding in period is complete.

Although light on the detail, the Foobot does colour itself to express air quality based on the GPI – the Global Pollution Index. Information on how it’s calculated is a little sparse though apparently it’s “a weighted compound of the different pollutants measured by Foobot“. Smaller is better, so less than 25 is great, 25-50 is good, 50-75 is fair and 75+ is poor (just move out). The Foobot will glow blue for great and good, and orange for a GPI over 50. The length of the lights is an indicator for how good or bad the GPI is.

The Foobot glows lilac if you disturb it by rocking or tapping it. The smartphone app will register and notify on the disturbance too. They’re called “knock knock” notifications and Foobot suggests they could be used to tell a parent that a child is home safe.

The really juicy stuff is in the smartphone app which is a free download from the relevant app store. To start with, the colour of the app will mimic the Foobot but more detail on the level of Particulate Matter, Volatile Compounds and Carbon Dioxide is available.  Humidity and Temperature are shown too. A couple of different views present the information in varying levels of detail.

 

Swiping up from the bottom shows historical information and swiping left or right moves between the measures. The information is presented by minutes, hours, days or weeks.

  

The Foobot app supports notifications and if any threshold is breached, sends the app a notfication. Notifications can be individually controlled but the thresholds seem fixed. Here in Northern Ireland it’s fairly damp much of time so the default 60% humidity threshold meant that I got lots of notifications. I turned it off.

Along with the notification, Foobot asks for clarification on what you think might have caused the peak and offers the choice of things like cleaning and cooking. One curious option is “olfactive decorator” which I think translates to “smelly paint”.

What surprised me was how much air quality was affected by people being around. The graph on the right shows a day where there was no-one home between 9-5 and we got an early night. During the day and night, the GPI drops to less than ten when there’s no-one about, but jumps up as soon as someone’s home.

The Foobot app has a couple of other settings. The intensity of the LEDs can be adjusted and the LEDs can be put on a timer so that if the Foobot is in, say, a bedroom, they can be timed to go off at night.

As a smart device, the Foobot can be integrated with other smart home systems to do clever things. There is official integration with Alexa but at the moment it’s limited to asking Foobot for an air quality summary (GPI), and turning the Foobot’s lights on or off. You can’t get specifics of temperature, humidity, VOC or particulates.  On the other hand, you can unofficially integrate Foobot with Samsung SmartThings to get this information – see left. There’s integration too with Nest and Lux thermostats from within the Foobot app: I don’t have either of those so couldn’t test further. At a higher level, there’s integration with IFTTT so there’s plenty of options there too. If air quality poor, turn up the ventilation….

What improvements would I like? Two things come to mind….one, for the alert thresholds to be adjustable to allow for damp countries and, second, for there to be a specific detection and alert for carbon monoxide (CO) with the option of alerting multiple people should it be sensed. CO is a dangerous poisonous gas produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel that kills people in their sleep. I have a gas-burning stove in my home so I’m always conscious of this risk (yes, I have a CO-detector).

Overall, the Foobot does what it sets out to do – it measures indoor air quality – and if you do have a family member who suffers from a condition affected by air quality I think the Foobot is money well spent. I’ve had the Foobot operational in my home for about two months over the summer and I can already see trends associated with weather and indoor activity such as cooking (or burning!). If you are then able to match trends to symptoms, you are well on the way to better managing the medical condition.

Other scenarios might be if you lived near a busy road or a factory, and were concerned about pollution, or even to keep an eye on an elderly relative without going for the complexity of a whole smart home. The relative could “knock knock” every now and then, and you could make sure he or she is warm enough and not skimping on the heating. Just a thought…

I can’t comment on the accuracy of the VOC and particulate figures, but the humidity and temperature measurements were very similar to the values recorded by other smart sensors. Further, the general trends appeared to be correct – people in the room, vacuuming, opening windows, cooking – all impacted as expected on the measurements, so broadly I believe the figures are correct.

The Foobot is available direct from their website priced at US$199 and EU€199. The Foobot is on Amazon.co.uk too for GB£179.

Thanks to Foobot for supplying the unit for review. There’s an unboxing and review video below.


Fibion Brings Science To Activity Tracking (Part 2)



In the first interview, I chatted with one of Fibion‘s partners, Olli Tikkanen, about their approach to activity tracking and how the Fibion team can produce accurate data on movement and lifestyle from the Fibion tracker. This time, I’m speaking with Jonathan Bloomfield, MD of Support2Perform, Human Performance Specialists, here in Northern Ireland, who use Fibion trackers to carryout assessments on clients.

The team at Support2Perfom use the Fibion tracker and the analysis tools to do a deep dive into the wearer’s daily behaviour. The tracker is typically worn for about a week before the data is uploaded and analysed. The results are displayed in different graphics to show the person’s activity in a meaningful way. How much of my day is sitting around?

 

 

This data forms the baseline for change and having made lifestyle changes, the Fibion analysis can be redone to check that they’ve had the desired effect.


