At the very beginning of this year, I posted about the popular theme then that 2015 would be the year of wearable technology. Has it been?
Last week, Fortune magazine reported:
“While the Apple Watch has carved out a sizable chunk of the wearable market share this year, the number-one manufacturer of these devices, Fitbit, remains the same. According to IDC’s latest numbers, in the third quarter, overall wearable device shipments were as high as 21 million units worldwide — a growth of 197.6% year-over-year. And this year’s launch of the Apple Watch has contributed to the increase, with IDC reporting 3.9 million units of the iPhone-connected device shipping in the third quarter.”
So the sales of Fitbit and the Apple Watch are good. I even received a Fitbit as a present and wear it — although not all the time. (I’m also not sure that carrying my iPhone on my belt counts as a wearable 🙂
It’s fair to say that we’re still not at the point where most people are wearing these devices. The numbers are bound to increase, though, as the products improve and new ones, like the Oculus Rift, become available.
Nevertheless, it was a year of great creativity by inventors and designers of new, sometimes even fun, wearables. Many have only been made public in the last month or so. Let’s take a look.
Glasses — Augmented Reality Devices
While Google withdrew its Glass product, some interesting applications arose anyway. Last month, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology posted online a proof-of-concept study, in which the physicians found:
“The projection of 3-dimensional computed tomographic reconstructions onto the screen of virtual reality glass allowed the operators to clearly visualize the distal coronary vessel.”
Also, a few weeks ago, Volkswagen announced that, after a pilot test phase, they would equip the workers in their Wolfsburg plant with “3-D smart glasses”. One of the plant executives noted “The 3D smart glasses take cooperation between humans and systems to a new level.”
Of course, one of the issues that Google ran into is that these glasses look geeky. To address that problem, a spinoff of VTT in Finland has developed and will release an alternative little screen that fits onto regular eyeglasses and provides a virtual display equivalent to 60 inches.
The Wall St. Journal reported last month that NEC “has created a user interface which can display an augmented-reality keyboard on a person’s forearm, using eyeglasses and a smart watch”, thus extending both technologies. (You can see a video here.)
Perhaps the most interesting, but least reported, products are essentially smart clothing — truly wearable technology 😉
The engineers at Thalmic Labs continue to develop the Myo with their armband that understands your gestures to control the actions of a computer. It had its general release this year and the company is encouraging an app market for it.
They were not alone. Among others, Apotact Labs completed a successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of last month for its Gest product. They promise it will track gestures much more accurately by monitoring your fingers and hands, as shown here.
Taking gesture tracking into a somewhat different direction, researchers at the University of Auckland wrote a paper about their
“soft, flexible and stretchable keyboard made from a dielectric elastomer sensor sheet … [that] can detect touch in two dimensions, programmable to increase the number of keys and into different layouts, all without adding any new wires, connections or modifying the hardware.”
In May at their annual I/O conference, Google release a video and information about its Project Jacquard, “a new system for weaving technology into fabric, transforming everyday objects, like clothes, into interactive surfaces.” They apparently have a partnership with Levi Strauss to use this fabric, so maybe someday you won’t ever have to take your smartphone out of the back pocket of your jeans.
Then in June, the Engineering School of the University of Tokyo announced that it had
“developed a new ink that can be printed on textiles in a single step to form highly conductive and stretchable connections. This new functional ink will enable electronic apparel such as sportswear and underwear incorporating sensing devices for measuring a range of biological indicators such as heart rate and muscle contraction.”
You can see their video about it here.
Sensoria, best known for helping runners with its smart sock, teamed up with Orthotics Holdings to announce a new product for 2016 — the Internet-connected Smart Moore Balance Brace that is intended to help seniors avoid falling. That’s a significant issue for about a third of seniors every year, which often happens outside the sight of physicians who can only guess what might have happened. With the Internet connection, this device can report various key aspects of a senior’s walking.
The Next Generation May Already Be Starting
While the wearables market has not yet peaked, Reuters already had an article that predicted, as its headline said: “As Sensors Shrink, Watch As ‘Wearables’ Disappear”.
It opened up this way:
“Forget ‘wearables’… The next big thing in mobile devices: ‘disappearables’.
“Even as the new Apple Watch piques consumer interest in wrist-worn devices, the pace of innovation and the tumbling cost, and size, of components will make wearables smaller — so small, some in the industry say, that no one will see them.
“Within five years, wearables like the Watch could be overtaken by hearables — devices with tiny chips and sensors that can fit inside your ear. They, in turn, could be superseded by disappearables — technology tucked inside your clothing, or even inside your body.”
I’ll follow up on that last point in a future post, but I’m taking off for the holidays, so this is my last post for the year. I wish all my readers a very happy holiday season and a great new year!
© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved