Thursday, January 12, 2006

Your Personal Dietitian

What is the fun of conferences? Why travel thousands of miles to sit in stuffy rooms without windows but too many co-geeks; hear information that is so detailed and focused that you will rarely need it? Well, these places still seem to attract a large concentration of highly intelligent and creative people that can revive the excitement of your own work. This week, I was at the CCNC 2006 in Las Vegas this week where the posters and demos created the excitement for me (after our OSGi panel of course!).

The most intriguing demo/idea came from Ellen Badinelli from Scanavert. This company has come up with the idea to match product identifications (UPC, Barcode, RFID, etc) with personal information. She fired of a scary number of food/medication incompatibilities that would almost make you afraid to eat. One of the many examples: Using orange juice together with antibiotics severely reduces its effectiveness.

There are not just food-food or food-medication incompatibilities. Allergies, illnesses, being male or female, age, race, or pregnancy can influence the effectiveness or danger of food as well as medications. For example, using certain pain-killers while pregnant can cause serious harm to the fetus. Ellen pointed out the male conspiracy of Tylenol warnings: Alcohol consumption is pointed out but the dangers to pregnant women or not on the package. Many of these threats or loss of effectiveness are very obscure and are therefore missed by most people.

Obviously nobody with an actual life has the time to be aware of all these possible interactions. To be honest, I am not even sure I want to be aware of this as a person in good health. However, when your child has an allergy, when you are pregnant, or when you use certain medications it would be nice if you could get some help tracking these issues. With our ageing populations, the need for this type of assistance will clearly increase.

Scanavert’s basic idea is to use product identification codes (bar codes, RFID) to identify products, look up their ingredients and match them against other foods and medications that are used as well as a personal profile. The software then flags any known dangers. The intriguing part is how people will use this service. Scanavert’s basic idea is that shoppers use a device to scan the bar code (or read the RFID tag) and get a message when there are issues. For example, the mum (this is a quotation, real men do not shop) does the shopping and scans all the goods she places in her cart. The device then warns her for any threats or provides advice.

I am not sure about scanning all the goods, from my experience people refuse to do any effort unless there is an acute need or payoff. However, as a parent of an allergic child or in other cases of heightened awareness, it would be great if you could point your mobile phone to a product and get personalized information about that product. “Are these cornflakes ok for my allergic daughter”? Or, “If I use this medicine, what should I pay attention to”? It is an intriguing idea that could be extrapolated to other areas. For example, when I want to buy a set of recordable DVDs, it could tell me that I need the DVD+R and not the DVD–R version (Anybody needs 50 DVD–R discs?).

There are already demos that link a product code to reviews, but being able to get a personalized advice based on product identification is intriguing with many possible extensions. For example, if Ellen is wrong, and the dad does the shopping for once, he can point at the breakfast cereals and be told that the kids refuse to eat the healthy kind so he better buys the chocolaty version or stand to waste his money.

So what is the OSGi angle to this article? Well, there are several. The OSGi Mobile Service platform is obviously enabling applications like this. The client code will require an interface to the RFID or bar code scanner, an interface to the backend, local logic, and more. The OSGi model allows these connections to be abstracted by services so that the code can be used in many different environments.

However, the link is even better. Several members of the OSGi had the use case of a barcode reader on the fridge for inventory tracking. Not that feasible, but if you could consult a bar code reader in the kitchen for food/medication incompatibilities I think you have a product people might be willing to pay for. So the idea is also applicable for an OSGi home server.
I wrecked my brain to find a related use case for the vehicle to have a truly convergent use case for OSGi service platforms, but alas I could not come up with one: gas is hard to mark with a bar code.

     Peter Kriens
     OSGi Evangelist

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