Booz Allen IoT Prototypes Signal Move Toward Health-Care, Emergency-Response Products

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The consultancy is developing a platform to improve data security at hospitals, as well as a safety system for first-responders.

Booz Allen is known for its business- and risk-management consultancy work, but what most people do not realize, says Walton Smith, a principal at the firm, is that the company also has a very active engineering arm, which develops sensor-based tools and systems, specializing in rapid prototyping.

"These are mostly for our federal clients," Smith admits, "for whom we might make four prototypes that are dropped in the middle of nowhere [used for a covert operation], and we can't talk about it."

Booz Allen employs some of the top data scientists in the world, Smith asserts, and this knowledge base forms the foundation of the company's data-security services. "Customers hire us to be their watchtower for cyber-security," he says.

Walton Smith

It's not surprising, then, that Booz Allen demonstrated two prototype IoT products last week that are designed for highly secure and, in one case, dangerous operational situations. The prototypes are part of a bigger strategy to roll out products and services, in a wide range of industries, that leverage the company's data security and engineering know-how.

One prototype, dubbed District Defend, is a location-based security system for highly mobile, connected devices, such as smartphones or tablets. At the Internet of Things World conference, held last week in San Francisco, Booz Allen demonstrated District Defend as a health-care application, but Smith says it could also be useful in other industries, such as manufacturing or energy extraction—anywhere that sensitive data must be protected from falling into the wrong hands.

According to Smith, District Defend is a means of controlling access to data through a mobile device by requiring multi-point authentication, based on external sensors. For example, say a doctor with a tablet enters a hospital room and calls up a patient's electronic health records. He consults with the patient, then goes to lunch, and then forgets the tablet—still open to that patient's records—at his lunch table. If that device falls into the wrong hands, the physician may have just created a serious breach of the patient's data security (and either way, Smith notes, he has breached the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPPA]).

Powered by District Defend, the tablet could be set to access the patient's records only when the device detects the presence—through RFID-based identity tags, for instance—of both the doctor and the patient.

"Right now [in hospitals], it's all or nothing, in most cases," Smith states. "If I am a doctor, I should have access to a patient's health records. If I'm the guy who needs to clean the bedpan, all I need to know is when I need to go in and clean a room." Using District Defend, mobile devices could deliver data based on who is using the tablet and where he or she is located.

Furthermore, a tablet could be set with behavior rules, such as powering on or off, or enabling or disabling Wi-Fi or specific applications, based on location.

Smith says that Booz Allen is working with Intel and other undisclosed companies to commercialize District Defense for health-care applications.

The other demoed prototype would be useful to all first-responders—firefighters, soldiers, paramedics, and search-and-rescue personnel—who work in dangerous but also remote environments. The device, which is in an exoskeleton form factor, uses sensors to monitor the environment for hazards, such as low oxygen levels or harmful gasses, and also employs wireless biometric sensors to monitor the wearer's health. It would be linked wirelessly to a command center, via a cellular network of whatever network is most appropriate, based on location.

Smith cites the death of Lt. Kevin McRae, a 44-year-old firefighter in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. McRae had just emerged from a two-alarm apartment fire when he collapsed, Smith says. The cause of death remains unknown.

"This kind of wearable would give real-time updates on the user's health status and the conditions around them," Smith says. The device would issue alerts wirelessly to a command center whenever an individual's vital signs or environmental conditions, detected by the sensors, point to a serious problem. The commander-in-chief could then use an integrated communication system to call individuals to seek safety, or deploy others to the administer care to an individual who has been injured or has fallen ill.

According to Smith, the prototype is built to accommodate a range of different environmental sensors or biometric devices, and the final mix would likely be specific to each use case or individual. Booz Allen, he says, is working with manufacturing partners to bring this exoskeleton device to market as well.

Because its strength is in prototyping and not manufacturing, Smith notes, Booz Allen must rely on a network of partners to bring its ideas to scale. He says his company is already incorporating both prototypes into pilot projects in order to evaluate them, but that it is still too early to reveal any details about these projects and participating collaborators.