Design and Develop for Quality of Life - Dublin Web Summit 2014

Lucía Amado / Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dublin Web Summit main stage

Back in November I had the opportunity to attend the Dublin Web Summit. With over 614 speakers in 9 stages, 700 investors, 2,160 exhibiting start-ups and 22,000 attendees from 109 countries, it was certainly a colossal event. There was enough variety to cater for anyone remotely interested in technology.

As a designer and front end developer, I chose some talks in the Main stage but mostly the ones in the Builders’ and Machine stages, which were more suitable for my interests. There were several recurring themes in the three days of talks. In this article I will be focusing on two ways technology is improving the quality of people’s lives.


Technology in Healthcare


Many products and services are being developed with the well-being of their users in mind. Several speakers at the Web Summit shared how their products are making a big difference in the healthcare industry.

Skip Rizzo showed the University of Southern California project called Bravemind that is currently using Oculus VR to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The use of Medical Virtual Reality allows patients to relive traumatic scenarios in a controlled environment. This helps them come to terms with stressful memories through graduated exposure therapy. It also opens doors to further understanding and treating PTSD, which is a major concern for the military in the rehabilitation of war veterans.

Brendan Iribe (Oculus VR CEO) described the potential Oculus VR has to transform face-to-face communication once the main issues of latency, motion sickness, and disorientation are fixed. Being able to put on a pair of sunglasses and have a natural conversation with someone halfway across the world like they are sitting right beside you might have a massive impact on corporate meetings and the gaming world, but this type of technology could also provide comfort and emotional support for people that are isolated or live far from relatives and loved ones.

Jorge Soto from Miroculus demonstrated how a simple blood test can provide non-invasive, affordable, and accurate detection of certain types of cancer. Their bio-marker recognition platform is able to do this before any symptoms are presented which would allow treatment at very early stages. This not only immensely reduces the costs and time of the tests but most importantly the costs and difficulty of the treatment itself. He also mentioned all the project data will be open source once it is completed.

Paul Daugherty from Accenture mentioned a joint project with Philips and Emotiv that will allow ALS patients and people with limited mobility to control their environment using the Emotiv headset. The headset can measure brain waves and interpret mental commands that can be used to control entertainment sets, lighting, heating, and even medical equipment.

These are just a few of many projects that will make a difference in mental and physical health, allowing great improvements in quality of life, once they are available for the general public in the next few years.


Smart is the New Black


Another big theme of the conference was the Internet of Things. At first glance, this seems just as easy as adding a sensor and a WiFi connection to any object, but there’s much more than that involved.

We’ve all heard of smart cities, smart workplaces, or smart objects. SmartThings CTO, Jeff Hagins focused his talk on redefining what a Smart Home is. It started as “a home that responds and acquires new skills over time” and predicted that everyday products will eventually have sensors and respond to them automatically or will be controlled via software, therefore becoming smart devices. He said the most potential for change nowadays is in lighting, power distribution, and adapting your space and environment according to variables. He also mentioned that we will soon be embedding smart objects into the building materials of our homes.

On this subject, Simon Walker from LIFX talked about how today’s home lighting solutions are notably outdated. We depend on where the light fixtures were placed in the room at the moment of construction, and we still stand up and go to the switch on the wall in order to turn the lights on or off. He compared it to having to get up and manually change the channel on the TV, which is something we wouldn't even think of doing now. LIFX smart light bulbs can be controlled by a smartphone and can be set up in multiple ways to create an atmosphere, change colours, wake you up in the morning, or even flash for notifications.


The Importance of Good Design


One of the biggest challenges the Internet of Things faces is that, since they are introducing upgraded versions of objects we already use, they need to make sure interacting with them isn't harder than it currently is. Otherwise, these new smart objects won’t be adopted. If we have to go through a long series of menus in our phone in order to turn on a light switch, we will probably rather get up and switch it manually. That’s why there is huge emphasis on design and minimal user interface in these new technologies.

Both smart objects and applied technology in the service of healthcare have the potential to transform the quality of human lives by taking care of the tasks that are either too difficult, too expensive, wasteful, or time consuming. The best thing is they could soon be second nature to us, just like we now can’t think of leaving the house without our mobile phones in our pockets. 

Designers must be able to create intuitive and unobtrusive interfaces to ensure the interaction with these new technologies is easy and encourage their adoption into everyday life.


Video footage of some of these talks is available in the Dublin Web Summit's Youtube Channel.