Doctors as gatekeepers

Recently I´ve grown interested in the whole Quantified Self thing. It has many other names,  but the core meaning is clear: We, humans, are beginning to have better and better ways to measure ourselves. [1] This capability increases along 3 axes:

  1. Measuring ourselves is getting cheaper (e.g. measure your heart rate with a phone App)
  2. We can measure much more stuff (e.g. heart rate, physical activity or blood sugar levels were just the beginning, now we can get readings on hemoglobin saturation, ECG, HRV and PWTT all in 10 seconds, with a single device)
  3. We can measure our bodies with increasing precision at levels that used to be reserved for scientists, astronauts or doctors.

More on this later on. [2]

Traditionally speaking, doctors help people by identifying causes for problems and, based on their extensive (and expensive, but more on that later) knowledge, suggest strategies and treatments. While a lot of symptoms require nothing more than a visit to a doctor to be detected and/or identified, others need some more advanced diagnostic procedures and tools. But these are getting easier to get a hold of.

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Workshop “Breathe, Amsterdam”

During my last visit to the Netherlands, there was a workshop on November 18th in Amsterdam, with the people from Combustic, Pachube  and Booreiland. The topic was  the measurement of air quality in Amsterdam and how it could be achieved on a crow-sourced basis.

Each coordinating party zoomed on one aspect, with Casper from Combustic being all about problem solving and bringing the participants together, while Ed (Pachube) was passionate about collection and access of data and the related infra-structure. Sara, who was representing Booreiland, came to talk about their fresh out-of-the-printers book (check it at and how can we design products that take full advantage of the The Internet of Things, with special attention to the user.

To get the ball rolling, there were three really cool presentations on air quality [1]; the making of sensors [2]  and finally the coordination of sensors and actuators for morphing architecture [3].

With these, we got an understanding of methods and techniques of air quality monitoring, the future possibilities of the field and how to integrate the resulting data in adaptive systems.Important questions were raised on the importance of air quality data, how should it be collected, who builds the infrastructure, who funds it, etc…

Now, data collection on a crowdsourced basis has two challenges: the technical accomplishment of designing systems that measure what we want and are cheap enough to spread around, and the management of users motivation to participate. Tech for the first, People for the second. Managing these two is not always easy, as we’ve already learned.

A big part of the workshop was the method developed by Booreiland to design with the user in mind and still make use of the technical advantages of products connected to the Internet. It was a bit challenging to get people to stop thinking about features and tech specs and consider user experience and motivations, but at the end we had some cool ideas and even better, everybody was charged up to meet and work in between the two sessions.

After all, the objective is to get to a working system that could be used to sense and record air quality around Amsterdam.By the end of the workshop, we had decided on which variables to measure, and that we wanted to also measure indoors air quality, to compare it with the exterior.

A number of issues were raised on what constitutes clean air (some pollutants are worse than others, for instance), how to scale up or down the data collection and how manage user participation.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the fun session of actually getting things working, but i was a nice introduction to the topic of data collection and crowdsourcing.

For those of you interested in following what happens there, I suggest you start paying attention to the Internet of Things Amsterdam MeetUp group.

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