The 2012Wearable Technologies Conference II 2012 San Francisco demonstrated just how far this eclectic industry has evolved in recent years from capabilities to markets. The current trends? Design for your mother. Making wearable technology easier to use and understand will make it more enjoyable and less intimidating across the digital divide. The future markets? Gamify a network of sensors. Games will help us employ these new technologies, and as we increase self awareness, body sensors will also talk to each other.
Here is an overview of the design motivations from the 20+ presentations beginning with the wristband and working our way closer to the body. Wearable technology can be worn on your wrist, of course, but also in your underwear, on your skin with MC10 bioelectronic tattoos, or even inside your skin with intelligent implants.
We begin with the trend this year at CES, technology on your wrist. A flood of smart watches, wristbands to track biometric data, and wristbands designed to hold your iPod nano entered the market in 2012.
Now, the Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android — the Smartest Watch Ever, is also the highest crowd-funded project ever. Earlier this year it collected over 10M on Kickstarter. This watch lets you wear your smartphone, so you can be hands free. It is the Pebble’s designer, Eric Migicovsky, who says “one of the most important rules in design is to make it easy enough for your mom to understand.”
Clothing+, textile sensors manufacturer, thinks that underwear is the perfect platform for body sensors, since it is close to skin. Designer Mikko Malmivaara states, “sensing will be the new basic function for all premium sports wear within the next few years.” Many are working to find solutions that bridge the gap between fashion and electronics. Wrist bands are still clunky. We want media in our underwear.
For posture, there is a trend of haptic or vibration feedback designs to keep you in alignment. LUMOback is a vibrating waist band that buzzes when you slouch, reminding you to sit up straight. Also a Kickstarter top seller, their tagline states, “your mother will never nag you again.” Their media will. The design is like a big wristband. The thick plastic might get irritating as our skin is so sensitive. Can we get closer? Perhaps pair with Clothing+ to put the sensor in a garment? Move by Electricfoxy is a nice example of fabric sensors in an elegant design. This top for Pilates or yoga has stretch sensors that vibrate when the body is out of alignment.
Some sensors are skipping fabric and sticking directly to skin. MC10 (photo top of story) has developed bio-electronic tattoos. These flexible, elastic sensors stick to the skin and are wireless sensors for bio data like heart rate, hydration, and SPF. Already working with Reebok, they are offering sports monitoring for optimal performance.
The Metria Wearable Sensor is a patch that logs patient data for the health care industry and transmits to electronic devices. It lasts for a week even in the shower.
Sensors can bypass old-fashioned textiles and adhesives by being directly embedded subcutaneously, using the skin itself as a material.
Dualis MedTech brings us wireless implants for medical monitoring. With this technology, diabetics could easily manage their glucose level. This seems the most intelligent move for healthcare, but since this is currently the most tightly regulated device class, the development is slow.
The prevalent question is how to power these sensors. As technologies get closer to our bodies, the power source must as well. Showcased at the conference were Varta‘s micro-batteries and Imprint Energy‘s thin, flexible batteries that contour to the human form.
With the current level of intelligence from our smart technology, where do we go? And will your mother be proud? With all this self care, your doctor should be.
Mark Hoffmann, from Quentiq, spoke on The Future of Mobile Health, suggesting one future opportunity is to blend current medias to change some of our behaviors. The health care industry has already invested $4T towards this end, and new opportunities lie in designing games, using social networks, and our smartphones to modify some of our less-than-ideal health habits.
Zeo Deep Sleep Games are a brilliant example of this idea, with gamification —applying game theory to non-game situations— this design inspires optimal health. Zeo is a system with a headband sensor that connects to an app allowing one to track their personal progress and even compete with others to be more rested. Apparently, the Olympic athletes are currently focusing on the effects of deep sleep for greater waking performance.
For the wrap up, Joseph Paradiso from MIT Media Lab presented Wearable Systems as a link to Ubitiquitous Sensing and Actuation, a lecture in which he predicted a future in which our bodies will benefit from a network of sensors which will provide us with an acute knowledge of, if not regulation of, the details of our physical condition. A wearable tech veteran, in 1997 Paradiso designed Expressive Footwear Sound Shoes, sneakers with sensors that create their own music when dancing. This concept has only entered the mainstream in the past few years with another sound shoe, the Adidas Megalizer 2011, as well as the Nike Flex 2012 with GPS location.
The audience wanted to know, why did this technology take so long to get to the market, and how do you prepare the market for similar devices in the future?
Designers help plant the seeds of need. There also has to be a collective trend of curiosity. While artists and designers envision, people will find a use and need for the technology. (But sometimes is takes 10 years.)
Electronic media (a.k.a.television) is as an extension of the central nervous system. ~Marshall McLuhan – Understanding Media (1964)
For the finale, Joseph Paradiso presented his work with the impressive Doppellab. This network of sensors acts like a nervous systems for architecture, enabling buildings to respond to their inhabitants by monitoring body location and responding with climate and lighting control. This ubiquitous sensing is the internet of tangible things.
The conference left us with questions for the coming year. How will humans interface with a network of sensory technology? In what new ways can this network benefit our health? Can it make our lives easier in ways that will be challenging to predict? And, if so, how will the marketplace stimulate interest in this technology? Here we go!