Fibion Brings Science to Activity Tracking (Part 1)



Fitbits and other activity trackers are popular: I see them on the waists and wrists of colleagues everyday and I have one myself. Good as they are at encouraging activity, they tend to be a fairly broad brush with an emphasis on hitting targets, typically 10,000 steps. While some trackers attempt show the breadth of activity across the day, they’re not very good at the detail. When was I sitting? When was I standing? How often did I stand up?

The team at Fibion can help answer these questions with their professional sitting and activity analysis, which aims to move away from the gamification of fitness to a scientific assessment for improving health. By combining the Fibion device with algorithms based on scientific research, the Fibion analysis gives accurate results for a week-long measurement, showing how much time is spent sitting versus standing and active.

The device itself might be considered overly plain, but that’s by design. If you don’t see your steps, there’s no incentive to do more, and so the Fibion is more likely to record a representative lifestyle. It’s all about the science.

In the first of two conversations, I interview Fibion partner Olli Tikkanen on their approach and the dimunitive tracker. In part 2, I’ll talk to a professional who uses Fibion to assess activity in the workplace.


How Fresh is Your Air?



I’m lucky enough to live in a small commuter village here in Northern Ireland. If I look out my window, I can see cows munching the grass in a neighbouring field. Many people aren’t this fortunate, and live close to major roads with higher levels of pollution. I think we’re all aware of the increase in asthma and allergies in the past few decades too, and around 5 million people in the UK suffer from various levels of asthma.

And unless fumes are pouring out of an exhaust, most air pollution is invisible to the eye and odourless to the nose. It’s very difficult for us to assess how bad the air quality is in our own homes, even subjectively. For a more objective view the Foobot smart indoor air quality monitor can assess the indoor air and pass the data to its complementary app.

The Foobot is a semi-cylindrical gadget a little taller than a smart phone (17 cm), with what looks like an air vent on top. At first glance it could be mistaken for a smart home hub, but the Foobot has sophisticated sensors to measure gases and chemicals in the air. The Foobot glows blue when air quality is good and turns orange if it becomes poor. In particular, the Foobot measures:

  • VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds, which are toxic gases like ammonia and formaldehyde
  • PM2.5s – Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, like dust, pollen and pet dander
  • Carbon Monoxide, which can be deadly as it binds irreversibly with the haemoglobin in the blood
  • Humidity. High humidity can lead to damp and low humidity is an irritation
  • Temperature

The Foobot can also assess carbon dioxide, but this is derived from other figures – there’s no CO2 sensor. Full specs on the Foobot are here.

As a smart device, the Foobot integrates with other smart home solutions, from Google Nest to Amazon Echo, and with the help of IFTTT, Foobot can also connect to over 120 home appliances, including Hive, the connected thermostat from British Gas. Simplistically, if Foobot detects that the room air quality is becoming poor, then an extractor fan or air conditioner can be turned on to refresh the air. The Foobot itself connects via WiFi and the Foobot app is available for both iOS and Android.

The Foobot is manufactured by AirBoxLab, a Luxembourg-based startup founded by CEO Jacques Touillon, whose son suffered from asthma. Back in 2014 it was an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, formerly called Alima.

I think the Foobot is a good idea, especially if you do have family members who suffer from conditions that respond to air quality. The saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. The Foobot can provide that measurement to help manage the local environment, and hopefully provide relief to sufferers.

The Foobot is available now in US, Canada, Europe and Australia, priced at US$199, GB£170, €199.


Personalised Packets for Pills



As with much of the developed world, life expectancy in the Northern Ireland has increased considerably in the last few decades. With this growth, people are now living with long-term medical conditions. For those 60-69 years old, more than 50% of the population will have at least one medical condition. For 70-79 years old, 50% will have two or more medical problems. We might be living longer, but we’re sicker.

Medication can help with many conditions, but medicine only works if it’s taken and multiple conditions can lead to a bewildering array of pills that need to be taken on a schedule. Trays with Monday-Sunday and am/pm can help but it’s all too easy to make a mistake.

PillPacPlus provide a service that helps with this increasing problem. Instead of giving people many boxes with each box containing a single drug, pharmacies can now dispense medications in sachets, with each one containing all the drugs to be taken at a time. Each sachet on the roll is labelled with the time and date, and this makes it perfectly clear to the patient what has to be taken and when.

For those with dementia, even pre-labelled sachets can be a struggle. To help further, the sachet rolls can be loaded into a dispensing machine (Evondos E300) that is programmed with the schedule. If the patient forgets to take the medication, the machine sounds an alarm to alert him or her. If this doesn’t work, the machine can alert pharmacists and carers about the problem.

It’s all aimed at making sure that the right medication is taken at the right time to manage those long-term conditions. To find out more, I interviewed Lindsay and Sara from PillPacPlus at NICON17. Listen below.


JAM Card Gives People Time



It’s a fast paced world out there and you need all your faculties to keep up. Take too long, and it’s “Next please!” while you’re still standing there. Imagine how much more difficult it is if you do have a learning disability or condition such as Asperger’s and you just need a little more time.

To help people in this situation, the NOW Group has created an app that asks people for “Just A Minute”. The JAM Card app shows staff in retail outlets, transport and other areas of public life that the person needs “Just A Minute” of patience and time when interacting with them.

