How Our Decisions are Shaped

Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, presents examples of cognitive illusions that help illustrate why humans make predictably irrational decisions.

EG is the celebration of the American entertainment industry. Since 1984, Richard Saul Wurman has created extraordinary gatherings about learning and understanding. EG is a rich extension of these ideas – a conference that explores the attitude of understanding in music, film, television, radio, technology, advertising, gaming, interactivity and the web – The Entertainment Gathering

Dan Ariely is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management. He also holds an appointment at the MIT Media Lab where he is the head of the eRationality research group. He is considered to be one of the leading behavioral economists. Currently, Ariely is serving as a Visiting Professor at the Duke University, Fuqua School of Business where he is teaching a course based upon his findings in Predictably Irrational.

Ariely was an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University and received a Ph.D. and M.A. in cognitive psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in business from Duke University. His research focuses on discovering and measuring how people make decisions. He models the human decision making process and in particular the irrational decisions that we all make every day.

Ariely is the author of the book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, which was published on February 21, 2008 by HarperCollins.

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Railway Bridge Health Monitoring System

In my last post I put forth the idea of using the unique capabilities and UX of the iPhone to help track defects in railways, which came about after my initial conversations with a friend from the railroad industry.

Hours into our conversation I was perplexed at the lack of proactive monitoring of the today’s bridges used by trains for transport.

Should a uniquely located bridge collapse, an energy crisis could ensue as a result of the coal fields in the northeast/midwest being severed from the southwest.

I looked at several existing methods and solutions used today to address this issue and drew from each to conclude in a refined approach to monitoring the health of railway bridges.

There were basically 3 design considerations which needed to be met:

  1. Easy to deploy
  2. Low Maintenance
  3. Long Term

The system had to be easily deploy-able were an electrician in the field could install the components of the solution. Obviously low maintenance is also key, reducing the total cost of ownership and Long Term reducing the need for personnel to visit these bridges.

Application Requirements:

In order to monitor the health of a structure, vibrations of the structure need to be gathered and analyzed to develop a baseline under normal conditions. Subsequent measurements of vibrations can then be compared to the baseline to determine if an anomaly exists.

To accomplish this requirement sensors (3-axis accelerometers) are placed throughout the span of the bridge collecting data. The frequency components of interest range between 0.25-20Hz, the measurements would need to take place 40 secs before and after the passage of the train and time synchronization between the sensors would also be a factor to take into account.

Existing approaches use technology such as Solar panels to supply power in remote areas, GSM for data transmission, GPS for time synchronization and a star topology for the sensors to communicate to a head node which would collect and transmit the data for analysis.

There are multiple problems here since solar panels are expensive, prone to theft, vandalism and damage; GSM data transmission isn’t always viable when there isn’t network coverage in remoter areas and relying on a head node to collect and transmit the data would be like putting all your eggs in one basket. If the head node failed, the system would stop working.

The techniques I came across with basically fell into 2 categories: Existing bridges and new bridges.

I focused on existing bridges since there are very sophisticated things being done with new bridges. Today engineers are embedding sensors and fiber in the concrete while the bridges are being built in order to take measurements, but this approach is obviously not viable for existing bridges.

The methods in use for existing bridges included visual inspection, wired solutions which were bulky, expensive and time consuming to setup and a few wireless solutions some of which were proprietary, not scalable and interesting work from India.

In summary there are several challenges in deploying such a solution at sometimes remote and hostile locations. A lack of power which calls for alternate sources of energy, a way to effectively and reliably collect and transmit the data for analysis and keeping installation and maintenance costs low.

Since the train comes and goes, so can the data collected by the sensors. The train would activate the standby sensors as it approaches the bridge and then collect the data buffered by the sensors after passing the bridge. This approach would deal with the transmission of data limitations while at the same time eliminating the need of power for this component of the system. The train would carry the data and uploaded it to a collection station.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVH1K1Eocz0

To deal with reliability and power requirements the linear path Star Topology would be dropped in favor of a Mesh Network which provides TRUE self-organizing and self-healing properties. On top of the Mesh Network, TSMP (Time Synchronized Mesh Protocol) would be used providing more than 99.9% reliability and the lowest power consumption per delivered packet.

The key for achieving maximum reliability is to use channel hopping, in which each packet is sent on a different channel. In this case, transient failures in links on a given channel are handled gracefully, and persistent link failures that develop after the site survey do not destabilize the network.

Sensors of this type using this approach can last 7-10 years on a small battery meeting the application requirements.

Now to raise some money, build a working prototype and demo it to the Railway companies.

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Healthcare Electronic Clipboard iPad Application

Just after finishing up my first iPhone application I got involved in the Healthcare industry with the implementation of an Electronic Healthcare Records (EHR) system for a 3 location practice. Additionally I came across the video below on a Doctor from Croatia putting the iPhone to use in the field including remote diagnostic procedures and CPR with his own invention.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-E-B3Pc8mk

This brought about the idea of building applications for the healthcare industry for the iPhone platform. The iPhone though did not present the ideal device for doctors to use because of its size and difficulty in entering information.

