The Future of Wearable Tech & Why You Need to Care

By Ayori S. 2 Comments

The term “Wearables” has got to be my favorite buzz word that is “blowing up” all over the place. Everyone is using the term and talking about “Wearable tech”, but like “Big Data” few people actually have a clue what wearable tech REALLY means for industries or our personal lives.  While ABI Research predicts that this year, about 90 million wearable devices will be sold this year mostly in the health & fitness, wearable tech goes far beyond Fitbits and Google Glass.

I took a trip down to Wearables DevCon earlier this month to connect deeper with this community and I’m so glad I did. I can tell you with confidence that throughout the year you’ll hear a lot about Smart Watches, Glass, and other tech jewelry but I encourage you to look beyond these early efforts of commercialization and deeper into the future. Dig as deep into the underbelly as you can and don’t stop at a laymen understanding of wearable tech. Get hands on wherever possible even if you don’t own the devices, find somebody who does and play with it and get out to a conference on the topic if you can! Please don’t underestimate the capabilities of Rasberry Pi’s & LilyPads (listen to the podcast if you don’t know about this) because it’s still early enough to create the next great innovation in your own living room. In getting up off your couch to get hands on with this stuff don’t neglect to research a bit of the back story as there are some very interesting stories about the pioneers of wearable tech like Thad Starner who was the “first member of the MIT Wearable Computing Project, where he was one of the first 6 cyborgs involved.”

The experience of being the Wearables DevCon had me hyped up and engaged in intense debate with members of the community for the last few weeks and confirmed my attendance at other related conferences throughout the year. Interestingly enough I’ve had to hold my tongue in some situations because of the sensitivities that arise (especially in San Francisco) in response to what is considered appropriate to do with wearables. The best part of the conference was the people I met, some of whom I’m exchanging regular emails with now. Read on for my summary and reflection on what I discovered at the conference and feel welcome to peruse my mind map on the sessions I attended.

Human enhancement:
We know that the most critical element of technology adoption is getting users to change their habits. Wearable technology presents an interesting opportunity where the objective is to offer some drastic enhancement in life experience for the user with minimal behavioral change requirements. For example if I want to improve my squats when exercising (as everyone ought to desire to do) I have a few options before me; (1) I could do the squat in a mirror, observe my form and make corrections if I can identify what I’m doing wrong. (2) Alternatively I could ask a trainer to assist me, they could watch me do it and provide me with real time feedback which I can respond to. (3) Right now if I wanted technology to help me improve my squats I’d go to youtube and watch some videos of squats. Each option offers it’s own unique advantages, however the opportunity for wearable tech has the distinct capability of being able to merge all three of these options into a single solution. An example might be a computerized body suit to recognize my body’s alignment and muscular contractions, the computer could calculate with detailed accuracy my squat form accuracy to trigger warnings or rewards. Using that data an audible system or ear piece can coach me in real time and a visual aid (some type of visual display) can be projected into my field of vision to provide me with visual support as I adjust in real time to the coaching. The suit itself could also send pulses to support physical corrections.

In few words, my opinion of wearable technology is that it provides an opportunity for holistic improvements in life through leveraging technology. Let me explain. I’ve wanted to clone myself since I was 6 years old so I could send my clone to the grocery store to help my mother carry groceries while I stayed at home and played Super Mario. It’s a silly (although very real) example but wearable tech tells a story that asks ‘how can I get more done and live a better, more satisfied lifestyle?’ whether that means playing more Mario or doing a better job at work so I can spend more time with my kids. Much like Google calendar has changed my life (thank God for it really!), wearable technology has been changing peoples lives for many decades, some people you may know and simply haven’t realize it. You don’t believe me? Do you know anyone who works in security or is hearing impaired or who wears a prosthetic (limb for example)? I know several and these are real world examples of people who depend on their wearables in ways that few of us can even imagine. In that way the introduction of a wearable market where people can buy enhancing devices the same way that they buy mobile phones or fashion accessories changes the paradigm for personal computing and living experiences in some exciting ways.

Personal Computing != Privacy: Wearable technology provides the capabilities of a far more personal experience but please don’t confuse personal with private. PC stands for “Personal Computer” but most of us with PCs share them with other members of our family (even if just temporarily), while obviously very few of us share our hosiery, socks and underwear with others. Truly we have a non-personal experience with computers and that has been the trigger for more than a few people drama and divorce. For example a quick search on Whisper this morning resulted in several hits for wives who’d discovered their husbands searching for hookers online by snooping their email and laptops. Obviously things aren’t as private as many people would like. Take a moment and imagine a PC experience that is truly “personal”. Wearable technology is the most “personal” a technology device can be as the devices (or software) have the capability of learning about you explicitly, enabling them to become smarter about predicting your needs or behaviors thus providing an overall better, more tailored and truly personal experience. It comes with real concerns as well. The more personal we are with our devices the more data we are capturing about ourselves and the more we expect privacy. I am of the school of thought that says everything in technology can be decoded and therefore privacy is more simply an abstraction of agreements made between people and organizations or systems. Don’t hate me.

Privacy was a hot topic during the Fire Side chat at Wearable Dev Con. I’d caution anyone interested in this field to expect people to be highly passionate about the topic of privacy. There are two very adamant sides of the argument, those who believe that more transparency would benefit society and those who have concerns that lack of privacy equates to a lack of safety. Just get used to it. I have my own opinions on it, if you are interested in mine just hit me up as I always enjoy having discussions on these topics.

