Science fiction writers have often mused about the merger of humans and machines. But while RoboCops and bionic superheroes aren’t likely to fight evil anytime soon, some exciting wearable smart technologies are already here. They may not match Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, but they are enabling ordinary people to interact with the wider world — and the Internet of Everything (IoE) — in intriguing (and sometimes stylish!) ways.
So, if you think your smart device is generating and processing a lot of data today, get ready for an even closer connection with your personal technology in the near future. Wearables are infusing sensors into bands, watches, shoes, shirts, bras, glasses, earrings, necklaces, and helmets. And these technologies are ready to generate reams of data — as well as real-time insights — about the ways in which we live, play, learn, work, exercise, maintain health, you name it.
I expect wearables to be a core topic of conversation at the Internet of Things World Forum in Barcelona later this month. As a further evolution of IoT, IoE is all about connecting people, processes, data, and things in amazing new ways. And while we often hear about IoE’s potential to transform supply chains, factories, retailers, and assorted megaprojects, wearables are a good reminder that the people element of connecting the unconnected is paramount. Armed with these new technologies — and the ability to connect via the key pillars of IoE, such as cloud, mobility, video, and analytics —individuals will be able to monitor and quantify their lives like never before. Wearables add another dimension to the Quantified Self movement, which I covered in a previous blog.
One of the better-known wearables is Google Glass, currently in the beta-testing phase. These eyeglass-like computers present the user with a hands-free visual display, offering a complex and ever-changing interaction with the immediate environment and a world of information. As Matt Miesnieks, CEO of Dekkos, which supplies software for Google Glass, told CNN, “The power of wearables comes from connecting our senses to sensors.”
Some see bionic contact lenses as the next evolution beyond Goggle Glass and similar smart eyewear. Other new technologies, either on the market or on the horizon, include the Misfit Shine necklace, which measures daily activity goals; the Diffus UV dress, which records exposure to sunlight while automatically adjusting its resistance to UV rays; the Nike+ FuelBand and Adidas miCoach training shirts and bras, which monitor vital signs and calories burned during workouts; the Nokia Vibrating Tattoo, which sends alerts and prompts directly to the user’s skin; and smart watches from Samsung, Apple, and Pebble. The National Football League, meanwhile, is using sensors in helmets this season to measure the kinds of impacts that cause concussions. These are just a few of the products available or being developed.
I see wearables as having a huge impact on our lives and the ways in which we interact with our environments. I also see the ever-expanding trail of personal data from multiple sources offering great potential value. Given the insights that personal data offers for retailers, researchers, and technology firms, it is only a matter of time before consumers begin to be compensated for their data. I like to call this the Marketplace of Me (more about this burgeoning potential market in subsequent blogs.)
Another aspect of wearables relates to what Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive of Apple proved with their many sleek designs: the look and feel of such products will be crucial. After all, when interacting with your wearable technology, why not make a fashion statement?
Any product differentiation will be key in what promises to be a highly competitive marketplace. Gartner predicts that wearable fitness and personal health devices will be a $5 billion business by 2016, with huge potential for growth beyond that.
This includes wearables within the enterprise and industry spaces. Just as the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement revolutionized the lives of knowledge workers, the new wearables should further transform our ability to collect, quantify, and share data during our work lives.
And watch out, Tony Stark. Weaponized wearables are coming. The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, is being developed by the U.S. Army, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other business and industry groups. In addition to providing what the Army calls “superhuman strength,” it features integrated 360-degreee cameras (think Google Glass with night vision capabilities), sensors that detect injuries and apply wound-protecting foam, and a bulletproof exoskeleton that changes from liquid to solid in milliseconds if it detects a magnetic field or electrical current.
As of 2013, TALOS can’t travel into space at hypersonic speeds. So, Iron Man still has the edge. But by all accounts, wearables are beginning to close the gap between real life and science fiction in a hurry.