The smartphone app is based on the original concept of a plastic card and was the idea of people with a disability who said they often felt under pressure when they were out and about in everyday life. They wanted a discreet way of letting people know that they needed a little extra time.

The app is available for both Android and iOS (search for “JAM Card”). At present the app only caters for four specific conditions though they hope to extend it to more over time. The app also allows users to score retail stores and transportation for their helpfulness towards people with disabilities.

For more information, listen to my interview with NOW Group’s Jayne at NICON 17.  If you like what the NOW Group are doing here, you can vote for them over at Digital DNA and help them become a partner charity.


Owlet Smart Sock for Sleeping Babies at CES



The technology to measure physiology is becoming commonplace: any smart watch worthy of the name can record heart rate. The trick now is to incorporate these sensors into other useful gadgets. A good example here is the Owlet Smart Sock which brings reassurance to parents that their baby is sleeping normally.

The Owlet Smart Sock monitors a baby’s heart rate and blood oxygen, alerting parents or carers if either measurement causes concern. The Owlet Smart Sock system has three components; the smart sock or bootie which is worn by the baby on its foot, a monitoring unit and the companion app. The bootie communicates with the monitoring unit via Bluetooth and if there is a problem, parents are notified by visual and audible alerts on the Owlet unit and smartphone(s).

The app is available for both iOS and Android but check compatibility before buying.

The Owlet Smart Sock is available now for $249 direct from Owlet.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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TytoCare Telehealth at CES Keeps Sick Kids at Home



Parents around the world will recognise the perennial problem of taking their child to the doctor for relatively minor ailments simply to get prescription or medication. The kid just wants to be wrapped up in bed watching TV but they’ve to be dragged down to the doctor for 2 minute exam to confirm it’s nothing to worry about. TytoCare have a brilliant solution in the shape of the TytoHome telehealth and remote examination kit. Todd finds out more from Dedi Gilad.

The TytoCare system is a hand-sized unit with a small screen which has icons for the body area to be checked – nose, ears, heart, lungs, temperature. The device uses a selection of interchangeable sensors which are shaped appropriately and are plugged into the rear of the unit.

The device combines a number of medical instruments, including

  • a high resolution video and still camera
  • an infrared forehead thermometer
  • an otoscope for the ear
  • stethoscope for the heart and lungs
  • tongue depressor for the mouth and throat

The TytoHome connects via Bluetooth to any smartphone and the complementary app demonstrates and guides the owner in the use of the device. The collected data is either recorded for later review or on online consultation can be started with a healthcare provider, sending data back to the clinician during the discussion.

The TytoHome is expected to retail at US$299 when it comes to market. There are enhanced versions for professional use (TytoPro and TytoClinic).

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Fall Asleep Effortlessly with 2breathe at CES



Getting enough sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle but for some people the problem isn’t just about getting into bed early enough, it’s about falling asleep. Israeli firm 2breathe has developed a smart sensor and complementary app to help those who have difficulty nodding off. Todd relaxes with Erez.

2breathe is a guided breathing system that uses a body-worn sensor to read the breaths in and out. The app records the breathing rate and then using softly-spoken instructions and gentle music, gradually reduces the breathing speed of the wearer. As the breathing rate slows, the soon-to-be-sleeper will get drowsy and fall asleep. In the morning, the app produces a session report, showing the time to snooze and breathing patterns.

The CES Innovation committee though this was a good idea too, awarding 2breathe a CES Honoree Innovation Award.

2breathe is available now for US$179, either direct from 2breathe or other major online retailers. It’s currently only available for Apple iOS devices.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Bioreline Launches VisoDerm Skin Analyzer at CES 2017



People who want to improve their skin tend to reach for specialized lotions that can help with that. Others change their diet in the hopes that doing so will fix their skin problems. Bioreline (part of the French startup Neobie) has come up with a new solution. Bioreline is launching their new connected skin analyzer at CES 2017.

Bioreline’s new connected skin analyzer is called VisoDerm. It is associated with Bioreline’s organic cosmetics range. According to Bioreline, both VisoDerm and their cosmetics are based on the Vegebiotic (or vegetal science of the skin.) Co-founders of Neobie, Martine and Daniel Constant, are convinced that using all the parts of a plant guarantees a high concentration of active ingredients in their organic cosmetics, and that this is what the body needs.

VisoDerm was created and developed based upon recommendations by beauty professionals. It is compsed of an optical probe that is connected to image processing software. It delivers an objective and scientific skin diagnosis and establishes a personalized skin care treatment as well as a follow-up of the results.

The VisoDerm probe is equipped with 5 million pixels, enabling users to enlarge an image 50 times for a highly accuracte scan of the skin using 4 different lights: visible, scattered (epidermis analysis), polarized (dermis analysis), and UV (pore analysis). VisoDerm also provides an analysis of the skin focused on the following parameters: rate of hydration, sebum secretion, redness, stain, skin complexion, skin structure, pores and wrinkles.

VisoDerm can give you a printable “beauty prescription” that identifies the exclusive treatments at a Biorline Institute and the specific Biorline products that can result in visible and lasting skin improvement.

Visit Neobie at CES 2017 at booth number 50636.