Wednesday, July 25, 2007

IBM and the University of Florida

Excerpts from a recent article in PC World merit your attention, I believe. The key players are IBM, the University of Florida's Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, a spin off company called Pervasa and the Eclipse Foundation, an open source development tool sponsor. Dr Sumi Helal leads the initiative at the University. During the past several years, Dr Helal and his colleagues developed smart devices for the elderly in a model home known as the Gator Tech Smart House in Gainesville.

I recently had a brief chat with Bob Sutor, Vice President for Standards and Open Source at IBM. He noted that the collection of patient information from smart devices could help build an electronic medical record, a perspective I can now appreciate. Security issues seemed of import, and in his view, IBM was involved in this venture for both commercial and social purposes.

Be sure and view the multi-purpose video referenced below. It is well done!

IBM Corp. and the University of Florida believe they've come up with middleware that will allow doctors to remotely monitor the health of their patients. The technology makes it possible for standard wired or wireless devices like blood-pressure and glucose monitors to be reconfigured so that when used by patients at home the devices can automatically send the collected readings to health-care professionals.

IBM and the university have been working on the smart device project for the past 12 to 15 months and have produced a short video to illustrate its possible use. In the video, an elderly man called Charley requires twice weekly visits to his doctor to check his blood pressure. He's able to cut down on the number of those visits by taking his readings at home using a monitor that's been reconfigured with the middleware.

The value of the technology is what could be achieved with it by any device manufacturer, said Sumi Helal, professor of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida, who headed up the project. The technology is a combination of middleware software and sensor hardware called Atlas from University of Florida spin-off Pervasa Inc. Should the technology be adopted, Helal would expect to see smart devices on the market within the next one to two years. It would then be possible to buy a device off the shelf and by dialing a 1-800 phone number establish a connection between the device and one's doctor. "The device itself becomes a service," he said.

Much of the work on developing Web services around a SOA (service-oriented architecture) has been looking at how to exchange information between people when neither party is familiar with how the other's IT system was built. There's been plenty of SOA work to Web-enable legacy mainframe systems. "What's the ultimate legacy system for us? The human body," said Bob Sutor, vice president of standards and open source at IBM.

The security governing the devices would be the same as that used in online banking, Helal said. It's possible to make that security very finely grained, Sutor added, to encrypt particularly sensitive fields. It will be up to device manufacturers to ensure that their products are tamper-proof to avoid the possibility of false readings, Helal said.

As a way to start building momentum behind the technology, IBM has contributed components of the project to the Open Healthcare Framework of the open-source development tools Eclipse Foundation community.

"You could look at this as something very nice for IBM," Sutor said, in terms of the vendor being a provider of all the necessary back-end technologies including middleware, databases, servers and storage. "But because it's standards-based, anyone can play," he added. "There's nothing we're doing here that gives us a product advantage."

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