Wearables have grown in popularity over the last few years and will go even further still, according to researchers. The Pew Research Center issued a report that surveyed industry experts. They believe that by 2025 wearables will dominate the mainstream.
Consumers are already buying electronic extensions to enhance their memories through smartwatches to buzz them alerts, and help monitor our health with fitness trackers in the form of heart-rate monitors, watches, and clip-ons. “They say the upsides are enhanced health, convenience, productivity, safety, and vastly more useful information for people and organizations. The downsides: challenges to personal privacy, over-hyped expectations, and tech complexity that boggles us,” wrote Janna Anderson, director of Elon Univeristy’s Imagining the Internet Center and author of the report. Then again, another recent Pew Research study has shown that 53 percent of people think they would be worse off.
Smartphones were the first wearables, in a way, and these devices have become part of us. They’re constantly glued to our pockets and hands, and according to Google’s recent I/O keynote, people check their phones 125 times a day on average. So people may think we’ll be worse off, but the need for easily accessible information has already taken over. Smartphones are just the hubs for our wearables, where fitness devices break down more involved data within apps that help us read our bodies like a stat chart. Other wearables are able to act independently of smartphones. Those products are usually medical grade pieces of technology that help improve quality of life.
Regardless of public fears, the market thinks there’s something to be gained by producing these wearables — whether it’s proof of concept for a later date or as a consumer product. Here are some of the products that augmenting our lifestyles already, for better or worse.
Fashion that changes with you
The fashion industry wants to take advantage of technology more than ever. There’s a designer line of intimate clothing that reacts to the wearer’s heart rate and becomes more transparent when the beats per minute rises.
There’s also cat ears and tails that read your brainwaves, and move and react according to your mood. While these kinds of wearables, designed by Neurowear, will appeal to a niche audience, the concept of mood ring type apparel could help blind dates be more transparent about whether or not they’re really having fun.
One of the biggest and most controversial wearables, Google Glass has caused quite a stir. Some people love the easily accessible data and life-documenting possibilities it has, while others worry about their privacy being invaded in public areas as well as private businesses, which is why some restaurants, bars, and strip clubs have already placed a ban on them.
However, there are other eyewear mounted cameras with less notoriety out there that have no indication as to whether it’s recording. Life documentors are especially fond of these, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you or I want to be featured in their day-in-the-life movie or photo reel.
The most up-and-coming wearable on the market, these watch-like devices give us a quick preview of what notifications are popping up on our phones, and how far we’ve walked during the day. It’s the ultimate preview device, allowing its users to get a brief overview of what’s going on with our bodies and devices without getting sucked into responding to an email. Technology is speeding up, and so is productivity. Time is wasted taking out your phone every time there’s a notification beep or a buzz. Smartwatches act as our filter, allowing users to lift up their arms and quickly determine whether or not a message should be designated important or not.
Enhanced hearing earpieces
This device isn’t a hearing aid in the typical sense — or at least it’s not being marketed that way. It’s a hearing “enhancement” for those with average ears. The Soundhawk Scoop’s aim is to make a person’s hearing range longer and allow users to cut through ambient noise in a crowded restaurant to listen to a conversation more clearly. Through an app, the user can toggle through different “sound scenes” to optimize hearing. It also doubles as a Bluetooth headset.
Gesture control Bluetooth ring
Ever since Minority Report, most of us have dreamed of having such elegant movement incorporated into our own workflow. One company is looking to get closer to that reality with a Bluetooth ring that senses the wearer’s gestures. With the ability to control TV, phones, and tablets with simple swipes, touching anything with your own hands seems obsolete.
Chips implants will one day allow us to access the cloud, and maybe even store our memories. That’s the dream at least. For now, however, medical research has been taking advantage of microchip technology to help victims of paralysis. While we’re still far away from consumer-grade implants, research has turned out promising results.
Ian Burkhart made history in becoming the first quadriplegic to move his fingers after two years. The microchip does the work of processing his thoughts into commands that’s sent to an electronic sleeve attached to his hand. This sleeve then stimulates his hand with electrodes, allowing him to move. It took one tenth of a second for the command to be performed.
Other chip implants pose a far more frightening outlook. DARPA wants the ability to implant or remove memories from a host’s brain. “DARPA seems to be going full steam ahead on these kinds of technologies. What they plan to do is put chips in [the brain]. It would be like a prosthesis — instead of moving your arm, you’re fixing memory. I have no idea how they would achieve that,” said neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux to MIT Technology Review.
Skin implants or body modifications may very well be the new fashion of the future. However, the hope is to help unlock phones and other devices more easily. Slash Gear recently reported on a copper tattoo that allows users to unlock their Moto X just by tapping it. The tattoo is really more of a small patch that sticks to your arm. It unlocks the Moto X with the NFC tag that’s inside, allowing users to bypass security more quickly and jump right into using their device.
We’re all waiting for the day when Iron Man suits become the new motorcycles, but for now these exoskeletons are helping paraplegics to walk again. Recently approved by the FDA, ReWalk is available for consumer purchase. It’s price tag is a whopping $70,000, but consumers will have to weigh that cost against the long-term money spent in hospital visits treating clots and other health issues from inactivity.