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#NewTech: The Google Chrome Bit: Just what exactly is it?

Search giant Google and Taiwanese laptop major Asus this week unveiled the Google Chromebit, a “computer on a stick” which can plug into a display to turn it into a PC.

Google said in a blog post that the Asus Chromebit would be arriving mid-year with a low price tag. 

“Smaller than a candy bar, the Chromebit is a full computer that will be available for less than $100,” Google said.

“By simply plugging this device into any display, you can turn it into a computer. It’s the perfect upgrade for an existing desktop and will be really useful for schools and businesses.”

But what exactly is the Chromebit?

The device is similar to the Google Chromecast — the digital stick that plugs into your television and streams video from the internet — but it does more.

Google pitches it as something that lets you walk up to any LCD display and instantly transform it into a computer, whether it’s sitting on a desk in a classroom, mounted on the wall in an office conference room, or hanging above the checkout counter in a retail store or fast food joint.

The device is part of a new wave of machines that use Chrome OS. 

Based on the Google Chrome web browser, the OS is designed for use with internet-based applications such as Gmail and the Google Docs word processor, reducing our dependence on the bulky local software that traditionally runs on PCs, moving tasks onto a cheaper breed of hardware as a result, and, improving security.

Over the past several years, Google has pushed its Chromebook laptops and other Chrome OS machines into schools and, to a lesser extent, government agencies and businesses.

Now, with several new devices, including a fresh crop of laptops as well as the Chromebit, the company is renewing this push, continuing to challenge Microsoft for control of the business and educational software markets.

The Chromebit idea has been around for some time continuing a trend that allows streaming on regular TV’s.  With tiny, inexpensive sticks, you can transform older televisions into so-called smart TVs, streaming movies and shows from internet services such as YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.

But they’re also mini-PCs. 

Equipped with much the same hardware as a Chromebook laptop the Chromebit is more powerful than a Chromecast, which just means it’s better at running more applications.

Google believes the devices — equipped with an HDMI port — will provide a way of quickly upgrading existing PCs. 

Among the problems that come along with a device of this nature and which Google have addressed are the utility of a keyboard and mouse – Chromebit offers USB and Bluetooth connections for both; it has also created versions of tools such as Google Docs and Gmail that work offline.

The Chromebit is yet another step down a road that will ultimately lead to the complete breakdown of the PC and laptop as we know it – the line between traditional devices, smartphones and tablets is disintegrating.

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#SilverTsunami: How the ‘Internet of Things’ will change the lives of the elderly

 

We are facing the “silver tsunami” of an ageing society that within a few years will see for the first time, more people over the age of 65 living on this planet than those under 5 years of age.

Apart from the increased burden of chronic diseases that accompanies old age, the biggest impact of an increasingly ageing population will be felt in the numbers of people with dementia, and in particular Alzheimer’s Disease.

In Europe, around 7% of the population over 65 have dementia.  This rises dramatically with age and nearly 50% of women and 30% of men over the age of 90 will suffer from the condition.

For many of us, there is the desire to “age in place”, that is to remain in our homes and stay as active and independent for as long as possible.  One possible way of achieving this is to use technological assistance, and in particular use connected smart devices that are collectively called the “Internet of Things” that are rapidly becoming a reality in the home.

The Internet of Things can communicate with each other and with software running in the cloud. These devices can act as sensors, monitoring what is happening in the environment and, in particular, with elderly people themselves.

They can also process information and take actions, such as controlling heating and air conditioning, locking doors and windows and reminding people to take medications or encourage them to be active, or simply go for a walk.

Data collected through the Internet of Things in the home can be used to provide an overall assessment of “observations of daily living”. These observations form a pattern of everyday life from which any deviations can create triggers of that change to alert those living in the home, their family or their health carers.

Despite all of the possibilities of these devices helping the elderly to stay independent and active, there are some significant obstacles that need to be overcome before their full potential becomes a reality.

The first is acceptance by the elderly themselves. They may see remote monitoring devices as an intrusion on their privacy. They may also see any outward signs of using this technology as a public symbol of their age and frailty and so avoid their use for that reason.

They may be concerned about not being able to use the technology properly, in particular triggering false alarms.

Finally, the devices may not be considered affordable, or at least, too much of a luxury to spend money on.

Some of these obstacles can be addressed by the design of the devices themselves.

A US company, Live!y has created a smartwatch, not dissimilar to one from Apple or Samsung, that provides alerts and reminders and also can be used to summon help and communicate with a monitoring service. It also measures activity by counting steps, and usefully, tells the time.

The watch acts in concert with a range of sensors that monitor medication use, access of the fridge and movement in various rooms. The watch can also detect falls and automatically call for help.

By making the device seem like an everyday watch, it reduces at least some of the potential barriers to the elderly in its use.

Telehealth is another field of care of people in the home that utilises connected smart devices.

Not only are we facing a rapidly increasing aged population, but a major proportion of that population have one or more chronic conditions.

By using remote monitoring of weight, blood pressure, pulse and ECG, problems can be detected without a visit to a GP and more importantly, avoiding the hospital.

The smart devices can sense, make decisions locally, and act on that information. Ultimately, if this is to be of any use, the directions originating from these devices need to be followed by those that the technologies are caring for.

This is still the most challenging aspect of the entire process. Reminding someone that they have failed to take their medication may be of no use if that person has decided simply that they don’t want to take it.

What the health profession can do about the elderly not taking medications as they are intended is a still a major problem and having reminders is not the entire solution.

Because a solution does not work for everyone is not a reason for not adopting it for those that it will help.

Before we see widespread adoption of the Internet of Things in the home however, we will need to see cheaper, more attractive, affordable, and useful devices that integrate with smartphones and computers and the apps that are running on them.

The best chance for this happening are the initiatives from Apple and Google.

Although Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Brillo are aimed at everyone’s homes, their popularity may see the next generation of the elderly already prepared for their help in staying independent and active for longer.