The discussion about wearable technology recently has mostly been
about various devices, like watches and bands, that we wear on our
wrists to communicate, measure our health, etc. But from a
technological perspective, if not yet a commercial viewpoint, these are
How about some new hats? Like this one …
These more interesting – and maybe a bit more eerie – wearables are
what I’d call “Head Tech”. That’s technology that we place on our
This has become a fascination of so many engineers that a few months ago the University of Florida held the first brain-controlled drone race. Its larger goal was to popularize the use of brain-computer interfaces.
Not to be outdone, a couple of weeks ago, the Human-Oriented Robotics and Control Lab at Arizona State University unveiled
a system to use that approach to control not only a single drone, but a
swarm of drones. You can see an explanation in this video – https://vimeo.com/173548439
drones have their recreational and surveillance uses, they’re only one
example. Another piece of Head Tech gear comes from Smartstones, working with Emotiv’s less medical-looking EEG.
It enables people who are unable to speak to use their minds to communicate. As they describe it:
pairing our revolutionary sensory communication app :prose with an EEG
headset powered by Emotiv, we are enabling a thought-to-speech solution
that is affordable, accessible and mobile for the first time ever. Users
can record and command up to 24 unique phrases that can be spoken aloud
in any language.”
The geekiness of some these may remind you of Google Glass. Unlike Google Glass, though, they offer dramatic value
for people who have special but critical needs. For that reason, I
expect some version of these will be developed further and will succeed.
“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.”
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!
Readers of this blog know that I’ve been tracking the various ways that the now-traditional setup of screen/keyboard/mouse/computer is being replaced in a world where the network and computing is ubiquitous.
This post reviews some of the more interesting recent ideas – proposed and realized – about how we’ll be interacting with cyberspace. Obviously these technologies are still being perfected and some may not ever become commercially viable, but they give you an idea of where things are headed.
Let’s start with wearable technology, which I first wrote about more than a year ago. The major tech research firm, Forrester, flatly declares that “In 2015, wearables will hit mass market”. Moreover, as reported by Fierce Mobile, “Gartner Predicts By 2017, 30 Percent of Smart Wearables Will Be Inconspicuous to the Eye”.
The Mota Smart Ring is just one of a number of examples of wearable tech, including jewelry. The ring on your finger becomes your communications medium to your smart phone, etc. notifying you of new social media items, messages and the like. Their pre-order video is at http://youtu.be/q5UbWcLmFn4
The latest (if as yet unrealized) vision of using your body as an interface comes from Cicret Bracelet which wants you to “make your skin your new tablet” as you can see in this video or in this picture:
Sometimes your hands and eyes are busy with other duties, so you need a way to see things without moving your line of sight. That’s partly the idea behind Google glasses and a series of heads-up displays for various vehicles that have been developed and not generally successfully sold over the past few years. The latest comes from the British company, Motorcycle Information System Technologies, with its BikeHUD, a heads-up display for motorcyclists. As they put it:
“When we ride, there’s no room for distractions … We created BIKEHUD to enable us to keep our heads UP at all times. As bikers ourselves, we decided we should be watching the miles, not the dials.”
The real fun, of course, is playing with an even more virtual world. Dexta Robotics unveiled their Dexmo exoskeleton for your hand so, among other things, you can better control your avatar in cyberspace.
“Dexmo is a wearable mechanical exoskeleton that captures your hand motion as well as providing you with force feedback. It breaks the barrier between the digital and real world and gives you a sense of touch.”
Finally, if you think that Google Glass is geek wear, then consider Sony’s alternative – clip-ons, yes like the clip-on sunshades of yore. They call this SmartEyeglass Attach!, as it is attached to regular (or shaded) glasses.
In its announcement, Sony points out that this product uses:
“High-Resolution Color OLED Microdisplay, a Micro-Optical Unit that brings out the full potential of the display’s high image quality, and a miniaturized control board with arithmetic processing capabilities on par with smartphones that was made possible by high-density packaging technology.”
Although it’s not likely a response to Sony, Google has announced Google Cardboard so that you can “experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way”. The product is accurately named. It is, after all, a cardboard box.
The Google Cardboard website has so many wordplays that it comes across like a prank. But who knows? Maybe the latest technology that people will be wearing will be a cardboard box 😉
Previously, I mentioned the relatively traditional view of the nation-state offered by Google’s Eric Schmidt and former State Department official Jared Cohen in their book, “The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives”.
That conservative view extended to the Internet as a whole. The authors concluded the book with the statement that the physical world and the virtual or digital (Internet) world will remain mostly separate even in the future.
Is that so?
In addition to new blended urban spaces and augmented reality that I’ve written about before, there are examples of a blending of physical and digital in many areas, including retail business, education, health care and employment.
Google Glass, all kinds of new health-oriented devices (Apple Watch being just the latest) along with tech-embedded items of clothing is part of the public’s interest in wearable technology. In a blog on the website of Forrester, the tech consulting company, Anjali Lai wrote how “US Consumers Embrace Convergence Of The Physical And Digital”. Lai cited Forrester research on the increasing percentage of Americans wanting wearable tech.
Some research has even shown how the behavior of people in the purely physical world is impacted by what they learn and do in the virtual world. See, for example, Jennifer Lee’s review of studies in “The Many Ways Virtual Communities Impact Our World Offline”. Among other impacts, but one with especially broad implications, she reports on a study that:
“positive behavior can be reinforced in the physical world if the participant could visualize and experience a particular scenario in the virtual world [through an avatar].”
“Blurring the notional boundary between the digital and the physical in social activity spaces helps blend – and motivate – online and face-to-face community participation.”
