Since late last year, we've had a major focus on the wearable technology space. As the conference chair for TMC's (News - Alert) Wearable Technology Expo and Conference, we've had the uniquely interesting challenge of assembling a world class collection of wearable tech speakers and building a conference program around them. Our conference took off in New York City for two days last week, and with sold out attendance and both a mainstream and tech media presence of well over 100, we can chalk this one up as a success. We've already begun working on our next event, which will take place in Los Angeles on December 10 - 11, 2013.
Our goal for our inaugural event was to build a program that reflects the myriad collections of wearable technologies that now already exist, the critical role that design will play in driving the acceptance of wearable tech on a very large scale, and -- most importantly to our mind -- the means by which wearable tech will likely evolve into much more than personal wearable technologies. This last issue is critical for achieving something greater than mere personal tech -- that of growing the industry into a machine-to-machine connected world that is able to solve serious real world problems.
What do we mean by this?
For starters, as much as wearable tech currently represents a lot of "me" kinds of products -- for example, sensors that help us to walk straight, or that monitor heart and pulse rates, and devices that allow us to interact with our smartphones through, say, a smartwatch interface -- it is also now beginning to represent opportunities for collectively viewing unique individual activities within the far larger contexts of collections of people (and their individual data points) operating collectively with either large and undefined ecosystems or collectively through smaller and well-defined ecosystems.
A large and undefined ecosystem may, for example, refer to a nation-wide medical project. In such cases perhaps a very large collection of users may participate in a drug evaluation process running on a fairly massive scale -- say perhaps hundreds of thousands of users taking a specific drug. Wearable tech sensors might aggregate data locally to smartphones and then transmit that data up to the cloud on a daily basis for overall aggregation. Or perhaps the sensors might incorporate a wireless capability within a hospital setting that feeds information to a wireless monitor that aggregates the data and then forwards it on, perhaps through the cloud, for much larger scale aggregation and analysis.
A smaller ecosystem might perhaps consist of a work environment -- an oil rig for example, where various sensors might monitor, say, both air quality and various vital signs of the workforce. That data could in turn be aggregated for each individual and in turn be aggregated collectively, resulting in both individual and group data points that can then be analyzed and correlated. Such wearable tech-driven research can allow businesses to proactively make environmental changes. Those changes might, in turn, allow a company's workforce to operate more efficiently and more productively. Such proactive actions can literally save lives as well, especially in dangerous environments such as those represented by oil rigs.
Taking the Lead through adidas
Another smaller and well controlled example of an ecosystem might be a sports team, where a team's players wear a collection of smart fabrics and sensors that can monitor both player activities and interactions in real time (this is particularly important for sports) and gather that data for analysis. In this particular case, we can point to a very real adidas-invented soccer application called miCoach Elite rather than to a merely hypothetical example.
In the case of the adidas miCoach Elite app there is a wireless base station that serves as the gathering point for collecting wearable tech-derived data. This is a true M2M application -- in this case a many-to-one set of interactions that are able to monitor all kinds of player activities, including heart rate as well as sweat and hydration levels. The adidas base station, soccer uniform and application that make up miCoach Elite are shown below.
Underneath these M2M applications based on wearable technology there are also many collections of big data analysis at play. In the case of adidas, the analyses themselves also happen in real time although analysis can also be further conducted later on. On and in the field, coaches and doctors are able to monitor and react in real time to numerous player circumstances, both at the individual and team level.
The adidas application is currently available only for soccer, though adidas is working to extend the technology into other sports. Imagine for example, if the system were to be implemented on the football field, a sometimes dangerous place where concussions will occur but are not often immediately diagnosed. Imagine a football player wearing helmet and body sensors that are able to measure certain physical attributes in real time for each individual player. In this case, looking for physical markers (e.g. a certain heart rate) that indicate a concussion can allow coaches and doctors -- whether on the sidelines or from booths up in the stands -- to monitor players proactively and take defensive actions to protect players.
As in our earlier examples, the individual football player data can then in turn be aggregated into larger data pools that can be studied on a larger scale (perhaps by the helmet manufacturers). Wearable technology data, pulled together through the architecture of a larger M2M design, opens the doors to many new avenues of meaningful individual and collective research.
The bottom line is that at the end of the day these are all pure M2M applications; only in these examples, it is active wearable tech rather than passive sensors that makes the M2M applications possible and that opens the doors to new ways of thinking about how we solve both large scale and individual problems.
As we move through 2013 and on into 2014, wearable technology will begin to manifest itself in myriad ways. As it does it is well worth remembering that wearable tech represents both an individual as well as a larger collective capability. It is one of the things that makes wearable tech a truly exciting next generation of personal and mobile technology.
Edited by Rich Steeves
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