Although there might not be an obvious, mainstream Smart Home applications at the moment, we are confident that wearable technology is going to have an impact on all aspects of our lives.
Things are currently done with a Smartphone or tablet (portable technology) will be performed using wearable technology in the not so distant future. It is our view that Smartphones and tablets as we now know them are transient form factors. They are incredibly clunky, being easily dropped and having touch screens that quickly become dirty. Most require a case to keep them away from everyday hazards such as dirt and moisture. Advances in glass technology alone are not enough in our view.
Wearable technology is not a new concept. We have been following the advances in wearable technology for as long as we've been working in the telecoms industry (over 24 years now). It has taken a long time to gain any real traction with the public though. Most of this has been down to the technology limitations but, partly its because the devices were large, cumbersome and just looked a bit wierd. Recent advances in electronics, batteries, networking and displays are enabling a number of more realistic propositions, with mass (well critical mass anyway) appeal to the consumer market. Finally! Wearable tech's time has come.
Just how successful it will be in the coming years is hard to predict but, the signs are looking good and real progress is now being made. There are many innovative products starting to appear on the market:
The Smart Watch
2013 is going to be the year of the 'smart' watch with numerous examples (some below) coming onto the market. There are some that have been wearing the iPod Nano as a watch for a while now but, these new devices focus on connectivity to other devices carried with you (typically a Smartphone) and provide apps to address specific functions. This is 'entry level' wearable computing though. It's building on the mass acceptance of watches and adding connectivity and configurability, with the Smartphone as the hub. It is also limited to point to point communications (watch to Smartphone) and not addressing the multiple use and multi-tasking enabled by personal mesh networking. Even so, it is welcome progress.
Whilst not a huge technical innovation, smart watches are a useful advance, in that they start to distribute computing power, sensors and actuators over the body, placing information and feedback at more convenient locations. We can envisage some interesting Smart Home applications enabled by this Bluetooth connectivity to your home, removing the Smartphone from the loop.
Fitness & Health Sensors
The miniaturisation of sensors, batteries and networking electronics means that you can now wear a number of sensors all of the time. No longer are you weighed down by large battery powered devices, strapped to your arms or waist. Numerous sports are driving the uptake of activity monitors.
Wearable Tech In The Smart Home
We can already see a place for current wearable technology in the Smarthome. Most are based on open standards like Bluetooth and provide the ability to configure them and provide useful apps, focussed on control and alerting in the Smart Home.
A logical extension of the 'smart watch' will arise from even greater miniaturisation. 'Functional jewelry' will be enable networked sensors and devices to be worn on other parts of the body. An example we envisage is ear-rings that provide audible alerts. These miniature devices will be able to harvest energy from the body or your surroundings.
The jewelry markets will mean emphasis on style and personalisation and 3D printing may have a big part to play in this. You can expect the luxury brands to get in on the act very soon but, we still think the real innovation will be in bespoke and one-off designs.
Huge advances have been made recently in flexible and curved OLED screens and they will soon be able to fit the contours of your body. The 'smartphone' on your arm is not far off.
A lot of the current technology is activity and health related and we see a future trend, where similar technology will be embedded in the body and not just worn on the surface. Pacemakers are a good example of this already being done, albeit for medical reasons. As disturbing as this might sound, it makes it more useful and convenient and your body itself may become the power source. It's not a huge leap on from some of the rings, bars and other jewelry inserted into or through the skin by many people already.
The future human will almost certainly be technology enhanced. Welcome to the Borg!
Jan 2014 - It looks like Intel agree with me :-)
Innovative Wearable Technology
MC10 is best known for its wearable electronics aimed at athletes, but the company also makes a medical diagnostic sticker called a biostamp. The biostamp's thin and stretchy electronics can be directly applied onto human skin.
The Amiigo is a fitness tracker that claims to be very accurate. It recognises more than 100 different exercises, and tabulates burned calories. It consists of a shoe clip and a Bluetooth capable bracelet, each with a three-axis accelerometer, microcontroller, battery and enough flash memory to store up to five days of data. The band also contains an infra-red blood oxygen and pulse rate sensor. When the wearer opens the Amiigo smartphone app, it prompts the bracelet to transmit its data.
The Basis Watch
The Fitbit Flex is a wireless band which includes Bluetooth 4.0, which means it can wirelessly synchronise its data with an iPhone (or a few Android devices that support it) automatically. It comes in five different colors (navy, black, tangerine, slate and teal) and features a thin strip of LEDs that are activated with a tap on the band. The five LEDs each represent 20% of a user assigned goal, which can thus be easily monitored. There is also a vibration motor within the band to alert users based on settings made within the companion app. The Flex is water-proof.
The Fitbit Zip.
Google Project Glass
The Jawbone Up is due to be launched in early 2013.
The Martian Watches were a finalist for 'Best At CES 2013'. They make a range of smart watches.
The MetaWatch features Bluetooth 4.0.
The Misfit Shine is a wearable all-metal activity tracker that you can sync with your Smartphone just by placing it on your phone screen.
The Nike+ FuelBand measures your everyday activity and turns it into 'NikeFuel'. It tracks calories burned, steps taken and more using a 'sport-tested' accelerometer, which then translates movement into NikeFuel. It works whilst running, walking, dancing, basketball and many other everyday activities.
The Pebble Watch is a customisable watch with downloadable watch faces and Internet apps. It connects to iPhones and Android Smartphones using Bluetooth, to provide vibration in response to incoming calls and messages. Cyclists can use Pebble as a bike computer, utilising the GPS on your Smartphone to display speed, distance, etc. Joggers get a similar data displayed on their wrist. A music control app allows control of play, pause or skipping tracks on your phone. Other apps are appearing of interest to others sports, such as golf.
Sproutling a new startup hoping to improve parent knowledge via a wearable baby monitor that lets parent know their baby is OK and also uses sensor data to provide insight about their babies sleep patterns.
News & Articles
- Gigaom - How TapTap is turning the wearable into a new gesture-based user interface (15th November 2013)
- MacRumours - Analyst Believes iWatch Will Feature Home Automation, Be More Than an iPhone Companion (10th October 2013) http://www.macrumors.com/2013/10/11/analyst-believes-iwatch-will-feature-home-automation-be-more-than-iphone-companion/
- CNET - Google's password proposal: One ring to rule them all (18th January 2013)
- CNET - Will 2013 be the year of the smartwatch? (12th January 2013)
- BBC News - Wearable tech gains momentum at CES (8th January 2013)
- Gigaom - A new battery that could revolutionize wearables (8th January 2013)
- Business Insider - Here's Proof That Wearable Tech Is The Next Big Thing (5th January 2013)
- BBC - Wearable tech pioneers aim to track and augment our lives (18th October 2012)
- TED - Kate Hartman: The art of wearable communication (September 2011)