Wearables, IoT, and the Quantified Self

Societal and technology trends are converging and have the promise of being fully integrated in the future. I’ve been fascinated by the societal trend toward health, fitness, and optimizing behavior and the ways in which technology trends such as mobile, wearable, and what is referred to as the Internet of Things are converging. I tend to be an early adopter of anything tech so I’ve been exploring these technologies personally. I’m often asked about all of this so thought I’d share my experiences in this post. 

My iPhone now has an M9 motion coprocessor integrated into the A9 chip that connects to the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and barometer to measure my running or walking pace as well as my steps, distance, and elevation changes. Using the iPhone with my Apple Watch with it’s Activity app, I can now select what fitness activity I’ll be engaged in and then track my progress directly on my wrist. I also get taptic feedback discreetly on my wrist when I’ve met particular milestones. I also get that taptic feedback as a reminder to stand for at least one minute per hour as well. The Activity display nicely visualizes how I’m progressing toward my goals for standing, moving, and exercising. I try to become “whole" each day by having complete circles for each activity by the end of the day. 

I’ve also been using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone and watch. The app allows me to track what I eat and drink and also what exercise I’m doing each day. I used apps like this some years ago and it was so difficult at the time because you had to manually input all the information. With the current app, all I do is search for or select the food or drink or simply scan the UPC code of a product in front of me. The app intelligently estimates the serving size almost perfectly but you can also modify it. The exercise metrics are captured automatically from the iOS Health app on my phone and also from the Activity app on my watch. 

In addition to my phone and watch with their apps, I also use devices from Withings including a scale that measures weight, body mass index, and fat mass, and also a blood pressure cuff that provides measurements of systolic and diastolic readings and heart rate. All of these data are also automatically captured by the iOS Health app and thereby to the other iOS apps like MyFitnessApp.  

I’ve recently been using one other device which tracks my driving. It’s a small telematics device that connects to my vehicle’s OBD2 port. It tracks and transmits distance travelled, the time of the day I travel, sudden braking, and rapid acceleration. My insurance company provided an incentive of a 5 percent reduction in my insurance premium for installing the device and up to a 25 percent reduction for really good driving behavior. I actually just wanted to try the device. The app allows me to see the details of every trip I take and gives me a summary of the key measurements including any “events” which are instances of what it deems to be bad or risky driving. 

As you can see, I now have sensors which are quantifying many aspects of my life and through the Internet of Things technologies together with mobile and wearable devices, I can view the data at a glance on my wrist. So, how has all of this changed my life? It has changed me in some pretty dramatic ways. I’m way more aware of my health and what impacts it. Being able to see at a glance how many calories I’ve consumed versus how many I’ve expended by itself has made a huge difference. Drilling down into the details and seeing the impact of certain foods in terms of their caloric and nutritional value and also the health benefits of particular activities has been eye opening. This is truly actionable information and I regularly change my behavior based on it. It’s important to point out that it wasn’t just the activity monitoring, or the automatic uploading of my scale information, or recording what I eat. It was all of it integrated together via the iOS Health app and visualizing it together on my phone and in particular my watch that made the real difference. I’ve significantly improved my health indicators.

The assessment of my driving behavior has been interesting. The act of monitoring and visualizing things like my acceleration and braking has had a substantial impact on my driving. While I may have driven aggressively at times in the past, I no longer do that at all and my family has noticed the difference too. I’ve introspected about what this change really was all about and I’ve determined that it is mostly that it has gamified good driving behavior. I feel good at the end of a week when I see five stars with no so called events, or bad driving behavior. 

It used to be that medical practitioners would provide you with the measurements of your health when you go for an annual checkup and if those measurements were significantly off the norm, they would suggest corrective action often involving expensive medications or surgical procedures. These new directions in technology enable individuals to track their health in real time and make changes in behavior based on them proactively and preventatively. Similarly, driving behaviors that are more risky in the past would have resulted some of the time in accidents and expensive repairs. Whereas now with these technologies, a driver is able to assess and be motivated to have optimal driving behavior resulting in a lowered likelihood of accidents and resulting costs.

I think the future looks bright for the quantified self enabled through the Internet of Things technologies together with mobile and wearable technology.