Wearable Tech: What’s Next?
Wearables for all
It all started with a piece of tech we don’t typically think of as a wearable – the Bluetooth earpiece. It has been around for a while and recent models at times sacrifice utility to futuristic designs. I remember getting my first Jawbone earpiece more than ten years ago – it had a single button, the functionality of which changed depending on the number of times you tapped it. Needless to say, I unwillingly hung up countless calls.
Perhaps the first real wearable personal tech devices, aside from headsets, were fitness trackers and GPS watches. As a runner, I was one of the early adopters of wearable tech, feeling cooler-than-ever with my Nike+ armband, which connected to a sensor in my running shoes and tracked (albeit, not very accurately) the distances I ran. Once I got back from a run, I would upload the data from the tracker using my computer’s USB port and thus collect historical data about my runs. All that seems like a distant memory today — before our smartphones could do all of that for us, with the help of GPS, arm movement trackers and accelerometers.
The big wearables hype that followed was, of course, Google Glass. Veiled in controversy, it did little more than get featured in a few futuristic movies and stir up much disputed privacy issues. The discord was mostly about the fact that the smart glasses could record anyone, anywhere, anytime, without obtaining their prior permission. Amidst all the contention emerged reports of wearers getting attacked in public and the device quickly became largely confined to Silicon Valley IT companies and research labs.
Fitbit released its first wearable in 2009, outperforming my ancient Nike+ bracelet by at least a million, wirelessly syncing data over wifi without me moving a finger. And then came Apple Watch, most recently gaining its independence from the iPhone with the ability to support SIM cards on its own and replacing the need for separate activity trackers with its built-in accelerometer, arm movement tracker and heart rate sensor.
My personal favourite wearable is, by far, the solar-powered backpack. Granted it is water- and shock-proof, I imagine this piece of tech could be a man’s (or a woman’s) best friend on long trekking trips in the wilderness.
Not all wearables are made equally useful, nevertheless; some are just built to impress. In 2004, fashion design label CuteCircuit unveiled a Bluetooth-connected electronics device named the HugShirt at the CyberArt Festival in Bilbao, Spain, where it won the festival’s grand prize. In 2008, Ilya Fridman incorporated a hidden Bluetooth microphone into a pair of earrings: quite handy for female James Bond associates, I imagine.
And in 2009 Sony Ericsson teamed up with the London College of Fashion in a contest aimed at designing innovative digital clothing. The winning design was a cocktail dress with Bluetooth technology embedded in it, which lit up every time the one wearing it received a call. No hiding phone calls anymore!
Another promising wearable-wear (still in beta at the time of writing) was made by Simon Wheatcroft and Kevin Yoo and their wear.works. Dubbed Wayband, the haptic device can be worn on the body as an implant or an accessory and it helps with navigation. Dog ID chip implants, anyone?
An honourable mention goes to the keyboard pants and sensor suit, which will surely have their own early adopters soon (not to be worn while imbibing!)
Wearables in business
Beyond the fun uses of wearables at the gym or on the catwalk as discussed so far, the potential is there for these innovative devices to add utility in business and industry, as witnessed by all the tech giants designing new products with business applications in mind. The opportunities are virtually limitless, with forward-thinking service companies already supplying their technicians with wearable cameras, smart glasses and scanners. Business wearables can increase safety, quality and efficiency at work, see through solid surfaces and eliminate the need for expensive drilling.
Medicine is another sector that could greatly benefit from wearable tech for personnel use, from diagnostics and monitoring of vital signs to less invasive treatment methods.
What’s next for wearables?
Wearable technology is constantly developing and gradually advancing from hype to utility – one we can rely on in our daily lives.
As futuristic as wearables may seem, the technology behind them isn’t that complex or that new. For the most part it is a matter of seamlessly combining tiny hardware components with robust apps that make the most out of the devices’ capabilities. Verhaert Digital can answer your questions about how this works; get in touch for a no-obligation call.
Copywriter: Ina Danova