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From Bathroom to Bedroom: Insights from CES 2018

January 24, 2018

CES is always a bit of a phenomena and I, like many others, carefully follow the news and trends in consumer health technology being showcased in Vegas. I am especially interested in how some of the newest technologies might impact our work, and seeing how connected health tools are evolving. This is the first year in many that I haven’t attended CES, but have relied on ample news coverage from major media outlets, as well as trusted sources such as Jane Sarasohn-Kahn’s HealthPopuli blog.

At first blush, I was struck by the fact that a number of the trends and technologies at CES were featured in my new book, The New Mobile Age:  How Technology Will Extend the Healthspan and Optimize the Lifespan. We wrote extensively about things like social robots, artificial intelligence, vocal biomarkers and facial decoding that will analyze emotion, anticipate health problems, improve quality of life and enable better relationships with healthcare providers. As was evident at CES, these types of health tech innovations will create a better and more responsive healthcare system for everyone — and help keep older adults vital, productive and indepentent. It has also been interesting, and quite rewarding, to see how the concepts and offerings we wrote about 2+ years ago in The Internet of Healthy Things are coming into the marketplace as well.

But let’s explore some of the consumer health technologies to watch in 2018:

Moen Smart Shower

Just how far can tech invade your personal life before you say enough?
From the perspective of the popular press, the highlights from CES this year were on embedded voice activation in everything, different variations on robots and new technologies taking over the bathroom.  Both Kohler (smart mirror and voice activated toilet) and Moen (smart shower, controlled by voice activation) made headlines.  Each year, CES has a controversial theme and this is as good an example as any.  Is the bathroom, the one room that we don’t really want to be monitored?  While the smart toilet has been a phenomenon in Japan for years, it has been slow to take off in the U.S.  Queue up the privacy advocates on that one.

Modius Headband

Wearables have not gone away
Chapter 1 of The Internet of Healthy Things looked into the not-to-distant future and introduced Sam, my omniscient personal virtual health assistant. Sam was able to not only predict the right health care behaviors for me, but could cajole me into achieving them due to a mix of rich data inputs and a deep understanding of behavior change psychology.  Sam was collecting and analyzing my data from vital sign and sleep monitoring, geo-location and other IOT technologies.  Since the book was released just two years ago, we’ve seen all aspects of this scenario get closer to reality.  Wearables has not softened as a category and, with new entrants, keeps getting more interesting.

One new wearable device that caught some attention this year is Modius.  It arrives in a headband form factor and stimulates the part of the brain that is involved in appetite suppression.  You wear it 60 minutes a day and it allegedly alters your hunger.  It is connected to your smartphone, of course, and the company plans to utilize community as a strategy to promote adherence.

Robots for elder care is becoming a category
In The New Mobile Age, we pay a good deal of attention to robots, especially in the context of caregiving.  This category is broad — for example, we can even think of the now-ubiquitous Amazon Echo as a social robot.  But social robots are becoming much more interesting than that.  Japan leads the way in the use of these tools, and represent a harbinger of what we’ll be experiencing in the rest of the developed world in the coming years.  The reason is pretty obvious: 27% of the population in Japan is over 65, as compared with 13% in the U.S.  Robots represent one very important tool to move caregiving from one-to-one (our current model) to one-to-many.  What kinds of tasks can robots handle as our older citizens need more attention?  We have to thread the needle between a dystopian future — where our elders are cut off from human contact and deal only with machines — versus today’s model that stretches families and caregivers to the breaking point, who are often caring for both children and parents, frequently separated by great geographic distance.

ElliQ Tabletop Robot

We highlight Catalia Health’s Mabu and Ohmnilabs’ Omnhi in the book, as well as Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets which has been well-received in assisted living and long-term care faclities to stem loneliness and, in some cases, reduce anxiety, especially among dementia patients. But two entrants from CES are also worth mentioning.  One is ElliQ, an AI-driven table top robot that is meant to be part elder companion and part connectivity with family members via traditional communications channels.  The company’s website suggests that ElliQ’s value will be in the user interface, making it easy for the user to access all of these tools through a combination of voice prompts and vocal responses to verbal reminders from the robot.  Another interesting entrant is Somnox, which presents initially as a pillow that you can cuddle with in bed, but reacts to your breathing patterns and allegedly helps you get a better night sleep. While the company does not emphasize the robot as a companion, you can’t help but wonder if it is part of a tool kit to deal with isolation, which we know is prevalent in the elderly and has great negative consequences on the healthspan.

Jibo Robot

I’ll also use this opportunity to reference my friend Jane’s post (linked above) and her thoughts that sleep technologies were a big theme this year at CES.  To round out the category, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jibo, which is the robot that has probably gotten the most press.  The fact that there are so many emerging robots is really exciting.  There are lots of challenges in the space right now – cost, business model, improvements in AI. But we need this category to succeed if we are going to conquer the biggest challenge we raise in The New Mobile Age – bringing the healthspan into focus with the lifespan.

CES is part crystal ball, part circus.  Companies showcase a bit of their R & D and everyone’s goal is to appear to be on the cutting edge.  Over the last decade or so, there have been more and more companies showcasing at the intersection of health and technology.  This category keeps getting larger and more interesting.  That is very encouraging to me because if we’re going to solve the immense challenges detailed in The Internet of Healthy Things and The New Mobile Age, this category has to succeed.

I wonder what the theme will be next year? I’ve got a few ideas….


4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2018 11:58 am

    Loved your question re American readiness for an “invasion of the bathroom” by the internet of things.

    In my exploration of the toileting options for manual wheelchair users unable to safely access a flush toilet, I can tell you that “bathroom reticence” is replete in public health survey questions. Te euphemistic phrase, “go to the bathroom” is frequenty used to collect unmet need data for toileting.

    This confounds the efforts of innovators who KNOW that many people use toilet substitutes because they can’t afford to remodel their bathroom to accommodate wheelchairs/assistive devices, or even with such assistance they have trouble maneuvering on/off the toilet. Or they use combinations of assistive devices, i.e., raised toilet seat during the day when a caregiver is present to help but an adult brief at night when no one is around to help. All of that is captured in the phrase, “go to the bathroom” – yet each choice requires different resources, present different risks of adverse events, etc. Perhaps it is time to get more comfortable with talking about pee’ing and poo’ing.

    The lack of specificity of the question also impacts caregivers – musculoskeletal injury is a real and present danger for those who help people to transfer and/or sit-stand. Yet, we know very little about how often caregivers find themselves at risk when assisting with toileting. T

    Care recipients and family caregivers deserve more information about the cost-benefit tradeoffs of the various toileting substitute options out tthere.

    Check out:
    Beer, JM McBride SE Mitzner TL Rogers WA Understanding Challenges in the Front Lines of Home Health Care: A Human-Systems Approach, Appl Ergon. 2014 November ; 45(6): 1687–1699. doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2014.05.019.
    King E Holliday P Andrews GJ Care Challenges in the Bathroom: The Views of Professional Care Providers Working in Clients’ Homes, Journal of Applied Gerontology 0733464816649278, first published on May 29, 2016 doi:10.1177/0733464816649278

  2. January 24, 2018 1:36 pm

    thanks so much for taking the time to post this thoughtful, additional commentary

  3. March 7, 2018 11:06 am

    great article – would love to buy the book but can’t find a digital copy only the paperback. please let me know when digi version is available!

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