Beyond fitness and fashion lies the future
When looking to the future of the Internet of Things, The Gartner Hype Cycle has always been a useful yardstick of popularity. There are several of them: depending on whether you look at the Hype Cycle for emerging technologies, Internet of Things or wearables specifically, products and concepts that use overlapping technologies could be positioned anywhere between the trough of disillusionment, the plateau of productivity and the slope of enlightenment. In the fast-moving but fickle world of wearables, this seems all too common. Having previously covered smart jewellery and next generation contact lenses, it’s now time to look at applications of more forward-thinking wearables and other, more futuristic hardware too. This much is clear – there’s much more to the wearables market than a $17,000 Apple Watch. And while commercial expansion and adoption will undoubtedly come from fashion and fitness brands partnering with tech companies, wearables will continue to move beyond garments to include implants and other bio-technology.
If hearing aids are one of the first primitive examples of wearables, then as the conduit for one of the core senses, the human ear holds great potential for a wearable or bio-tech upgrade. Smart earbuds could perform a number of functions: First, the possibility of on-the-fly translation. Don’t speak Portuguese? Don’t worry. Your earbuds could analyse the speech you hear and offer a variety of contextual responses for a basic grasp of foreign languages. (Smart glasses/displays could also perform this task but audio is far better suited to the solution than HUD). Second, the biometric possibilities. Temperature monitoring, heart rate analysis (already available), plus all the usual fitness metrics (distance, calories burned etc). Third, could biometric earbuds improve medical conditions such as vertigo and labyrinthitis to promote balance?
Staying with biometrics, bio-patches and epidermal electronics have been in circulation for a little while now, but Moore’s law has seen technological capacity result in an acceleration in public acceptance. This is still a technology in the research and experimentation phase but broadly – a patch is placed on the skin which responds to sweat and skin conductivity, allowing for analysis of vital signs for accurate health monitoring. Direct skin contact provides better data than the average fitness band, for example. Plus, the disposable nature of most bio-patches is a positive for concerns around hygiene.
Now, let’s get under the skin – literally. How about smart tattoos? Instead of just different coloured ink, electrodes and other sensors can now be printed on the skin for even clearer monitoring of skin hydration, temperature, even wound healing rates. Data can be automatically and wirelessly fed back to health care providers, streamlining the costly process of health visits and personal well-being.
It’s easy to see how the current smart jewellery available will increase its potential but as mentioned, adoption requires buy-in. Jewellery still has to look good – or else. Jewellers need to stock them, and ideally the tech needs to be able to be retrofitted into existing bands too. Simple data transfer as well as subtle gestural functionality makes smart rings one of the areas of wearable tech with the highest potential – if manufacturers get it right.
And why limit wearable tech to just humans? Mechanisms such as ID-enabled cat flaps have been in use for years, and building on the fact that most cats and dogs wear collars, the potential for more than just GPS functionality is enticing. Not only are there ‘find my dog/cat’ apps, there’s a whole gamut of health monitoring functions that come with activity trackers, plus options for geofencing, more specific animal wellbeing issues such as posture and diet, plus other location services, many of which can also link in with wearables like the Apple Watch.
This is where we enter another growth area for wearable technology, and one that could be important in the future success of the IoT: collaboration between industry verticals. We mentioned the new Jaguar F-PACE before, which uses a wristband to unlock and also operate the ignition, and we will see more wearables that don’t just monitor the wearer but also monitor and interact with the wearer’s environment. We are beginning to see the potential of beacons and other sensors at a city-wide level for population analysis, and aside from the obvious opportunities for hyper-targeted advertising, wearables interfacing with their city environment will result in a richer urban living experience. Beyond heads-up displays, it’ll be wearables that augment our reality.
Author: Jon Kennard
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