5 Exciting Things in the Year of Wearable Technology | Science Fact Friday: Wearable Tech

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Many have dubbed it the year of wearable technology.

Of course, saying it doesn’t make it so. Intel’s got a shirt , Google’s got some glasses. Oculus has got a Rift. We’ve been seeing a lot of wearable technology announcements, some already brought to market, including the ones above. But the revolution is still on standby.

There are several hurdles. One important one is looks. We’re a vain species, humans. Hell, even giraffes would probably not be caught dead in a pair of Google Glass. The other concerns include size, functionality, and cost. But those can be solved by people in labcoats, I’m assuming. Either that or warlock robes, I forget.

Let’s take a look at how it’s coming along, and what we might be wearing in the future.

The Year of Wearable Technology

We’ve seen things like the Fitbit and the Jawbone UP. Fitness watches and bands in general, which are ironic enough in an obese nation, are helping introduce the world to wearable tech.

But this is definitely the year where everyone jumped aboard the bandwagon. CES in Las Vegas saw nearly every major tech company include some kind wearable technology in their presentation. Some more perfunctory than others.

Notably absent thus far from the year’s wearable technology announcements is Apple, who was expected to show something at their annual conference this week. Healthbook, iWatch, something along those lines. However, all they did was discuss OS updates.

I’m going to go over a few of the more exciting things announced or expected this year, before we move onto broader issues. We don’t even have to wait to feel like we’re in a science fiction wonderland. This stuff is cool now.

5. Pebble Steel

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Pebble Steel

Made by smartwatch maker Pebble, Pebble Steel is an app-powered wrist gadget capable of pairing with other smart devices, such as your phone. There’s even a cool live demo given to Wired.com, which placed the watch in its list of the show’s top 10, of it connecting with a car to retrieve basic stats such as mileage, as well as remotely controlling an iPhone’s camera.

As far as smart watches go, Pebble Steel is one of the cooler ones. It also has a slick design that looks like the perfect conversation piece, an improvement on the Pebble Smartwatch. Even if you’d rather use your phone for “smart” purposes, you may still like to wear a watch. We haven’t completely shaken the style yet.

Why not wear a watch with some cool Dick Tracy-esque moves?

4. Oculus Rift

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Oculus Rift

Admit it. The name is way cooler than Gameboy VR.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality gaming system. This is more than just a pair of goggles with a TV on the inside. It’s been in development for several years, taking advantage of avenues like Kickstarter to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million independently, and has attracted the attention of DARPA for defense purposes. Now, Facebook must have them.

At the end of March, Facebook made the announcement that they would acquire Oculus Rift by the end of the year’s second quarter, for a total of about $2 billion. And there hasn’t even been a consumer product released yet. Oculus Rift looked cool before, but with support and tacit approval from some of the tech world’s giants, the headgear could be the first truly immersive VR experience for gamers and consumers of multimedia… and, I’m guessing, the entire human race once the robots turn on us.

3. Intel’s Shirt

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Intel Smart Shirt

Intel wants in on the future, admitting it missed out on the ground floor of the mobile revolution. So, it wants in on the… clothing revolution?

The shirt’s immediate function is as a heart rate monitor, though developers may expand on the present capabilities. Basically, there’s conductive fibers throughout the shirt, as well as sensors. You hook a little computer to it when you leave the house. It wirelessly sends your metrics to an app on your phone all the while.

It’s expected to be out this summer… except it can’t get wet. Well, Intel says you can sweat, just don’t throw it in the wash. We’ll see what my grossly overactive sweat glands have to say about that.

And the shirt’s future capabilities, as forecasted by Intel, could help keep track of kids through GPS, as well as make sure your grandparents are still breathing. Oh, I’m sure there’ll be no privacy concerns at all with this one.

2. Samsung’s Simband

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Samsung Simband

For me, hands down, the most exciting wearable technology talked about right now is Samsung’s Simband.

This thing knows pretty much everything about you, including that time you clipped a hitchhiker on Lighthouse Way two Augusts ago. Its a mobile medical platform, not just a single device. Even that concept alone is hard to wrap one’s head around, let alone the actual breakthrough engineering Samsung laid out in the video below.

What’s even cooler is how Samsung already figured out, in the visionary way we want tech companies to figure stuff out, the human goal of this technology. Listening to your body.

Sorry, but I’m a sucker for brilliant tech ads, so I included another of Samsung’s Simband videos below. I don’t know if the stories within are paid or not, but it doesn’t matter because we’ve all been there. Each of us wants to know something about our body that we can’t, which is a crazy thing when you really think about it. We know so much about the world, but each of us individually knows very little about what’s going on inside of us. Empowering individuals to know about their own bio-metrics, not just heart rate and temperature but a broad range of possibilities, is an exciting prospect. That Samsung has figured out a lot of cool stuff toward that end, and is taking on the cause, is even more exciting.

