Mar 31, 2020 10:30AM
By Liam Kivirist and John D. Ivanko
Photo credit: John Ivanko Photography
At the Heart of Health and Sustainability
by Liam Kivirist and John D. Ivanko
From better access to fresh produce to being more in control of personal health, and from changing our diet to incorporate more plant-based proteins to convenient ways to better monitor and conserve water and save money, numerous tech trends are transforming our relationship with food, health care and daily life. Many of these emerging trends were on display at the 2020 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Healthier Food and Home Cooking
A wave of innovations at CES expand access to fresh produce and make home-cooked meals easier. “We plan to become the largest connected farm in the world without owning a single acre of land,” shares Scott Massey, co-founder and CEO of Heliponix, creators of the GroPod smart garden. Similar in shape and size to a mini-fridge, the GroPod indoor farm system is designed to allow busy individuals and families to implement freshly grown herbs, greens and vegetables into their diet with little effort, and no maintenance or the need for outside growing space. The GroPod supports both soil and hydroponic gardening and handles all the plants’ needs with highly-efficient internal water management and LED lighting systems.
“This would be great for the environment, because we are reducing the impact of the following macro issues with our single, vertically integrated solution: soil degradation diminishing potential yields, droughts exasperated by the massive consumption of water in agriculture, food safety liabilities of conventional agriculture leading to pathogen outbreaks, deplorable working conditions for migrant workers in vegetable crop fields and food waste accrued over time spent to transport and ship produce,” adds Massey.
While the GroPod may help people eat more fresh food without being farmers, the CookingPal Julia could help people feel more at ease in the kitchen. At first glance, the CookingPal Julia looks like a high-tech one-pot cooking tool that combines the functionality of a stovetop, blender, pot, grinder, steamer and more into a single unit. It walks users through each step of preparing meals with healthy recipes using functions and internal scales to provide delicious, simple and stress-free cooking.
Digitization of Health Care
From artificial intelligence (AI) in everything to the introduction of quick online doctor consultations via telemedicine connections with the click of a button, options for care in and out of the hospital are expanding, putting patients in control of their own health care and providing patient monitoring in real time. “With the advent of 5G and AI, we now have the ability for the first time ever to start interrogating and making this health care data meaningful for us,” notes Pamela Spence, the global health sciences and wellness industry leader at Ernst & Young, at the Digital Health Summit. “We’re really moving from a whole world of health care which has really been managing and treating disease into predictive prevention and even cure. We’re also moving from hospital care into home care. We used to treat health care in patient cohorts; we now have the ability to really get down to individual care.”
Instead of nurses and required clinic office visits, specialized medical devices are becoming more affordable and accessible outside the doctor’s office, making an expensive and time consuming in-office visit potentially unnecessary. While still in development, the MedWand, for example, is an easy-to-use handheld device housing multifaceted diagnostic tools, allowing the patient to take their own vital readings from respiratory rate to blood oxygen level, communicated to the doctor in real time. A telemedical diagnosis could be made with treatment or care provided without ever having to leave the home. “The physicians’ role used to be much more of an authoritarian-type relationship with the patient, and [now] it’s going to become more of a guide,” advises Spence.
For years, wearable technologies have improved how we stay fit and healthy by tracking steps and heart rate. Promising breakthroughs like the Add Care Glutrac smartwatch can test glucose levels without the need for blood. Sensors in the watch monitor body metrics like heart rate that are then paired with a finger sensor that captures and analyzes a user’s blood sugar level thanks to an artificial intelligence algorithm. The device is still pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, but if successful, this technology could improve the daily lives of the more than 34 million people in the U.S. with diabetes.
Even the routine of brushing teeth may change. As it turns out, how often we brush is only part of good oral health. The quality and technique used while brushing has an impact on results. Colgate’s Plaqless Pro is the first electric toothbrush with built in sensors to monitor teeth while brushing. It’s accomplished by a built-in LED light to indicate when all the plaque in a specific area is properly removed.
Smart Sensors to Conserve Water
A burst, leaking or malfunctioning water pipe or fixture in a home can easily waste thousands of gallons of water before anyone is aware of it. Water pipes and plumbing are internal to a home’s structure, with the unintended consequence of potentially remaining an invisible issue until long after the damage has been done. With water seeping out of a pipe, the faster the response, the less water is wasted and the more money saved.
The Flume Smart Home Water Monitor straps around a home’s existing water meter to intelligently track water usage, help detect abnormalities and quickly notify the homeowner via a smart phone app to prevent potential damages and wasted water.
Plant-Based Protein Alternatives to Meat
Production and consumption of meat has had a devastating impact on the planet, not to mention long-term personal health. Transitioning to a fully plant-based diet can be challenging, even for the most environmentally conscious individuals, because some vegetarian or vegan options come up short on taste, flavor or texture. But while food and technology haven’t been traditionally intertwined, a recent trend of plant-based protein options and plant-based meat alternatives have popped up to bridge the gap for traditional carnivores and provide options to those seeking a more sustainable choice.
Best known for their soy-based meatless burgers, Impossible Foods unveiled their Impossible Pork at CES, harnessing food science to provide a more ecological and vegetarian option to those seeking alternatives to meat. Both their beef and pork alternatives are primarily sold through food service channels. Thanks to their innovations, the products manage to recapture the flavor, texture and even cooking experience of meat while avoiding many of the health and sustainability downsides.
Another company, Beyond Meat Foods, has cultivated a following for their pea-based Beyond Burgers, containing no soy, gluten or GMOs, which are found alongside packages of ground beef in the refrigerated aisle. According to a lifecycle analysis by the University of Michigan of a Beyond Burger when compared to a quarter pound U.S. beef burger, a Beyond Burger uses 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, 46 percent less energy and results in 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Liam Kivirist is a technology writer and freelance web developer. John D. Ivanko is an award-winning author and photographer. Both live on a solar-powered organic farm in Wisconsin.
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