Wearable technology is one of the year’s key technology trends. Here is a round-up of five wearables, tracking their past, present and future.
Activity tracker: Jawbone UP
Past: Activity trackers are a relatively new type of device. However, in a more primitive form – the pedometer – they have been around since the 18th century.
Present: Jawbone’s subtle wristband uses an accelerometer – a movement-detecting chip like the one found in your smartphone or tablet – to track your movement during the day and how much sleep you get at night. UP, like similar products from Fitbit, Fitbug and Nike, works on the basis that knowing how much activity you are doing is a great first step to doing more.
Future: Movement-tracking chips are already being included in smartphones. It will be more common to see them embedded in all sorts of devices, such as watches and shoes, or even implanted in the body, for example in replacement hips.
Smart watch: Pebble
Past: Wristwatches are one of the oldest forms of wearable technology, replacing pocket watches. In the 1970s, digital watches were the first mainstream wearable electronics, while the first popular wearable computers were the calculator watches of the 1980s.
Present: Smart watches like the Pebble deliver snippets of information from a connected device, typically a smartphone. The small amounts of time saved from not having to take your phone out of your pocket to read a text message or see who’s calling really add up.
Future: Companies like Pebble, Cookoo and Metawatch have established smart watches but now the big brands are getting involved. Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear last month and both Google and Apple are said to be experimenting with smart watches of their own. Expect to see them get smaller and more powerful but the wrist will always be a place for a quick summary of information, rather than consumption. We’re unlikely to watch videos on our wrists.
Smart glasses: Google Glass
Past: Like wristwatches, glasses have a long history. They are thought to date from the 13th century and have been used for magnification, vision correction and protection from bright sunshine.
Present: If wearable technology has a face then that face is wearing Google Glass, the head-up display made by the search giant. A portable computer, comparable to a smartphone, lurks inside one arm of the glasses and a tiny display delivers information into the wearer’s field of vision.
Future: Expect smart glasses to be a common option for sunglasses and other eyewear and to grow in popularity as prices come down. There will be experiments with different kinds of display but the next development is likely to be smart contact lenses.
Wearable clothing: VEGA wearable light by Angella Mackey
Past: Kanye West boasts, on Estelle’s song, American Boy, that he is “dressed smart like a London bloke.” This, he explains, entails a bespoke suit and a natty pea coat. Yes, for generations, “smart” clothing simply meant elegant clothing. Either that or one of those 80s t-shirts that changed colour when you were hot.
Present: Angella Mackey’s VEGA clothing contains LED lights that keep a cyclist safe at night. Other designers have experimented with building a mobile phone into a dress and even shoes with embedded LEDs that will guide you to your destination.
Future: Conductive thread – cotton coated in nanoparticles and polymers – will be used to make the transistors and circuits of a computer that will literally be part of the fabric of our clothes. Other smart clothes will regulate our temperature, change their properties based on the weather and even generate electricity to charge our other gadgets.
Brain-computer interface: Emotiv Insight
Past: Mind control is not something with a long history but it is a product that began to move into the mainstream through toys and games. The Force Trainer, released in 2009, was a Star Wars-themed toy that had players raise a ball in the air using their brain activity.
Present: The Emotiv Insight is a headset that monitors electrical activity in your brain, allowing you to control your computer using your thoughts.
Future: Scientists have made breakthroughs in connecting brains together to share information, though only in monkeys and rats so far. Other research has demonstrated the ability to “write” information to a human brain, raising the prospect that we might one day learn while we sleep. The brain-computer interface won’t simply make us healthier or more productive – it will challenge the very concept of what it means to be human.
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Author: Shane Richmond writes about technology for the World Economic Forum and is the author of Computerised You: How wearable technology will turn us into computers.
Image: A model displays new product “Glass by Google” at the Diane von Furstenberg Spring/Summer 2013 collection show during New York Fashion Week September 9, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly