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Big health is driving big data

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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.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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CES: So long, and thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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