 The Opportunity for Enterprise: I get excited when I think about the growth opportunity that is ahead of us for wearable tech in the enterprise. One of my favorite books from last year was Al Gore’s The Future which explored Internet of Things (IoT) and advances in AI leading to a redefining of life on the planet among it’s five core themes. The themes include concern arising around our capacity to create new, artificial life as well as bring back that which has become extinct and has far reaching impact across all our industries from health & safety to finance and beyond. At Wearable Dev conf I met Jeris JC Miller who shared examples of how Hospitals are already engaged in the effort to adopt wearables with the University of Washington being a fine example where nurses are using Google Glass and “talking about what information might be useful in the form of instant notifications, how communication between patients and staff might be improved, and how hands-free information access might improve care and save money.” Take a look at some of their other use cases if the Medical world interests you. Everyone will be interested to know that the Wearable Medical Devices Market is Expected to Reach USD 5.8 Billion Globally in 2019. Truth be told it’s hard to put a finger on granular use cases and the opportunity in the medical market is so huge it has already required a need to be categorized into segments as provided below:

Wearable Medical Devices Market, by Product Types

  • Wearable Therapeutic Medical Devices
  • Wearable Diagnostic Medical Devices

Wearable Diagnostic Medical Devices Market, by Product Types    

  • Vital Signs Monitors
  • Fetal & Obstetric Devices
  • Neuromonitoring Devices

Wearable Therapeutic Medical Devices Market, by Product Types       

  • Pain Management
  • Glucose/Insulin Monitoring
  • Respiratory Therapy Devices

Wearable Therapeutic Medical Devices Market, by Application        

  • Sports and Fitness
  • Remote Patient Monitoring
  • Home Healthcare

Recently I have had several discussions with people working with wearable technology for law enforcement and other safety personnel. I even had a chance to chat with a fire chief on the way their fire dept has adopted wearables related to health monitoring and oxygen delivery. Another interesting use case was explained to me by an engineer at Boeing who managed the intelligence behind highly complex aviation machinery & their maintenance. In aviation locating specific components in engines and other machinery is highly complicated yet critical to the safety of all civilians riding on the aircraft. The industry benefits not only from having connected devices but also providing increased interaction capabilities between field technicians and the machines themselves such as locating problematic components and running real time diagnostics while still inside the machinery.

This is really the tip of the ice burg but getting people to go into detail about what their working on is not easy since so much of it is still experimental. Wearable tech and IoT is an investment area for competitive differentiation. Organizations who are leading the effort today such as Boeing & University of Washington hope to benefit from the investment by getting a jump on their competition across a variety of industries through patents and creating opportunities for commercialization.

Writing this on the heels of attending the Wearable Dev Con means that I don’t have much”downtime” before my brain starts to naturally shift to concepts leading to transhumanistic exploration. That being said you’ll have to excuse the excited and tangential form of this blog. If I did it right you will join the conversation. Please leave a comment on your ideas or questions!

Fantastic key takeaway from @SoniaKoesterer three key words device, context, activity. #wearabledevcon pic.twitter.com/T5DGSzUmCP

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 7, 2014

Devices redefine our social norms, design to enhance social experience @SoniaKoesterer #wearabledevcon pic.twitter.com/ZRhgnmiQsE

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 6, 2014

Great session on WearScript by @brandynwhite all about rapid prototyping with @googleglass #wearabledevcon pic.twitter.com/yQbomYRJCY

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 6, 2014

RT “@dakini_3: @iayori and I at #WearDevCon! This woman is one very talented developer! So glad I met her! pic.twitter.com/lJ6bJktuxB

— BlacksInTechnology (@blkintechnology) March 7, 2014

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About the Author

Ayori S.

Ayori is an Oakland, CA native, a mother, entrepreneur and tech professional. She is a self taught software developer since age 11 and first founder at age 16. Currently she is a Senior Solution Engineer at salesforce.com where she's also held roles in Product Management, Business Analysis, and Technical Engineering. Prior to salesforce.com Ayori held engineering roles at large global outfits such as ABB Inc and Schneider Electric. Ayori's list of social contributions include organizing the first ever Hackathon on Black Male Achievement (Startup Weekend Oakland Black Male Achievement), founding Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum (a pre-incubator for entrepreneurs in undeveloped regions), founding the Black Employee Network affinity group at salesforce.com, serving on the Communities Board at the Anita Borg Institute, mentoring Emerging Leaders in the Middle East and Africa for TechWomen (U.S. Department of State initiative started by Secretary of State Hilary R. Clinton), mentoring young African American males for The Hidden Genius Project (which provides black boys with knowledge, skills and support to create technical jobs in the 21st century), Producing/Designing Sid's Day of Discovery (science education android based tablet video game for pre-schoolers) for the Jim Henson Company featuring Sid the Science Kid and helping a long list of Fortune 500 enterprise businesses maintain their competitive differentiation by adopting cloud strategies. Ayori's latest venture, Hugging Yuri focuses on coaching and mentoring women from around the world on leadership and nurturing their lives to build healthy loving families and communities. Hugging Yuri advocates for families to raise their children with an abundant exposure to diverse cultures, science, technology, engineering, math, art and music against all odds. Follow her personal Twitter account @iayori