If you thought conference season ended with Google I/O, you are sorely mistaken. July 8th marked the beginning of this year’s Wearable Technologies Conference, a two-day seminar dedicated to, you guessed it, wearables. If you’re thinking, “Hey, didn’t that already happen?” don’t worry, you’re not crazy. You’re just thinking of GLAZEDcon, a very similar event we covered just a little over a month ago. Allow me to clear up the confusion while sharing some important findings.
The Wearable Technologies Conference is put on by the Wearable Technologies Group, which describes itself as, “The pioneer and worldwide leading innovation and market development platform for technologies worn close to the body, on the body or even in the body.” Their bio isn’t too far off from that of Wearable World, the company behind the GLAZEDcon series. Wearable World’s elevator pitch claims they, “ [Connect] businesses to the social fabric of the Internet of Wearable Things. Our goal is to provide an innovation platform to foster the blend of technology, art and humanity through news content, incubator and accelerator programs, and events.”
Regardless of which phrasing you prefer, there’s more than enough room for both platforms in the wearables industry—and San Francisco certainly has no shortage of banquet halls to facilitate both events. As we saw at the Wearable Technologies Conference, the amount of connected devices entering the market is constantly on the rise. The same will be true for the number of groups dedicated to furthering this movement.
mHealth gadgets were well accounted for at the Wearable Technology Conference, and I’m not just talking about fitness trackers. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of those there too, but there was also a bunch of devices capable of doing much more than count your steps.
One of the most awarded and recognizable of the wearables discussed at the event was the Reebok CHECKLIGHT. In case you haven’t been keeping up with professional football, boxing or any other head-trauma-prone athletic competition, concussions are a problem. Just last season there were 228 concussions in the NFL alone. Add that to the 192 reported concussions in the NCAA and countless other cases in grade schools across the nation, and it’s easy to see why Reebok and MC10 decided to tackle this issue.
The CHECKLIGHT is a moisture-wicking beanie that contains both a gyroscope and an accelerometer. Together, the sensors measure impacts sustained by the athlete. Although the device can’t prevent a knock on the noggin, it can let athletes, coaches, officials and physical trainers know if a player is safe to stay on the field or needs to report straight to the CT machine.
Another wearable we saw that’s destined to keep athletes—and anyone with a heartbeat—safe is the QardioCore, a discrete ECG monitor for anyone engaging in cardiovascular activities. According to the website, “[The QardioCore] continually provides medical-grade monitoring of your ECG, heart rate, Heart Rate Variability, levels of physical activity, variations in body temperature, and more.” Qardio’s web and iOS apps also allow doctors to monitor their patients’ stats outside of the office, giving them a realistic view of their heart health—once the product is available, of course. For now you’ll just have to subscribe to their mailing list.
Consumers aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from wearables. The Evena Eyes-On Glasses were made with medical professionals and malpractice suits in mind. The dual hyper-sensitive cameras and multi-spectral lighting mounted on the front of the glasses give nurses a clear view of the patient’s veins, making it easier to run tests without multiple needle pricks or unnecessary bloodshed. The glasses also come with two-way audio support, digital storage, wireless connectivity, and most importantly, a comfy nose rest. While the first version of Eyes-On has experienced some issues ranging from its bulky size, short battery life, and overheating, the company mentioned they will be releasing a new version in the near future.
Another growing trend in the world of wearables is the integration of haptic feedback into devices. David Birnbaum, Senior UX Design Manager at Immersion Corporation, led a talk about the number of ways subtle vibrations can enhance the wearables experience. Imagine watching a NFL game on your sofa and getting a tremor through your torso every time a player experiences one of those bone-crushing hits we previously discussed. Well, it’s already happening (only with different kind of football).
The We:eX Alert Shirt is currently helping Australian rugby fans “Feel what the players feel” with a little help from the Foxtel cable company. As part of a sports bundle pack, Foxtel subscribers receive a sensor-laden shirt that produces harmless vibrations whenever a player is tackled or put in a high-pressured situation. It’s the same kind of haptic feedback you get from your gaming controller while playing Madden, only, you feel it all over your torso instead of just your hands.
Birnbaum also mentioned some (arguably) more practical solutions, like vibrations to alert diabetics when their blood sugar is out of whack and pulses when you’ve received an email or text message. He even mentioned the possibility of senders being able to indicate the urgency of a message according to the severity of the vibrations. If you just wanted to say hello to a friend, a simple buzz would do. If you want to lamblast somebody for spoiling the GoT finale, set that sucker to jackhammer and make sure they really feel your rage.
Birnbaum believes that as there are more smart objects in our environment, it will become difficult for people to distinguish what is a smart object versus what isn’t. Haptic feedback can be a helpful indicator to let a user know that an object is connected and they need to take additional action—a gesture or smartphone activation—to engage with it. It’s hard to imagine how many of our devices will start moving and shaking, but I guess we’ll know it when we feel it.
There’s never shortage of use cases for wearable devices. However, manufacturers are still trying to figure out the best ways to keep their hardware flushed with power. Sure, you can charge a dying pair of Google Glass, but what about when the device is a matter of life and death? EPIC Semiconductors believes they’ve found the answer, SensingLabels.
These skin-friendly stickers contain a tiny chip and two electrodes that run entirely off of the electrical signals sent from your body. These tiny sensors can detect everything from a person’s biometric data to the ripeness of the produce in their kitchen. EPIC also offers the SmartLogo, which is essentially a SensingLabel attached to a company’s logo. EPIC claims the SmartLogo will be able to give brands an unprecedented access to consumer purchasing habits and suggestive selling opportunities, but their pitch video—which contains an epic voiceover, instrumental, and inexplicable illustration of a gorilla sitting on a bed of nails—almost sounds a little too good to be true.
Another example of a battery-free power source came from an independent inventor named Sean Hodgins. While earning a degree from McMaster University’s Bachelor of Technology Program, Sean began tinkering with Peltier units—”a solid-state active heat pump which transfers heat from one side of the device to the other,” according to Wikipedia. But rather than heating or cooling an object, Sean decided to transfer that energy into a device he calls the Peltier Ring. The Peltier Ring is a ring (duh) that uses your body heat to activates a tiny blinking LED light. Although Sean’s ring won’t be seen on a runway anytime soon, it does an excellent job of demonstrating how thermoelectricity could eventually replace the batteries in our wearable devices.
You can debate the validity of EPIC and Sean’s offerings all you’d like, but one thing you can’t deny is the relevance of wearable devices. Whether they’re keeping athletes from rupturing their brains, preventing nurses from collapsing your veins, or discretely persuading you to buy a certain brand of toothpaste, the Wearable Technologies Conference reminded us all that wearables are here to stay.
Learn more about the future of wearable tech by reading our Helpful Wearables Trend Report.