The rise of the smartphone has created dozens of new ways to collect data and to provide additional context to our environment. Wrist-mounted “smart bands” like Fitbit, Nike Fuel and the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch are now relatively commonplace, generally used to collect health data, like steps taken or calories consumed. Head mounted units like Google Glass are set to be joined by competing devices from Epson and Sony, displaying information as an “overlay” on what the wearer can see.
However new wearables are constantly under development – here are some other implementations you may not yet have encountered.
Lumo Lift and Lumo Back
Designed to do more than simply collect health and fitness data, Lumo devices are intended to help apply that information in real time. Targeted at people with bad posture, Lumo devices “buzz” when they detect users hunching their shoulders or lower back.
Both Back and Lift units also collect more general fitness information like steps taken and sleep patterns too. This information is then tracked and recorded on a smartphone app to help monitor longer-term health trends.
Time to market: available now.
Automatic Ingestion Monitor (AIM)
Using a camera and motion sensor, this Bluetooth-enabled device is worn over the ear, helping to detect the foods and portion sizes being eaten by the wearer. A motion sensor, not unlike that found in other fitness wearables, detects the jaw motion associated with eating, whilst the camera captures pictures of the food being eaten. An accompanying app will then attempt to estimate the mass and energy content of the food consumed.
Using the information gathered by the AIM sensor, the wearer and their dietician (or weight management consultant) will be able to provide further guidance about better managing food types and portion sizes for weight loss regimes. The AIM also ensures that wearers cannot underestimate portion sizes or calorie intake.
Time to market: Unknown – the device is still in the very early stages of development by the University of Alabama.
Google contact lenses
Perhaps the ultimate head-mounted technology, Google has partnered with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to create “smart” contact lenses. But more than simply displaying context-aware data like Google Glass, the smart contact lens will also help collect important health information like blood sugar levels for diabetics. Sensors built into each lens will detect glucose in the tears of the wearer, immediately indicating when blood sugar levels are too high or too low, allowing the wearer to take corrective action immediately.
Novartis also hopes to adapt the technology so that it can correct eye “auto-focus” issues, so that wearers no longer need wear reading glasses. Whether the lenses include a built-in way to display data is unknown at this point.
Time to market: unknown – at least several years.
Cancer scanning pills
Another futuristic development from the Google X labs, the smart pill will contain tiny magnetic particles that will detect malignant, cancerous cells and provide feedback via Bluetooth to a nearby smartphone or other wearable. It is hoped that the new pill can be engineered to provide early warning of other life-threatening conditions like heart disease and kidney disease.
Unlike the contact lenses, Google has yet to find a health services partner to further develop and test the technology, let alone refine the tiny circuits and chips required for use inside a human body.
Time to market: unknown – many years.
The next generation of wearable technologies are clearly designed to make much better use of the data they collect from sensors. Technological refinements will make data collection more accurate so that it can be applied in more meaningful ways. Ultimately wearables will graduate from fitness devices, to tools providing a far wider range of benefits to wearers.