Okay, just one question… are Star Trek communicators not terribly obsolete at this point? Seriously, dudes. I don’t need to message sick bay for help. I can message sickbay with a full report of exactly what I need. Heck, if the doctor on board is savvy enough, they may be watching as it happens and already be on the way.

1. Google Glass

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Google Glass

Yes. The least newsworthy, least jazzy. Because Google Glass is the only wearable technology, in my opinion, that takes a bold step toward replacing other technologies. With Google Glass, you might concieveably not need your iPhone. That’s disruptive. That means, it’s still ahead of everything else.

Of course, it’s got some issues. For one, it’s pricey. It’s also bulky. And, last but not least, it’s kind of ugly.

Enter Diane von Furstenberg and online retailer Net-a-Porter, to give this thing the high-end Project Runway-esque treatment. DVF, a mogul in the fashion industry, pioneered women’s fashion in the ’70s with the wrap dress. She’s a genius, able to merge sexy and sensible. If she can design the kind of thing a movie star would feel comfortable wearing on the red carpet along with a designer dress, then Google wins the wearable war before it even begins.

It might seem trivial, but no one wants to look silly like Jean Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier–who am I kidding? My six-year-old self would have killed to look like that.

Even without the makeover, both women and men are gladly wearing Google Glass during its open beta. Some still have reservations, but it’s too early to say whether those reservations can be overcome. One disturbing sign is the rather unfortunate nickname of “Glasshole.” Yeesh. That can’t be good.

Can’t see paying $1,500 to be called a Glasshole… Still, the promise is still one of the industry’s best.

Looking Ahead

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Google Glass Banned - Stop the Cyborgs

NOTE: This is an actual sign already posted outside some businesses.

Wearable tech’s widespread adoption will only be limited by how cumbersome it is to wear. Not even the earliest of early adopters would wear a computer on their back if it looked like a Ghostbuster’s Proton Pack.

Speaking of the ‘80s, some of today’s smart watches on the market now resemble that decade’s wristwatches. Of course, that’s all fixable with to-be-expected miniaturization. But not enough people will care until that’s done.

I talked a little bit about graphene in one of the first Science Fact Fridays here on The NerdClave. Fully harnessed, the so-called super material could be our ride to the future of wearable tech. Its biggest asset, besides perhaps conductivity, would be the shrinkage in size engineers are able to get in electronics made from it.

If you can create transistors smaller than the naked eye can see, big thick Dick Tracy watches are a bit last season, darling.

All gadgets, not just the wearable variety, will also get a lot more powerful and a lot more durable. Suddenly, Google Glass won’t be just a camera phone strapped to your head. It’ll be a computer faster than the one you have now. Foregoing the headgear entirely, it might be hardwired into a contact lens.

That’s a long way off, but the day when a laptop is the size of a thumb drive is coming. If we’ve got a way to get a display in the form of glasses or some kind of minimally stupid looking headgear, those two should sync quite nicely. That is an attainable goal, surely, to reach within nearly all of our lifetimes.

A completely not-even-there-yet concern is the potential legal issues of essentially being able to film anything you see. Bars and stripclubs have kicked out patrons wearing Google Glass, and even included bans within their official policies. Some go so far as to post signs.

If Google Glass becomes your cellphone, would you go to a bar that didn’t let you carry your cellphone inside? On the other hand, would you buy Google Glass if you knew you couldn’t bring it inside anywhere? There’s a real crossroads approaching, and Google Glass is just one of many technologies, not just other eyewear, that could be affected.

I would not be shocked if, years down the line, the answer to whether wearable technology is viable or not came down to a supreme court decision. At the very least, I could see a decision that would affect things in the realm of smart eyewear. Might be needed earlier than you think.

Conclusion

Science Fact Friday - Wearable Technology - Universal Soldier - Google Glass

The truth is, wearable technology may simply be a pitstop to something greater–AKA scarier. Implants or some sort of bio-mechanical interface would become the only remaining step if wearable technology catches on. Thus far, us humans have taken every step and leap we’ve been afforded, for good or for bad. But that’s a discussion for another time. Another Science Fact Friday, perhaps.

For now, the tech world has got to face down fashion if they want the years following the Year of Wearable Technology to be anything but an airball. Of course, as we learn to shrink everything in electronics, wearable technology will become less and less obtrusive, making appearance less impactful in the first place. So this is really more of a short term concern, but an important one to get past the hump now that it’s there.

In the end, there’s always the off chance that we’ll decide, as a nation and as a global community, to say “It ends here.” We might say, smartphones are already a big enough distraction. Let’s focus on handheld, and keep our eyes connected to each other’s souls and each other’s souls alone.

Or we could go the opposite way. We might say, why bother putting electronics in our clothing when we can just go straight into the body. That’s the real wearable tech. Never leave home without it.

Oculus Rift is a cool name though… We’ll keep that one around regardless.

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