The holy grail of wearable technology
What can we expect next in the world of wearable technology? What is the next logical step after smart watches? We have looked into smart textiles, skin patches and even chip implants to explore the future. And according to the experts, there are big things to expect ahead. “Wearables, and what they will enable us to do, will be the biggest shift since the Internet”, says Kyle Ellicott, co-founder of Wearable World.
What has facilitated today’s growth in the wearable technology market?
“It may seem simple, but a big shift came when people actually started to wear these devices,” says Kyle Ellicott, Head of Labs and co-founder of Wearable World. “It used to be that a very large percentage of people would buy early generation wearable technology, like a heart rate monitor or a step counter, and, within 30 days, that device was in a drawer. But we’ve moved from technology that was kind of all over the place, to technologies that fit your lifestyle.”
Changing people’s lives
But wearables have to be seamless, not bulky or cumbersome, to be fully integrated into our lives, says Ellicott.
The biggest shift we’re seeing isn’t just about the types of devices though. It’s about the data that they collect.
“Today, our wearable devices are generating data that serves a purpose back to us. We call these actionable insights. So, your device doesn’t just tell you you’re not sleeping well, it takes that data and tells you to do something with it to change your life. That’s our big change.”
As wearables evolve, however, the volume of data generated poses its own challenge says Angela McIntyre, Research Director at Gartner Inc.
“These devices can give us so much information,” says McIntyre. “We need to be sure we develop the analytics and the software so that we can actually take that ‘noisy data’ and extract the right types of inferences and insights from it.”
Biometric skin patches
McIntyre cites Smart Shirts as a technology that illustrates the complications of so-called ‘noisy data.’
“Smart Shirts are on the horizon. These have things like heart rate monitors built into them, so they can track your respiration, your body temperature and even your hydration levels,” she says. “Obviously, these shirts will give us a lot of information. But that leads to the question: How will doctors use these with patients? How will we process that information being gathered so that medical professionals and end users can get a meaningful use out of all this data? We have to extract the right data and have those analytics in place.”
What McIntyre calls the “holy grail” of wearable technology, is when a wearable uses data in a way that helps people – or helps them to change.
Other examples of wearable prototypes include a Biostamp skin patch from a company called MC10.
“The market for this technology is further in the future, but this patch is clear adhesive with printed on electronic circuitry and it can test your vital signs,” says McIntyre. “So this would have great applications in health and safety situations or for hikers or runners.”
But wearables aren’t solely used for healthcare applications, McIntyre says.
Mapping social networks
“A company called Sociometric Solutions based in Massachusetts has developed a smart badge that they’re using in a consulting capacity,” she says. “They go into a company and have the employees wear these badges for a time. The badges then enable Socio-Metric Solutions to create network diagrams to look at who is talking to whom, how people are moving, functioning and collaborating across the workplace. The badges can even pick up things like tone of voice.”
All of this data gives companies insights into what makes employees more productive.
“For example, one company learned that the layout of their branch – spread across two floors – hindered collaboration. Another company learned that their employees were most productive when they could take coffee breaks with their friend,” says McIntyre.
Amazon has used similar wearable technology to help plot the most efficient routes for their employees who navigate giant warehouses.
But the issue of privacy can present challenges for this type of wearable technology.
“Any participation in this type of use must be on an opt-in basis,” explains McIntyre. “Employers who use these wearables also need to clearly communicate how the data will be used and that it won’t have any negative consequences for an employee.”
For access control, McIntyre cites multi-factor biometric identification – a use already in development.
“There are companies looking at using accelerometers in wristbands and smart watches so that how a person walks or uses their body can be used to authenticate them.
“But we’re not quite there yet.”
Ellicott foresees what he calls “Smart Cities.”
“What you’ll see is a wearable device utilizing things like beacons,” Ellicott predicts. So, imagine receiving a notification to your wearable device telling you where to find available parking, and paying for your parking with the same device.
But the biggest leap Ellicott foresees is when wearables will become embeddables – technology integrated into the body.
“We already put tracking chips in our pets,” says Ellicott. “What if a diabetes patient no longer had to take a daily injection, but instead had a device inside of them that dispersed insulin when they needed it?
Today, the highest level hospitals have pills equipped with sensors and cameras that you ingest to scope your GI tract. One day, that technology will be available for twenty dollars at your local pharmacy.”
It would be difficult to underestimate the impact that wearable – and, perhaps, embeddable – technology will have on our lives in the future, says Ellicott.
“The Internet was the biggest revolution of our age,” he says. “Wearables, and what they will enable us to do, will be the biggest shift since the Internet.”
By Rachel Sa