Apurv Mishra, founder of Glavio Wearable Computing, shares his thoughts on body-adapted wearable electronics – one of the trends highlighted in the Top 10 emerging technologies for 2014.
People will be familiar with the rise of wearable technology such as smart glasses and connected watches. What’s new about body-adapted wearable electronics?
One of the interesting trends is that we’re seeing more and more sensors that are worn around the body. The first generation of the technology was primarily head-mounted or wristbands, but that’s changing. We’re also seeing more and more sensors being packaged together. In the future, wearable technology will collect several different kinds of health data and will be really tiny.
And what kinds of things are these sensors being used to measure?
Interesting examples include the recently launched Intel earbuds as well as a couple of other earbud-based sensors that can track heart rate. And there are smaller “form factor” sensors, which can be worn on the body to track posture, for example, or in a shoe sole to provide feedback through vibrations for blind people or for navigation. Then we have the MC10 [stick-on sensor], which is more of a second skin and can be put into different parts of the body to very easily capture health data.
Is the cost coming down as these sensors become more common?
Absolutely. These sensors are common in smartphones and because of that we’re seeing a significant reduction in their price.
When it comes to more general users, are we seeing advances in the kind of services that help people understand what this data means? For example, your doctor might understand what fluctuations in your heart rate mean but the average person doesn’t.
That’s a very important point. While there have been advances in the collection of data, it’s still at a stage where most of these companies don’t allow easy access to the data because everybody wants to control the platform. There’s a big opportunity to combine data from different body parts, because doing so can be very useful. For example, I recently spoke to someone who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He’s really fascinated with tracking his body’s data, from his movement and coordination to his sleep and other activities. What his experience has shown me is that it’s really tough to bring all that data together on one platform and make sense of it. That’s one of the things that will be important in 2014 – making more of the data actionable and allowing multiple data sets to be plotted together.
Are we going to start seeing devices such as smart watches, fitness bands and smart glasses merge into a single device, or at least fewer devices?
The great thing about smart watches is that they have large computing power and can display information, so I think the watch is a very exciting space. We might be able to have a heart rate sensor and some other sensors combined into one device but other wearables have to be elsewhere. So, for example, the posture-tracking sensor needs to be somewhere other than on your wrist. I think there will be some convergence so that one or two wearable devices become more prominent and then there will be others, perhaps in your shoe, in your ear or somewhere in your clothes, that will be more of an accessory to the main wearable device and provide an external data set.
What do you think will push significant numbers of people to adopt this kind of technology?
The technology is ready for high adoption from consumers but we need two things. First, because wearable devices are very personal, people care about the design and until now design has not been very important. I think we need more adaptive designs, which are really thin and more comfortable on the body, so that they can be either concealed or worn as more of a fashion statement. The second thing is that we need to have some actionable data. When I talk to people about activity trackers, I get the impression that the only thing they care about is whether they were active or not. The actual number they see is not very relevant.
We tend to only really be aware of the workings of our bodies when something goes wrong but these sensors are changing that. Do you think future generations will find it strange that we knew so little about what was going on in our bodies?
Yes, I think at some point we will look back and realize we didn’t know anything about ourselves. In the future there will be a tiny log of everything that is happening, good or bad, so we will be able to take control of our health and wellness in a much more powerful way. What’s really exciting about these wearable devices is that not only do they collect our data, but they change our behaviour. They offer constant, tiny amounts of feedback that we can act on. There are subtle things that we’ve never been able to capture; once we can monitor those, we can live smarter lives.
Author: Apurv Mishra is the founder of Glavio Wearable Computing and a Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technology. Reporting by Shane Richmond.
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