The Quantifiable Self.
A voice in your ear that encourages you to run faster so that you reach your recommended heart rate. An information assistant that continuously records REM cycles when you sleep. Headphones that stimulate the brain with electrical impulses. Or a walking stick that sends an alarm if it falls over. This is not a work of fiction, but a present-day reality. Even if wearables have not been as widespread as smartphones for long, they are offering more and more solutions for people of every age and for (practically) every activity.
When Apple became the first company to unveil a health app for iOS, the market was not quite ready for all things measurable. Today, at events like CES, long-established Silicon Valley companies and Japanese tech whizzes are showcasing their innovative wearables with almost limitless possibilities for measuring health and fitness metrics.
The sale of wearable devices is forecast to grow from 84 million units in 2015 to 245 million units by 2019.
Digital Haut couture.
Thanks to improvements in sensor technology, wearables are becoming ever smaller, more precise and cheaper. As pedometers, heart rate monitors or calorie counters, they are increasingly moving away from their usual position on the wrist. They are instead becoming direct components of clothing or other intelligent fabrics, as was presented by start-ups such as Clim8 and Xenoma. However, with the help of electric skin, it is not just physical processes which are being monitored. What is more, these products – such as the wearable accelerometer – collect findings from the relative position of the body in the surrounding environment, track changes in movement and, like GPS, can determine where you start and stop running. They also make the user aware if they are sitting in an unhealthy position at the computer.
The intelligent mattresses from the start-up Beddit work on a similar principle. Sensors lie directly in the bed rather than in clothing. They aim to help the user enjoy a healthier sleep. Sleep-tracking is automatic and invisible; it integrates seamlessly into everyday life. Blood sugar levels can also be measured non-invasively. With the wearable K’Track users can check their blood levels without having to prick their finger and receive a warning if their blood sugar is low.
The Steering Wheel as a Health Tracker.
Wearable technology could also take on important functions in cars and thus prevent potential accidents caused by health-related issues. The data collected can not only determine the health data of drivers when they are in the car, but also collect data on their health through the use of other devices when they are not in the car. Imagine a steering wheel that measures one’s blood sugar level or a seat that warns drivers when they are slouching unhealthily in their seat. We can assume that end users will increasingly expect to be made aware of their health-related data. Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are already among the manufacturers who have presented concepts like this at CES.
A Step Ahead of the Times.
CES 2017 has highlighted how precisely and in how many different ways wearables can analyse a person and support them in what they are doing. The next step of development has already been sketched out: wearables that can react to human emotions, for example by incorporating them directly into a game using a type of game controller on the player’s wrist, as presented by the start-up Ironova. In addition, scientists at MIT recently exhibited a wearable that can recognise and interpret the emotions hidden behind speech. Even if wearables are nothing new in principle, we are surprised again and again by the new possibilities they offer.