If big data seems to be something remote, think again: it’s becoming a big part of your health picture, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
It’s no surprise that the health industry has taken so strongly to fitness tracking devices: every day, these gadgets stream information on a level that previously was only possible from a medical checkup – which takes place only once a year, if at all.
When Microsoft entered the crowded fitness tracker market with its Band device 18 months ago, the big news wasn’t in the device itself. The real story was the launch of Microsoft Health, a wellness tracking platform powered by cloud computing. It wasn’t a first, but the entry of the software giant into an area where the early running seemed to be made by Google Fit and Apple Health was deeply significant.
For one thing, it meant that health tracking was now a priority for a company focused both on leveraging the cloud and making sense of Big Data – the ability to turn massive volumes of information into business intelligence.
It also meant that, regardless of the success of the Band, the platform would evolve to take advantage of the intensifying stream of health data being pumped out by millions of other wearable devices. For now, that market is dominated by Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, Samsung Gear and Jawbone UP. However, a strong push from Chinese manufacturers like Lenovo, Xiaomi and Huawei is likely to change the early shape of the industry.
Even in South Africa, fitness bands or activity trackers are beginning to graduate from fad to trend to mainstream. The local market is led by Fitbit, which at one stage threatened to become the generic name for activity trackers globally. In an interview last year, US president Barack Obama said he was planning to get a Fitbit – but appeared to be talking about the category rather than the brand. He suggested he might consider an Apple Watch.
In the USA, Fitbit sells two-thirds of all activity trackers. For wearables in general, including smart watches, its share drops below half, but it still leads the market. In South Africa, it helped that it was endorsed by Discovery Health, which gave members of the Vitality wellness programme bonus points for using the device. Discovery did the same for brands like Garmin, Nike, Fitbug, Jawbone, Polar and Adidas.
In the near future, it is likely that medical insurance companies will plug into the devices as well as the platforms. Since Microsoft Health also acts as a hub for data from other monitoring platforms, like MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, there is little reason it can’t become a catch-all health data aggregator.
Combine this kind of functionality with information collected by health practitioners – including nutritional assessments and medical check-ups – and it becomes possible to make precise connections between behaviour and health. The significance of the role of big data here is that recommendations can then be made across large populations as well as for specific individuals.
Right now, many individuals who are committed to healthy living depend heavily on health magazines that offer glib and generalised advice as silver bullets, when in fact this represents a scattergun approach. In the near future, big health data will mean that every individual will potentially have access to highly personalised diagnostics and advice.
There will be many pitfalls along this path, such as “wrist spam”, when too much data is offered, and false alerts, when people are for example wrongly warned of impending heart attacks. Privacy will become an increasing challenge, and laws will probably be passed to dictate what information health and life insurance companies may collect, how it must be stored, and how they can use that information to weight insurance premiums.
The biggest threat of all, however, is likely to be security: in the same way many hackers now make a living from stealing financial data, many will in future try to harvest health and activity data for sale to the highest bidders.
The stakes are high, with massive benefits for the main stakeholders: individuals managing their own health destinies; cloud computing companies hosting the data; practitioners providing scientifically tailored care; researchers getting the most accurate insights yet from trials; and insurance companies requiring interventions when anomalies appear. For each of these, it’s the small insights lurking in the big data that will make all the difference.
There will be many not-so-obvious stakeholders too, in particular the companies that manufacture wearable monitoring devices. Knowing what makes the biggest difference in big data will aslo depend increasingly on these small increments in data that each of us is streaming into our devices, and from there into the world.
YouTube Music announces Smart Downloads, SA playlists
The service has introduced Smart Downloads which takes allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically.
The latest updates from YouTube Music, for subscribers of its Music Premium and Premium services, include a new feature that allows users to switch seamlessly between a song and its music video for an uninterrupted experience.
It has also introduced Smart Downloads which takes the work out of downloading music, allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically. YouTube Music has also announced new playlists for South Africa.
The updates all reflect features that are popular on the global leader in music streaming, Spotify, and that have been key to its growth.
