An engineer uses IoT to tackle illness

Daniel Strabley’s day job is helping to protect the U.S. from weapons of mass destruction. He works on a software suite that interacts with sensors to detect chemical and radiation threats. The sensor information, as you may imagine, is complicated, and one of his tasks is to make it understandable to users.

The work on detecting weapons of mass destruction is similar in concept to what Strabley is doing to help his wife’s grandfather, who is suffering from dementia. He has written software that can help people with varying degrees of cognitive issues, and is using sensors such as Amazon’s new IOT buttons, to improve communication.

Walter Remiger worked as a sweet potato farmer and cement truck driver. But earlier this year he moved to an assisted living facility in St. Louis, Mo. because of health issues. Soon after, cognitive problems arrived. It’s difficult for him to keep track of time and schedules or known when the Cardinals are set to play.

Strabley, a user engineer, works for WWT Asynchrony Labs; the company develops a range of software, including sensor integration, for corporate, government and military clients. It’s important and meaningful work, said Strabley, although he can say the same about what he is now doing to help his family.

Using Android tablets, Strabley created a simple clock that also uses photos, such as those from his farm, to communicate time of day. Strabley kept adding to the system: pill reminders, doctor’s appointments, lunch and dinner schedule, Cardinal start times and TV channel. The software can scale up to be more interactive for game playing and communication, or kept simple — all depending on the capabilities of the user. It can be designed to show the names and faces of visitors.

“We’re designing technology for people who don’t know technology,” said Strabley.

Amazon’s “Dash Buttons” are wireless buttons connected to a specific product, such as detergent, plastic bags or crackers. When you run out of a product, press the button and an order for more is processed. Strabley began hacking the Dash Buttons for his own needs, but Amazon — perhaps realizing that others were hacking Dash Buttons as well — recently announced a limited release of an IOT button that can be programmed using AWS services.

For Remiger’s fellow residents, the main form of communications are white boards and notes, and they are often out of date from room-to-room, said Strabley.

Strabley and his wife, Jessica, are now working on scaling the system to work in an institution, and to develop a business around their efforts. The system is named Wally, after Mr. Remiger.

The development work includes designing different types of Android tablets for different users. For some, removing all of the tablet buttons may be best, as well as sending out alerts when it is disconnected from a power source. Expanding the sensors to work with other off-the-shelf systems, such as the Leeo sensor that listens for smoke or carbon monoxide alarms and sends out alerts, is on tap. The software will also have to adjust to a user’s capabilities.

The Amazon buttons are a “huge game changer” in developing a way for users to signal alerts, said Strabley, who is also working on ways to use the buttons to indicate happiness or distress.

To read the rest of this article, published in Computerworld, please click here.