An Internet of Things that matter


We’re living in a world of smart, connected devices. According to reports, there are currently around 25 billion of these connected devices on the planet, and this number will double by 2020. That’s about eight smart devices for each person on earth. But do we really need to be able to switch on a coffee machine from the bedroom, or turn the lights off from the comfort of a chair?

Jens Rosenstand, Head of Product Management at Oticon, was involved in the development of Oticon Opn, the world’s first internet connected hearing aid. He talks about how the potential of smart devices to help improve our lives can reach further than simple convenience. The goal is to create an ‘Internet of Things that matter’.

How do you view the rise of IoT so far?

Certainly from a smart devices perspective it has boomed. What we’re seeing develop at the moment is better ways to use these devices, and applications that go beyond convenience to make a genuine difference to people’s lives. This is obviously our modus operandi at Oticon – we’re in the business of changing lives, and helping people with hearing loss to overcome day to day difficulties. The Internet of Things and smart devices was central to this with the launch of Opn – that and our choice of platform. While we believe the design, comfort and sheer processing power of Opn to be truly revolutionary, from a connected devices perspective it’s really the application of If This Then That (IFTTT) that unlocks the potential.

Currently IFTTT includes over 350 channels or ‘smart products’ and this number is rising all the time. The great thing about IFTTT is that it’s a community-based platform, so people can constantly add ideas for recipes or actual recipes they’ve used to help drive creativity and add functionality that others may not have considered. Opn is the first hearing device compatible with the service, and when we start imagining the various ways these devices can be connected and work together to enhance our lives, the possibilities are endless.

What does Opn and IFTTT bring to the table from a connected devices perspective?

Being the first hearing device to be compatible with IFTTT represents a quantum leap forward for hearing devices and smart devices working together. The fact that we can interact with so many third party devices – coffee machines, doorbells, baby monitors – all that kind of stuff, that’s really cool because nobody has ever done this before, and it’s a market that is growing every single day. So instead of us having predefined fixed devices that you can use, we simply open up to whatever you want to connect to. We don’t define what is possible; all the companies that join the IFTTT system define that. We are part of a huge ecosystem, and working through IFTTT, our possibilities are expanded the very second new connected devices become available.

The important thing to know here is that devices and services people depend on for their health and safety can join today’s more entertainment and convenience-oriented offerings. For example, children with a hearing loss depend on their hearing aid – a dead battery is much more than an inconvenience. An IoT hearing aid can address this issue by sending a text message to a parent when the battery is running low, or a mother with hearing loss can benefit with an alert to her hearing aid from the baby monitor when her baby is crying.

What are some other examples of the use of smart devices for the hearing impaired?

The list of channels and devices currently present on IFTTT is huge. You could create a recipe to alert you via a hearing aid with a customised text to speech alert when someone rings the door bell. For the hearing impaired this means they can move about their home without worrying that they’ll miss a visitor, and for the visitor it could help to avoid anything from mild inconvenience to genuine concern.

You could create links to smart medical devices to remind you to take medicine or a blood pressure reading, or to remind you of an appointment with a doctor or carer. Consider something that an elderly person does every day – perhaps turn on the coffee machine or switch on their hearing aid or the bathroom light. With connected smart devices a notification can be sent via SMS or email to a carer when this action is taken, and in turn a message can be played to let the individual know – “we’ve let Susan know you’re ok”. There are even smart pillboxes now that you can configure to send a similar message, but this time to notify that medicine has been taken, and perhaps in this instance it would be also sent to a medical practitioner.

You can also configure recipes to work based on geo-location to, for example, send an SMS or message to let someone know you’ve made it back home ok. For people with hearing loss who have young children this function could be combined with a GPS tracker, perhaps placed in a schoolbag, to let them know the child has made it to school ok, or made it back home.

Or consider a security camera in the home – if these cameras detect movement, they might typically send you an email or perhaps an SMS. Here you could have it immediately alert you through the hearing aid, allowing you to log in to your security camera feed to see what’s going on and react accordingly. The same goes for a smoke detector, water leakage detectors – all kinds of alert systems that you can buy today.

We don’t in any way limit what people can do, we just offer access to the system to allow them to go in and create all kinds of recipes in an extremely easy way – no programming, no technical knowledge required.

How easy is all of this to do?

A very interesting question I’ve been asked is ‘what about elderly people who do not have the skills to set this up, can they still benefit?’ The answer is yes, they can really benefit. Setting up recipes is really, really easy using IFTTT. With a bit of practice and perhaps a bit of help to begin with it’s straightforward to build a recipe and then tweak and change it as you see fit.

But let us imagine an elderly person who has no access or inclination to set up recipes on IFTTT. A friend or relative could set up a recipe for the benefit of both people. For example let’s say you create a recipe for your elderly mother that informs you if the batteries on her hearing aid are getting low. You could then phone her up and let her know they need to be changed, or pay a visit to do it for her. So it could also be used to assist elderly people who are not that confident with technology.

What does the future hold?

There’s no doubt that connecting devices to the internet is the future, and it’s happened right now. You can see it with all kinds of crazy devices. I just heard a couple of weeks ago that a tyre company are going to build in small, low-energy chips into tyres, which connect to the car, and via the car they will be able to trigger alarms if the tyre pressure gets low or the tyre gets worn, or the wrong types of tyres are being used on the wrong surface – all of this information from a tyre.

We are just at this start of this amazing journey – it’s exploding around us right now, and we can’t stop it. So we decided to join it instead! We are already embracing the technology of the future with Opn, and the range of possibilities to develop this further is endless.

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