How the Internet of Things Will Transform Retirement by Joseph Coughlin

01/05/2015 19:05

Two converging technology-enabled innovations are creating a new future of old age. They also present new investment opportunities while challenging existing businesses serving an aging population.

The Internet of Things describes when “things” begin to talk to each other through the Internet. Appliances, everyday devices, even your clothing, will have sensors and computer chips enabling them to be “smart” and communicate. Your refrigerator will contact your smartphone, watch or car to remind you that you are out of milk. Home lighting will detect that you are no longer in a room or even the house and shut off. While most developers of Internet of Things are focused on consumer convenience and saving money, these same technologies will make it easier and safer to live in your home through retirement. Sensors under the carpet detect that your walk has changed from a stride to a shuffle and notifies your physician that a fall is highly probable. Your stove alerts that it has been left on. A smart pill bottle buzzes your ever smarter watch reminding you to take your medications. Someday, you will have chips implanted under your skin transforming Internet of Things–and you–into the Internet of Everything.


As houses become smarter, the sharing economy is rapidly developing. The ability to have it all, and own none of it, is becoming increasingly possible. Sharing economy innovators, such as Zipcar, ask why own a car if you can have transportation when you want it, rather than parking money in a garage. While the millennials may be leading the sharing economy lifestyle, the capacity to transform everyday needs into services on demand may provide virtual assisted living to aging baby boomers. Sharing economy service providers such as TaskRabbit will enable you to find people online to tackle routine household tasks like climbing a ladder to change a light bulb or take out the trash.


What happens when Internet of Things converges with the sharing economy? A whole new range of services become available, transforming your home from simply a smart house of talking widgets, to a virtual platform of home services. Now the talking refrigerator can contact your local grocer to have your favorite foods delivered. Your smart pill bottle, connected to your pharmacy, has ordered a refill to be delivered by sharing economy company Uber using its new drugstore delivery service. Even your toilet is talking. In response to your carpet sensing a change in your walk, your toilet has sent blood glucose data derived from your “output” to your physician.


The convergence of the Internet of Things and the sharing economy offers a new set of connected and convenient services to retire safely, conveniently and perhaps even affordably at home. Moreover, this convergence creates new business opportunities offering convenient living to the young and virtual assisted living to the old. Imagine home retirement living solutions by Amazon Home Services, Google, Verizon or lifestyle brands, such as BMW or from a variety of financial services and insurance firms, home developers or even retailers. These distributors will provide and transform devices into commoditized services (e.g. your cable box) for a monthly fee. While new investment opportunities will emerge, these innovations may challenge existing businesses. If these novel services can extend living at home even a few months, let alone a few years–what might the impact be on the senior housing industry?


Joseph Coughlin (@josephcoughlin) is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. He conducts research, writes and speaks on the future of global aging. His current work focuses on the role of advice and engagement on retirement planning and well-being on

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