Tech-Defined Fashion Statement?

Forbes asserts, the year 2014 as “The Year of Wearable Technology”. We are now familiar with the power of mobile computing devices and this is taking a new direction–integrating with bodily-worn devices. This is going to revolutionize the way we work, play, and socialize.

Do I need wearable technology or do I not is the question most of us are pondering over. While a recent survey by Rackspace and CAST has revealed that half of the British public has privacy concerns with wearable technology, 71% of individuals already owning similar gadgets feel that this adoption has enhanced their life.

What is wearable technology?

Wearable technology is something that focuses on turning everyday accessories into a specialized computer to achieve or facilitate our needs. This can be anything from as simple as your watch to something highly specialized as your eyewear or toupee.

How Wearable Technology works?

Most of the wearable devices in a market are simply a collection of sensors put together for a specific purpose. These accessories collect data from either the body or from the surroundings and relay the data to the connected mobile device using low energy transmitting source like Bluetooth or IR. Then, the mobile device performs the computation and communicates with the backend servers. Though most of the devices are connected with mobile devices to process the data in real-time, some of them are designed to keep the data and transfer to server when connected with computer. The goal for such devices is to do computational tasks without impacting device resource capabilities like battery life processing ability.

Based on how and where the wearable devices are used, they can be categorized into four categories: Consumer, Enterprise, Healthcare and Military. For example, any fitness specific wearable would be categorized into the Consumer or Healthcare section.

The Evolution

Though there are many versions on the evolution of wearable technology, personally, the first wearable product came into existence roughly 500 years ago with the arrival of Analog watch.

Then the digital era led by Hamilton/Pulser’s digital wrist watch in 1972 and the HP/Hamilton joint venture “calculator wrist watch” in 1975 ushered in the next wave of wearable technology.

In 1990, some of the market leaders like Casio designed stand-alone wrist watches to have multiple capabilities than just showing time and performing mathematical calculations. Slowly, things changed with the growth of internet, cloud computing and bluetooth technology, creating a demand for products doing much more.

Fast forward into somewhere in the early 2000, new players like Nike and Fitbit had entered the market clearing the path to develop devices satisfying the ever-growing needs of the customer and staying digitally connected. The introduction of Google glass, has given a whole new meaning to wearable technology by exploring a field never thought of before Google glass came into existence.

A simple gadget versus a wearable technology device?

  • Device should work on motion control and gesture recognition. How easy would it be to control your device by just raising an eyebrow or waving your hand?
  • Availability is an important factor to consider. The device should be online 24*7 without taking a toll on battery life but at the same time, keep running continuously in the backend.
  • It should also take full advantage of the mobile device capabilities and environment like GPS, Accelerometer, Gyro meter, Compass, Camera, and Microphone to name a few.
  • It should be always connected on one or more channels using connectivity options like mobile data, wireless, Bluetooth, NFC, iBeacon etc.
  • The device should also feature easy to access, less distracting notifications.
  • From a developer’s standpoint, it should easily connect with 3rd party accessories, applications and API’s

Applications with Wearable Technology

Some of my favorite wearable devices currently in R&D/available in the market (not in a particular order)

Sony’s Patterned Wig – Sony’s SmartWig is expected to help the visually challenged, navigate their way using GPS and vibration-based commands. This device would also push game developers to come up with more games with enriched experience in virtual reality space.

Sleep Mask – This wearable mask is designed to help Polyphasic sleepers. This mask monitors brain activity and sleep waves, eye movement, muscle tension, heart rate, body temperature and blood saturation to detect the sleeping pattern and wake the user up at the optimal time.

Google Glass – It is a voice activated eye glass using which the user can take pictures, record video, post images and statuses, see navigation directions, search the web and here’s the best part. This could all be done without using your hands

Stretchable Tattoo (Bio-stamp) – It is a collection of sensors integrated in a skin like “Band-Aid” that looks like a tattoo, generally used to identify a person and/or collect data such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, UV exposure etc. from their body.

Watches, Pendants, Wrist Bands and Rings – Usually comes with LED displays designed to deliver notifications from the user’s phone, place and screen calls, control music and camera, collect body data etc. to name a few functions.

Wearable Clothes – This includes sweaters, trousers, polo shirts, briefs and vests, Socks etc. Technology and Fashion giants like Microsoft, Durex, and Ralph Lauren are investing in Wearable Clothing Technology. The research varies from data collection to monitoring and alerting.

There are lots of research and products in Healthcare tele-medicine (Remote Medicine) including HTC’s TeleDoctor and tele-monitoring space (I cannot wait to write my next article on this).

Smart Shoes – Like watches, Smart Shoes work using BT pairing with a user’s phone. It is mainly designed to track activity. Some of the Smart Shoes comes with GPS integration and helps to navigate using vibrations.

Globally, in 2014, the wearable market is expected to grow up to USD 1.5 bn with North America and Western Europe dominating the race closely followed by Latin America. With the advancements being made in wearable technology, one thing is clear. The boundaries of creativity are being stretched with design ideas from developers and designers being matched with investments and opportunities in this previously less ventured territory. We are truly in an age of unending possibilities and this current rise of wearable technology demand has only re-affirmed my belief in this.

Venkat Alagarsamy,

Practice, head, Mobile CoE, HTC Global Services

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