A couple of days ago, I attended the first Toronto edition of Wearable Wednesdays hosted at HackerYou’s and Ladies Learning Code’s new Learning Labs. It’s a tradition that started in San Francisco just a month ago. It was fascinating to get a firsthand look into this budding technology. Many of these wearable solutions were still in beta or prototypes, which meant attendees could finally try them out firsthand. A lot of folks that didn’t have the ability to try on Glass could now give it a shot. Quite a few enthusiasts also showed up with their own wearable devices. Could this be a scene from the future?
The main exhibitions of the evening were presented by organizer Tom Emrich and TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington. Here are a few patterns or trends I’d observed at the event:
Mass Market Exploration of Wearable Technology
While Jawbone, Nike, and FitBit were the first companies to explore wearable technology, traditional consumer electronics companies are now finally dipping their toes in the pool – companies like Sony, Garmin, and Samsung are all starting to create wearable technology. Additionally, rather than being restricted to health and fitness measurement, many other use cases are emerging for wearable technology.
For example, the Samsung smartwatch allows BMW i3 drivers to connect to their car and control radio or climate through the Samsung Galaxy smartwatch. And although the smartwatch, Fuelband, Fitbit, and Jawbone Up are worn on the wrist, wearable devices are making their way to the torso and even down to the ankles.
As wearable technology gain traction, they also serve as a way for users to express themselves – just like jewelry or other types of accessories. This is why manufacturers have chosen to design their technology much more fashionably. While the ecosystem is currently quite fragmented and isolated, gadgets will eventually converge as more hardware and sensors become integrated together into the same devices.
Tales from the Hardware Battlefield
Darrell Etherington, a regular contributor at TechCrunch, shared insights from his time spent at the recent TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield event at CES. Specifically, he highlighted four technologies: Livemap, Owlet, Atlas Wearables, and Fin Smart Ring.
Livemap is Russian startup a motorcycle helmet concept with built-in GPS navigation. As you can imagine, using a touchscreen interface isn’t the most safe or convenient solution if a driver is on a motorcycle. It adopts a “heads up” display just like fighter jets.
Owlet is a health tracker that fits on a baby’s ankle. It tracks heart rate, oxygen levels, skin temperature, and rollover alerts during sleep.
The third is more along the lines of what we’ve seen; Atlas Wearables is a wristband that tracks calories, evaluates your form, identifies your exercises, and keeps a tally of your reps and sets. It also serves as an open platform for your favorite apps.
Lastly, the Fin Smart Ring is a bluetooth ring that allows users to control interfaces with gestures. It can connect to up to three devices – and is compatible with smartphones, smart TVs, automobiles, and home automation devices.
Such a diverse set of use cases are indicative of the the future: wearable technology will make our lives safer and more convenient while becoming ubiquitous and integrating itself neatly into our daily lives in the process.
The Future of Wearables
As I write this, wearable technology is really still just in its infant stages. It reminds me of where mobile technology was around a decade ago – when phones were still used simply to make calls. Text messaging and email had just made their way to these devices, and low-resolution cameras couldn’t replace the digital camera or disposable that we would carry with us.
Mobile slowly and steadily started infiltrating our lives. Now, we use the same device as an alarm clock, a phone (or video conferencing), a camera, and to do research. All of these different use cases converged into a single device. Similarly, many companies are trying to do the same with wearables – put multiple functions into one device.
Technology like Kiwi Wearables have sensors such as pedometers, accelerometers, and are Wi-fi enabled. Moreover, they serve as open platforms for developers to leverage and build new use cases with. While the majority of current users only want to wear it on their wrist or clothing, I imagine that as they get more familiar with wearable technology they will also be more open to trying on shirts that have sensors built-in, or trusting this technology with their loved ones.
My colleagues Paula and Stephanie had also attended this event, and were equally as dazzled by the new technology. Toronto’s emerging wearable technology companies, including Bionym, as well as technology community organizers such as Hacking Health and MaRS were present at Wearable Wednesdays. Hopefully it’s the first of many – and I’m extremely excited to see where it takes us.
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