The smart home market is expected to grow from $76.6 billion in 2018 to over $150 billion by 2024, according to marketsandmarkets. But if you’re not even sure what a smart home is, you aren’t alone.
You first need to understand the “internet of things” (aka IoT), which refers to the vast web of everyday objects that have computing devices embedded within them. These devices allow objects to send and receive data all the time.
A smart home uses the internet of things to bring extra convenience and security into daily life. For instance, a smart vacuum like the Ecovacs Atmobot will not only navigate around your house by itself, cleaning as it goes, it will also measure each room’s air quality and provide filtering as needed. A smart doorbell like the Netatmo will grant you remote video access of your front door (and store it for future playback), as well as allow two-way voice communication with any visitor who shows up — even if you’re on the other side of the planet.
As amazing as these (and other smart home technologies) are, the smart home as a whole pales in terms of intrigue and life-changing potential when compared to the “smart body.”
Getting to know the smart body
What is the smart body? It’s whatever you want it to be — that’s what is so compelling. On the more straightforward (and affordable) side, you have products like smartwatches. Among the features the best smartwatches have to offer, you’ll find GPS tracking for outdoor workouts; electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring for heart health (it can even detect atrial fibrillation, a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia); fall detection mode (which grants the wearer easy access to emergency contacts); and even blood pressure monitoring.
On the more incredible side, you have Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is essentially a “brain-machine interface,” or an implant that will enable wearers to control compatible technology with their thoughts. While not yet operational, this kind of “neural lace” and everything it can do is more believable than you might think. In fact, monkeys have been controlling machines with their thoughts for over 15 years!
Watches and computer-interface microchips are not all, though; you can also shop online for smart glasses, smart jewelry, smart clothing — even smart shoe insoles. These smart wearables can measure your heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, brain waves, bio-signals from your muscles, and much more. According to some reports, 1 in 5 Americans already own a smart wearable device. In other words, the smart body isn’t the future, it’s right now.
The future may already be here in a poetic sense, but the untapped potential of smart wearable devices is still where much of their intrigue lies. These technologies can change how we eat, how we sleep, how we exercise, the type of healthcare we get, how we feel about ourselves, how we interact with others … the list goes on.
For medical professionals and healthcare providers, smart body technologies, like the smartwatch that can detect an arrhythmia, can aid in more efficient patient care and better patient outcomes. Imagine a world in which smart wearables are able to detect an imminent heart attack or stroke, in time for the person wearing it to get help. In situations where every second counts, we can use every advantage at our disposal. For patients, the prospects are even brighter.
Harkening back to the original smart wearable, the Life Alert, a story recently came out of Norway in which an elderly gentleman credited the “fall alert” on his Apple smartwatch for saving his life. After the man fainted and fell in his bathroom at home, his Apple watch alerted local police because it failed to detect motion for over a minute. Help arrived quickly, and the 67-year old was found bleeding from four fractures to his skull.
It’s estimated that an American is accidentally injured every second and one is killed every three minutes by a preventable event. Along the same lines, according to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain of some type. That’s over 20 percent of the adult population. Worse yet, around 20 million of those have “high-impact chronic pain,” meaning that it is severe enough pain to frequently limit work and general life activities. The Pew Research Center also reports that over 40 millions Americans have a disability.
Sadly (and while it’s impossible to say how many, exactly), a lot of these cases of chronic pain, injury, and disability are entirely preventable. One of the most amazing things that smart body technology can already do, and will improve at in the future, is helping to prevent or detect these situations in which urgent care is needed, increasing the speed at which care can be provided, and helping to create better long-term outcomes for injury patients.
The future may be unseeable, but it looks bright
Smart body technology will obviously continue to be a boon to healthcare providers and patients alike, but the implications are even larger than that. As an already massive, quickly growing industry, the economic consequences are also something to consider. Not just in the money that there is to be made — but in the money that there is to be saved. Injuries already cost businesses millions per year, and many billions to the U.S. economy as a whole.
As far as what it will all lead to, no one truly knows. Some more pessimistic thinkers worry that big data will be our downfall — government-mandated microchipping certainly sounds ominous. On the other hand, embracing our “smart selves” could be our saving grace, creating opportunities for humans to learn about themselves — and solve problems — more quickly and easily than ever.
Regardless, the potential of these small devices to have an outsized impact on our lives seems inevitable. Now it’s a matter of consciously balancing advances like self-driving vacuum cleaners and smart wearables with critical concerns around privacy, hacking, and Big Brother. As Albert Einstein said well over half a century ago, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Whether we’re able to achieve more of a harmonious balance remains to be seen.