Why gadgets have never been closer at hand
The future is here, and getting personal. With technology seemingly advancing at the speed of light, it may only be a matter of time before much more advanced wearable gadgets turn mainstream. But what defines wearable technology and which are the most common application areas today? And why on earth are all these devices hitting the market right now? The arrival of new sensors and low-power radio chips has something to do with it.
Wearables hugged the spotlight at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), prompting analysts to declare them the next big thing in consumer technology. And what with the market for PCs, laptops and tablets reaching saturation, this predicted paradigm shift is highly likely to happen.
See some of the Wearable Tech highlights from the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
The nascent wearables market features a diverse vendor landscape with incumbents and entrants all carving a niche for themselves. Who hasn’t heard of Google Glass, Nike’s FuelBand and Fitbit? And in late 2014, arch rivals Samsung and Apple unveiled their latest smart wrist wear – the Samsung Gear and Apple Watch – in the hope of giving Pebble a run for their money.
“Smart wearables need autonomous connectivity: in other words, real-time connections to send or receive data.”
What is wearable technology?
Let’s backtrack a bit and define smart wearable technology. Connected wearable products have actually been around for nearly 40 years. Nick Hunn, founder and CTO of WiFore Consulting, says: “We’ve had hearing aids, performance monitors and headsets, to name a few. But over the past two years, the arrival of new sensors and low-power radio chips has transformed wearable devices.”
To be termed “smart”, he says, the wearable must:
- Contain active electronics, which may be a sensor, some form of haptic technology, audio or visual feedback.
- Have a way of communicating data via a wireless link. “Smart wearables need autonomous connectivity: in other words, real-time connections to send or receive data.”
Connectivity and application
The main enabling technologies relating to smart wearables are microelectromechanical systems or MEMS and Bluetooth low energy, and with wireless connectivity as the key, the smartphone has become the hub of information for users.
Future development are to be seen in healthcare, industrial, military, social and infotainment applications
In its Wearable Technology – Market Assessment white paper, IHS Electronics & Media describes wearables as products worn on the user’s body for an extended period of time, significantly enhancing the user’s experience. They must also contain advanced circuitry, wireless connectivity and at least a minimal level of independent processing capability.
Current and future application developments are to be seen in fields as wide ranging as fitness and wellness, healthcare and medical, industrial and military, and social and infotainment. But what part will wearables play in the future development of access control? Read more about that in our article titled ‘Wearables in access control’.
By Sonora Ocampo and John Ambrose
Nick Hunn has been closely involved with short-range wireless and communications, for the past 20 years, designing technology that helps bring mobility to products, particularly in the field of telematics, M2M, smart energy and mobile health. He is the author of The Essentials of Short Range Wireless – a book that explains the application of wireless technology to product developers – and is writing his second book about the use of Bluetooth low energy for Appcessories and the Internet of Things.