According to Forbes, by the year 2020, more than 50 billion internet devices will exist in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect internet-enabled devices—from activity trackers like your Apple Watch and Android Wear to high-tech biometric devices that monitor certain health conditions—and let them share data. The idea behind this is to capture exactly the right kind of data.
The report “Wearable Medical Devices by Application” states that the global wearable medical device market is projected to reach $12.14 billion by 2021, up from $5.31 billion in 2016, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 percent during the forecast period. Indeed, there’s a good chance that we’ll see some of the best wearable tech in the coming years.
But the future of wearable computing and biometric technology needs security, efficiency and cost-effective systems in place. Blockchain may be one way to help facilitate that all along the supply chain.
What is blockchain? Originally used to facilitate transfers of virtual currency like Bitcoin, blockchain makes the transfer of personal data much safer. It is a tamper-proof distributed digital ledger that records transactions. Rather than different parties keeping their own records of a transaction, which could possibly cause chaos and security issues, blockchain creates one master record. This cannot be changed once a transaction is recorded. All parties must give consent before a new transaction is added to the network, providing a system of checks and balances.
How does it relate to wearables? Wearable devices can do wonders for patients. In practice, wearables can be used to promote a healthy lifestyle. For example, a health insurer might reward a patient to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, a blockchain Smart Contract can be used to reward a patient who proves health via data from an IoT-enabled wearable device.
To facilitate the safe transfer of biometric data, blockchain networks are used. Blockchain has multiple uses in healthcare, apart from medical devices themselves.
The major concerns blockchain addresses are:
Within a blockchain system, every connected device needs to store a copy of the database. Considering the number of transactions happening in an IoT network, it would be impossible for small devices such as wearable technology to store this huge amount of data since there is very limited storage space.
To counter this, specialized blockchain which does not need to store a whole copy of database has been designed to work with small IoT devices such as wearables. A modified form of blockchain is being researched for this. It enforces validation rules but is built to be fully distributed through sharing, so each node only needs to hold a portion of the data instead of a full copy of a global ledger.
Thus, it is possible to run blockchain-like applications on databases, such as those that store electronic health records. Patients’ treatment is confidential and crucial as a hospital abides by and conforms with HIPAA standards. Sharing with healthcare partners is crucial.
Wearable technology includes smart electronic devices that can be worn, including fitness trackers, smart watches, communication gadgets, wristbands, hearing aids and more.
Apple Watch, Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit Alta, Samsung Gear S2 and Huawei Watch are just some of the wearables out there today. Google and Amazon Wearable Technology are two major players hard at work creating new and unique wearable computing devices.
Health wearables can collect biometric information, including:
- Heart rate (ECG and HRV)
- Brainwave (EEG)
- Muscle bio signals (EMG)
Wearable technology is often used to monitor a user’s health. Given that such a device is in close contact with the user, it can easily collect data.
Wearables can be used to collect data on a user’s health, including:
- Heart rate
- Calories burned
- Steps walked
- Blood pressure
- Time spent exercising
These functions are often bundled together in a single unit, like an activity tracker or a smartwatch like the Apple Watch Series or Samsung Galaxy Gear Sport. Devices like these are used for physical training and monitoring overall physical health.
Currently, other applications within healthcare are being explored, such as:
- Measuring blood alcohol content
- Measuring athletic performance
- Monitoring how sick the user is
There is a wide range of ways that wearable tech can improve health and security. Cutting-edge devices may measure or track behavioral biometrics—characteristics such as a person’s gait or signature—to facilitate biometric authentication. They might store your vital signs, physical activity level and other factors into a biometric database.
For example, the NFL currently mandates that all its players wear Zebra Technologies’ tracking chips on their shoulder pads during games to transmit positional and movement data, not pure biometrics like heart rate and other internal data. The NFLPA reached a landmark deal with wearable company WHOOP about a year ago in which the players will have ownership of their own data and reserve the right to monetize it.
Wearable technology is another major innovation that seems to be taking the world by storm, despite its huge potential for security risks. Most wearable technology products are just a “secondary screen experience” for whatever is going on with your mobile device, but that situation could change soon.
Every piece of wearable runs an operating system, which could be vulnerable to malicious attacks. Using technology solutions such as Factom would keep data stored safely on the blockchain, rather than keeping it on a device located on your wrist or neck.
While wearables can collect data in aggregate form, they have yet to analyze or make conclusions based on this data. Wearables cannot account for the differing health needs of an individual; they can only collect data. Because of this, wearables are currently used primarily for information about general well-being but not for making decisions about one’s health. This is rapidly changing, and wearables are becoming much more interactive.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) describes biometrics as being “unique physical characteristics” that can be used for “automated recognition.” Think of biometric identification systems, such as fingerprint scanners, facial recognition technology, iris scans and voice recognition. These biometric identifiers are unique to you, so they help ensure that your personal information is private and secure.
The applications of biometrics are diverse and wide ranging. Today, we can unlock our smartphones with our fingerprints and use our voices to gain access to sensitive information, such as our banking details.
For its part, the DHS says it uses biometrics to, among other things, “detect and prevent illegal entry into the U.S.” and enforce federal laws.
Also, a recent market intelligence report predicts that by the year 2020, 100 percent of smartphones, wearables and tablets will have biometric capabilities. This is very good news to 66 percent of the survey respondents who think biometrics are strong authentication and accountability tools that are convenient and hard to fake. Biometric information might be the best way to keep our information safe.
“We were alarmed to find that consumers think the use of fingerprint and facial recognition to gain access to their devices or logins makes them safer. This is not always the case, especially when biometrics are used as the only method to authenticate a user. Biometrics as a second factor for authentication are best because as a single factor, there is major risk. If the biometric is stolen, it can never be changed. Biometrics are simply a convenience method that call upon a password to authenticate the user,” said Darren Guccione, CEO and co-founder of Keeper Security. “While this action is convenient, if the underlying password is weak, for example, 123456, the account can be easily compromised.”
There are major hurdles to overcome when it comes to these disruptive technological innovations. Factom, wearable technology and even the decentralization of services are all being greeted by wariness at this time. However, by creating use cases nearly every person on the planet can relate to, Factom and the blockchain will make the world a safer place, and not just for wearable gadgets or medical records.
Why It Matters
Bringing blockchain technology to any aspect of life is an uphill battle. Most people, especially those in seats of power, are stuck in their traditional ways of thinking. Until they can see how platforms like Factom can improve upon existing solutions, they will not be swayed to make any changes. Sooner or later, these institutions will come across an issue they can no longer solve through traditional means, and that is the moment when blockchain technology will make sense to them. However, it will be too late by then, as they will have lost the trust of their customers.
So, there you have it….blockchain, wearables and biometrics are The Holy Trinity!