Prof Luc de Witte
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
Various industrial partners
Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund (CCF)
The Internet of Things promises to alter radically the way that care is delivered. In order to ensure this change is to the benefit of all, we need to identify and develop best practices that lead to effective, acceptable and safe applications.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is generic term that describes any connected system of digital devices deployed to monitor and control some process or environment. The devices collect and share data (which may describe people, things, activities or state parameters); the data is processed and analysed; the results are interpreted and acted upon in order to maintain or improve matters according to some goal criteria; and the cycle repeats, creating a continuous control loop. The analysis and control measures can be manual or automated, or some hybrid of the two. Typical applications include management of manufacturing production lines and environmental quality monitoring.
IoT opens up exciting new possibilities for providing cost-effective care, and for giving people greater control over their own health and wellbeing. For instance, home-based monitoring could allow earlier detection of health conditions or provide mechanisms for remote safeguarding that would let people live independently in their own homes for longer. However, the care sector operates with tight budgets and is rightly cautious when it comes to new technologies; and IoT has yet to demonstrate that it can deliver significant long-term advantages to the sector.
Pitch-In (Promoting the Internet of Things by Collaboration between Higher education institutions and Industry) is a project led by The University of Sheffield, and involving The Universities of Cambridge, Newcastle and Oxford, as well as various industrial and commercial partners. The three-year project runs until mid-2021, and is funded by Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund to the tune of just under £5m. The project activities focus on addressing the key barriers to IoT uptake across four thematic areas: manufacturing, energy, smart cities, and health and wellbeing.
Prof. Luc de Witte of CATCH manages the health and wellbeing theme for Pitch-In. Within the theme, most of the activity centres on the commissioning and delivery of collaborative mini-projects, each involving one or more of the partner universities and external organisations as appropriate, and each addressing issues that represent recognised obstacles to the use of IoT in the health and wellbeing sector. To date mini-projects have been commissioned to raise awareness of IoT within the sector, to develop practices for sharing and analysing polysomnography (sleep analysis) data, and to trial the use of IoT for point-of-care biomarker testing of mental health patients, to give just three examples.
Each mini-project involves bringing together the right people – technologists, healthcare professionals, caregivers and, not least, prospective service users – to explore the potential of IoT and the implications it has for our care services. The findings contribute to a wider understanding of how to develop the right applications of IoT in the right way; this means applications that are:
- Safe: they must not harm users or their interests, and must not impair the wider operation of care services.
- Effective: the benefits they provide outweigh the risks, and so they improve the lives of users and care givers, or else lead to more efficient delivery of care.
- Acceptable: systems should be useable, meet users’ expectations and conform to society’s ethical standards.
- Affordable: the cost of deploying and maintaining systems is compensated by improved outcomes or productivity gains in the long run.
For more details see the Pitch-In website: https://pitch-in.ac.uk