YouTube said in a statement on Friday: “Imagine listening to a new track by your favourite artist in the YouTube Music app and having the ability to seamlessly switch over to watch the music video – no pauses, no interruptions, just a simple tap that keeps the music flowing. This standout new feature from YouTube Music allows YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium subscribers to make a seamless transition between a song and its music video for uninterrupted listening and/or watching. Whether you’re in the mood for listening or watching (or a little of both)… it’s all here – no app switching required.”
With Smart Downloads, YouTube Music automatically saves music at night, when connected to Wi-Fi, helping subscribers to use less mobile data, enjoy a smoother updating experience and save up to 500 songs offline using Liked Songs playlist as well as other playlists and albums.
Previously, music lovers could use the Offline Mixtape feature to download up to 100 songs, specifically chosen for them based on what they listened to most on the platform. Now, with Smart Downloads, they select the number of songs they would like automatically downloaded by toggling their YouTube Music Settings. This means YouTube Music Premium subscribers with Smart Downloads enabled on their mobile devices can now access hundreds of tracks regardless of connectivity.
This feature is currently available on Android, with plans to bring it to iOS in the future.
Click here to read more about YouTube Music playlists, and find out what is inside them.
Make cars, not waste
Jaguar Land Rover is trialling an innovative recycling process which converts plastic waste into a new premium grade material that could feature on future vehicles.
It’s estimated that the amount of waste plastic is predicted to exceed 12 million tonnes globally by 2050*. Today, not all of this plastic can be recycled for use in automotive applications – especially in vehicle parts that are required to meet the most exacting safety and quality standards.
Working in conjunction with chemical company, BASF, Jaguar Land Rover is part of a pilot project called ChemCycling that upcycles domestic waste plastic, otherwise destined for landfill or incinerators, into a new high-quality material.
The waste plastic is transformed to pyrolysis oil using a thermochemical process. This secondary raw material is then fed into BASF’s production chain as a replacement for fossil resources; ultimately producing a new premium grade that replicates the high quality and performance of ‘virgin’ plastics. Importantly, it can be tempered and coloured making it the ideal sustainable solution for designing the next-generation dashboards and exterior-surfaces in Jaguar and Land Rover models.
Jaguar Land Rover and BASF are currently testing the pilot phase material in a Jaguar I-PACE prototype front-end carrier overmoulding to verify it meets the same stringent safety requirements of the existing original part.
Pending the outcome of the trials and progression in taking chemical recycling to market readiness, adoption of the new premium material would mean Jaguar Land Rover could use domestically derived recycled plastic content throughout its cars without any compromise to quality or safety performance**.
Chris Brown, Senior Sustainability Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Plastics are vital to car manufacturing and have proven benefits during their use phase, however, plastic waste remains a major global challenge. Solving this issue requires innovation and joined-up thinking between regulators, manufacturers and suppliers.
“At Jaguar Land Rover, we are proactively increasing recycled content in our products, removing single-use plastics across our operations and reducing excess waste across the product lifecycle. The collaboration with BASF is just one way in which we are advancing our commitment to operating in a circular economy.”
This is the latest example of Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to addressing the challenge of waste plastic. The company has collaborated with Kvadrat to offer customers alternative seat options that are both luxurious and sustainable. The high-quality material, available initially on the Range Rover Velar and Range Rover Evoque, combines a durable wool blend with a technical suedecloth that is made from 53 recycled plastic bottles per vehicle.
Jaguar Land Rover has already met its 2020 target for Zero Waste to Landfill for UK operations. This includes the removal of 1.3 million m2 – equal to 187 football pitches – of plastic from its manufacturing lineside and replacing 14 million single use plastic items in business operations.
Together, these efforts are driving towards Jaguar Land Rover’s vision for Destination Zero; an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner. Delivered through relentless innovation to adapt its products and services to the rapidly-changing world, the company’s focus is on achieving a future of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion.
** All Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles tested have achieved a Euro NCAP 5* rating.