In an admonition to corporate executives (like Google’s Schmidt?) to understand what’s going on, Lai, the author of the Forrester blog mentioned above, quoted a colleague on the same subject:
“Convergence of the physical and digital world is eroding the boundaries that are the basis for many operating assumptions; firms today are ill-prepared to handle the resulting chaos [ … ] we are seeing a convergence of digital and physical identities — people are not differentiating who they are online and in person.”
Lai also used the environmental word ecotone, which is the “zone where two habitats merge”, noting:
“We are living in an ecotone where physical meets digital, where the edge of our offline experience converges with our online one.”
And also that:
“people are deeply attracted to these areas of convergence and interaction because the edge is where the action is … the edges we create in our society generate energy and are the places we push things to for the best results”
Are these worlds separate and the gap between them to be forever large? It would seem not.
This is the last of my end of summer highlights of interesting tech news. Aside from being interesting, perhaps they also illustrate how technology is getting more personal now.
The creative, Munich-based augmented reality company, Metaio, showed off a way it can turn any surface into an augmented reality touchscreen. The company notes that this is their:
vision of the near future for wearable computing user interfaces. By fusing information from an infrared and standard camera, nearly any surface can be transformed into a touch screen.
Also from Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits announced a few days ago an app for Google Glass that analyzes what its camera sees and assesses the emotional state of the person in front of the Glass wearer. It even takes a guess at the person’s age. It’s an extension of their previous work, offered as SHORE technology. There’s a video demonstrating this at http://youtu.be/Suc5B79qjfE
As part of its RISE basketball tour in China, Nike unveiled the LED basketball court to train athletes. This new facility in Shanghai, called the House of Mamba, has motion sensors capturing the actions of the players and LED displays providing direction on the floor. There’s a picture below, but to see it at work, you should watch the video at http://youtu.be/u2YhDQtncK8
In another example of the blending of the virtual and physical in urban environments, there’s Soofa’s urban hub. As they describe it:
a solar-powered bench that provides you with free outdoor charging and location-based information like air quality and noise levels by uploading environmental sensor data to soofa.co. The smart urban furniture was developed by Changing Environments, a MIT Media Lab spin-off.
Toshiba Corporation announced that it will add a new dimension to its healthcare business by starting production of pesticide-free, long-life vegetables in a closed-type plant factory that operates under almost aseptic conditions … and will start shipping lettuce, baby leaf greens, spinach, mizuna and other vegetables in the second quarter of FY2014. http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2014_05/pr1501.htm
That’s it for reports from around the globe. Next week back to analysis and questions about where we’re headed.
I learn of interesting new technologies and products every day. Because a successful business reflects more than the value of its products, most of these won’t be big hits even if they are really good ideas – and many are really interesting technologies.
But then there are others which remind me that not every technology advance makes sense. Some indeed raise that old question – what were they thinking? I’m sure I’m going to get complaints about pointing out some of these items, so I’ll apologize ahead of time that maybe I’m just missing the genius of these ideas 🙂
The government of the United Arab Emirates has decided to adapt one of the ideas proposed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. See the Reuters story at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/10/us-emirates-drones-idUSBREA1906E20140210 The UAE too would use a very modern technology – unmanned drones. But instead of delivering products, they would deliver paperwork to their citizens. The technology also uses sophisticated fingerprint and facial recognition. Perhaps they haven’t heard of a different technology that eliminates the need for the paperwork to begin with – ah, the Internet?
Then there’s this concept that is the merger of the much heralded Internet of Things and wearable clothing – the bra that cannot be unhooked without “true love”. While the Japanese clothing company responsible for this idea only created it as a celebration of their anniversary (https://www.ravijour.com/anniversary/moodup) you can see they do take it seriously in this video at http://youtu.be/B8Wd831gUt4 . I’m not sure anyone else would trust or try to use this particular application of the latest tech.
There have been a few recent experiments in making music in non-traditional ways. (I’ll have more on that in a future blog post.) But one of those experiments that belongs here perhaps is Lickestra. As you can see at http://www.emiliebaltz.com/2014/01/lickestra/ , people generate musical sounds by licking ice cream. Obviously this is not for concert length pieces.
And so it goes on the far edges of the technology world … more to come, I’m sure.
There are some news items about eyes on the frontiers of technology that caught my eye. I suppose, like any pioneering outpost, some of these will be soon lost to history and some will flourish.
So consider Google Glass. While it has been making headway, there are already many competitors, which you can read about here and here and here.
For more serious medical purposes, there is the eSight system, which does for your eyes what hearing aids can do for your ears. The system modifies what its built-in camera sees so that it becomes clear enough and understandable enough for the low-vision, although not truly blind, user. (Here’s a video explaining the eSight system.) At nearly ten thousand dollars, of course, that user will also need some free cash or a generous health plan.
In what it describes as the next generation version of Google Glass, Neurowear makes products that read your mood and then adjust various things in your world, like the music you’ll hear. Their Neurocam senses what you find interesting and only records bits of that. There’s a video at http://youtu.be/CDgkX-JY_wM My guess is that this will have to be shrunk in size before anyone but flamboyant geeks would wear it, but who knows – Google may make geekwear fashionable.
But in case people feel awkward wearing geekwear, perhaps they just need to wait a few years. A team led by scientists at the University of Washington have been developing a contact lens that is wirelessly connected to the Internet and has a built-in display. It’s being developed and tested on rabbits since there will be a big hurdle getting approvals to use this on humans, but something less obvious than glasses is bound to being created sooner or later.