When you think of the future of technology, what do you see? Whether it’s a Star Trek style VISOR headset, or a glove to control holograms a la Tony Stark, smart wearable devices have been the technology poster child for decades already. While Star Trek has a fairly solid track record of predicting the future, the IoT wearables industry is now extending to applications that would impress even Spock.
Used for everything from kidnap prevention to bionic vision, here are five of our favorite advanced wearable devices with a purpose beyond just counting calories.
With a pair of acronyms that truly belong in science fiction, project ATTACH (Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating) from the U.S Government’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) is a novel solution to energy waste at a micro level.
The smart fabric regulates the wearer’s skin temperature by adapting to temperature changes around them. When the room gets cooler, polymers in the fabric expand to insulate the wearer. When it’s hot, the fabric gets thinner, reducing the need to heat or cool a room throughout the year.
Printed thermoelectric patches will be added to ‘hot-spots’ on the user’s body to regulate more radical temperature swings, which will also run on printed batteries and bio-fuel cells that can harvest power from our sweat.
A fully customized and lightweight personal AC might be the future of wearable technology, but with the amount of tech planned to be included in this project, you can bet that it will be a while before it trickles down to consumer level.
From one end of the complexity scale to the other, TempTraq is simply a stick-on baby thermometer with a bluetooth sensor that links to your smartphone. Designed to give parents and doctors a reliable, consistent, and non-invasive temperature reading, the real benefit of this digital thermometer is that you don’t have to wake up a sick baby – more valuable to a parent than any fancy feature.
There is a lot packed into this single-use sticker though, giving a constant 24-hour (72 for clinical use) measurement and sending alerts for any temperature spikes. This kind of no-frills smart wearable is refreshing to see, especially in the often kitschy baby wearables market (see: ‘emotion-sensing bands’), giving users the insights they want and nothing more.
It seems medical professionals also appreciate the simplicity of TempTraq, with one Amazon reviewer commenting: ‘there is an axiom in pediatrics: treat the kid and not the fever.’
Families with young kids surely present the perfect case for wearable computing technology, even more so when you live in an area with a high risk of kidnapping. Based in Lagos, Nigeria, MyFamily Mobile develops tracking and monitoring watches for kids, with a particular focus on kidnap prevention and alerts.
Kids (or other vulnerable people such as alzheimer’s sufferers) can communicate with carers using voice and data messaging, a blend of connectivity tells you where and how fast the watch is moving (50mph is normally too fast for a child), and if the watch leaves a pre-programmed safe zone an alert is sent to the device waiting at home.
The key feature of this device, however, is the panic button, which if pressed will ‘trigger an automatic location beacon and, if necessary, an armed response unit.’ Clearly designed with a specific, and pressing, problem in mind, MyFamily Mobile proves that wearables are for more than just realigning your sleep cycles.
Proving that wearable technology can tackle a wide range of medical issues, including those considered currently beyond treatment, Orcam introduces the MyEye 2.0. Designed for blind and visually impaired people, the device sits on the side of a pair of glasses and uses the same ‘artificial vision’ used in self-driving vehicles to recognise text, colors, and pre-programmed faces, and whisper the results to the wearer.
The device also has a database of products ready to check barcodes at the store, and can apparently read from any surface, even road signs and banknotes, just by pointing at the item.
This kind of wearable technology is really groundbreaking and will mean a great deal to consumers that have either lost their vision entirely or struggle to read or recognize shapes and colors.
Another project from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, this time the defense arm (DARPA), uses Augmented Reality to give foot soldiers a different kind of bionic vision. The Ultra-Vis promises to solve the problems of alternative products, namely that it doesn’t stop you seeing the real world, by using a ‘holographic channel’ display to project digital information directly over your field of vision.
This lets users see the position of friendly troops or directions to their objective exactly where it should be on the ground. Markers stay fixed in position when the helmet-mount moves, even offering a ‘view’ over hills or obstacles.
While this project also needs development before it can be used in the field (the prototype tends to pull the helmet over to one side), military technology has a way of appearing in different places after a time.
Just imagine a connected car streaming live traffic information onto your windscreen, or (perhaps more usefully) crowd-sourced medical images projected directly over a surgeon’s view inside a patient.
None The Worse For Wear
Wearables are definitely rising to the challenge of connected technology, pulling out the stops in every industry to tackle problems at an international, or just parental, scale. While there are countless products out there to help consumers measure their fitness levels, track their dogs, or help you get into a bar fight without having to insult anyone first, advanced wearable devices that target real, human concerns are far more useful in the long run.