After the release of the Apple iPad on January 27, 2010 the idea of an electronic clipboard didn’t seem too far fetched, so I put together a mock-up of what the app on the iPad would look like and can be seen below.

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Electronic Health Records and the Cloud

Last year I was recruited to find an Electronic Healthcare Records System (EHR) for a doctor who had just gone through a foiled implementation. I am always intrigued by being exposed to new sectors of technology and learning systems inside out.

The existing EHR system had a hardware failure and the vendor was asking for over $10,000 to recover the patient data. This combined with high maintenance and licensing fees proved to be too much for the doctor.

A consultant came in and sold the doctor on a hosted EHR system he had developed, unfortunately expectations were not set and the doctor was expecting his patient data to be available on this new system. Once it became apparent that there would be an additional cost in the thousands to recover and import this data into the new system the relationship went south.

This particular project was not only a technical but also a customer service challenge. Right from the start I made sure that the expectations were set and began looking at the possible solutions.

Amongst the many options available including traditional vendors, open source, home-grown systems, etc. (Tolven Healthcare, PatientOS, OpenEMR, Clearhealth, Abraxas, Medworks & Pulse)

I was looking to implement something that not only met the requirements (demographics, Medical history, Medications & allergies, Immunization status, Laboratory test results, Radiology images and Billing) of the client but was also scalable as a potential business. I ruled out the traditional EHR systems because of their high capital expenditure, ongoing costs, and approved VAR requirements. The open source solutions seemed very attractive but I was looking for something that did not require an on-site server thus it had to be hosted and using the cloud made it scalable.

So it came down to hosting an open-source package or using someone who had already done the legwork and I didn’t want to support this long term so the search turned 2 or 3 new cloud service providers of which only one I found to be mature enough to recommend; Practice Fusion.

Practice Fusion provides a free, web-based Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system to physicians. With charting, scheduling, e-prescribing, billing, lab integrations, referral letters, unlimited support and a Personal Health Record for patients, Practice Fusion’s EMR addresses the complex needs of today’s healthcare providers and disrupts the health IT status quo.

Although this did not turn out to be a passive income generator which I always have as a goal, it turned out to be a very educational and the platform for other ideas and projects.

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Cloud Home Security

For a while I have been wanting to do a brain dump of ideas I have had onto my blog and finally I have the will to make it happen. Many of the ideas I still think would make great businesses but for one reason or another I just didn’t execute them.

 

So I started playing around with the idea of revolutionizing the Home Security industry. This has been a market that has remained pretty much unchanged for a long time. A monitored burglar alarm service that relies on the police as first responders, business model which has put them at odds with law enforcement due to the high incidence of false positives.

 

This industry has had monopolistic tendencies for decades culminating this year in the acquisition of Brink’s Home Security (Broadview Security) by ADT Security Services bringing together the #1 and #2 companies in the US. Despite residential security services being just one of the many markets these companies provide services in, it is definitely the most financially attractive. For years these companies remain in control by forcing competitors out of business by lowering prices below cost.

 

The business model with a change here or there is basically moving into high-growth areas having a recurring service revenue.

 

What caught my attention is that despite advances in technology these companies still rely in their old infrastructure. Yes there are more advanced sensors including passive infrared,  ultrasonic, microwave, photo-electric, smoke, heat, etc and cameras but what was interesting is that for the most part when the alarm goes off a call is made to the monitoring service using a land line and reporting data gathered from these sensors to give the call center some data to act on after a call is made to the home.

 

This is were I think there is an astronomic potential. The value of the data gathered by these sensors would be a gold mine allowing the monitoring service and basic sensors to be provided for FREE and a premium charged for more advanced sensors and surveillance via cameras. A highly sophisticated and integrated system reducing the number of false positives. The system would of course go beyond security monitoring and merge with home automation, and home health monitoring. In order for the system to scale the intelligence in the homes (home security panel) would need to move to the cloud and communicate with a hub inside the home interfacing with multiple sensors, telephones, sprinkler system, entertainment system, electrical system (smart meter), appliances, air conditioning, water heater, and use of home areas by means of “mood” sensors.

 

Sources of income for the business would be advertising, cross-selling smart devices from manufactures, upgrades to premium plans, subscription to additional services such a health monitoring, and selling the raw data collected and even selling the data after qualifying it. Imagine being able to provide bulb companies burn-out rates, provide household advice on their energy uses and how to improve them, water usage and patterns, target marketing based on social status which could easily be determined by energy usage patterns, and mining migrating patterns within the home.

 

The Reality Mining Project was a social experiment conducted by MIT in which hundreds of hours of proximity data were collected by tracking mobile phones over a period of 9 months. Researchers created algorithms that could predict a person’s next actions accurately over 85% of the time. The program also determined social status and relationships as well as create a list of their friends and acquaintances and be right 90% of the time.

 

There is no doubt that this idea would have privacy advocates up in arms but in a world that is highly connected and the boundaries between public and private blur, it becomes a feasible business as long as there is not personal identifiable data.

 

Attached is a deck on the concept.

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