An Insurer's Guide to the Sensor-Based World

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Insurers on the fence about how the Internet of Things could change the way they manage risk were given a lot to think about this week at the IASA 2016 Educational Conference and Business Show. David Pogue, a tech columnist for Yahoo, CBS News Sunday Morning, and the Scientific American, presented his views on the groundswell of new technologies that insurers will have to consider in the coming year.

“These new sensor-based and networked technologies are affecting consumer behavior, and insurers need to be aware of the trends today and tomorrow,” said Denise Garth, SVP of Marketing for session sponsor Majesco  as she introduced Pogue.

“I really hate the term ‘Internet of Things,’” Pogue told the more than 150 insurance industry attendees who attended the IASA Tech Super Session, Disruptive Tech 2017.  “The ‘thing’ doesn’t mean anything. What we are really talking about is interconnectivity.”

Pogue believes that IoT’s biggest impact to date has been the smartphone, stating that its real power is that apps can be written to exploit various features on the phone. He demonstrated using his own IPhone, which, thanks to downloaded music and GPS apps, offers the user the Ocarina, an electronic version of an ancient flute-like wind instrument that allows the user to blow into the phone’s mic, push open holes on the screen and create music.

“That’s not all,” Pogue said. “People are using the Ocarina to write music, and share it globally.” Its popularity (more than one million apps sold in one month) is largely the result of a globe-shaped icon tied to a GPS system, allowing the user to listen to anyone, anywhere in the world, currently playing his/her own Ocarina, he explained. 

“So, we don’t just have a smartphone,” he said. “We have a musical instrument and a global network, and now a phenomenon.”

Demonstrating how the world of sensors is affecting human behavior, Pogue remotely turned his home air conditioning system off and back on from his place at the podium, joking that his teen-age children were home alone and would soon feel the effects.

“Speaking of thermostats,” said Pogue, “50 percent who purchase a programmable thermostat never program it, but the ramifications for remote programming and control for large commercial properties is huge.”

Unfortunately, the data that comes from these devices and sensors is now siloed, with little hope of unifying standards to be able to better manage it going forward. “We monitor it all the time and end up throwing it away,” Pogue said. That’s not stopping developers from creating apps for everything under the sun, Pogue told the group. “But you need to answer why you need a certain app and why you need the data to make the effort worthwhile.”

Pogue offered an example of this with “ResearchKit,” an open source framework introduced by Apple that enables your iOS app to become a powerful tool for medical research. Here, 85% of patients provide their data freely (either via smartphone apps, wearables, of embedded chips) to help researchers find cures to various ailments.

The group saw examples of the coming USB-C jack that operates to provide power, video output and data, and connects to all device brands universally. Another technology expected to arrive within the year is Wi-Fi battery charging, which uses an RF signal from an antenna that focuses a pocket of power around the device. 

“Your phone will be charging while it’s in your pocket,” Pogue said. The technology is currently non-penetrable, so someone with a heart pacemaker looking to avoid surgery for battery replacement, an obvious benefactor in healthcare, will have to wait for the next generation of technology. “But it’s the future,” Pogue said.

Perhaps the greatest example of how IoT has impacted consumer behavior to date is in the sharing economy, where apps such as Airbnb and Uber are disrupting their respective industries.  The latest iteration of these includes, a site that allows the driver to avoid expensive parking lots in lieu of an inexpensive neighborhood driveway. acts in similar fashion as, enabling the user to find the best possible home care for their pets while they are away.

“You can’t go backwards,” Pogue told the group. “Now that we have discovered that we can provide interconnected services to each other, it’s sure to spread.”

Pogue wrapped up his discussion describing the various investments being made in autonomous vehicles, stating that for this industry, it will be the largest disrupter yet.  “Imagine the autonomous car paired with Uber. It’s coming.”

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