Iris implant

Hey, wearable-tech makers: I’m running out of body parts

By Steve Outing

The world of wearable technology is rapidly entering many of our lives. But even at this early stage — as an early adopter myself — I’m noticing a significant problem. Just how many gadgets are the wearable-technology manufacturers expecting us to don on a regular basis? The situation could soon become ridiculous.

I’m starting to feel like Mr. Gadget already, even though I’ve barely scratched the surface in wearables. If you meet me in person, I’ll have on my body (besides my pocketed smartphone, of course):

  • Smart watch on left wrist. (A Pebble; Bluetooth connection to phone.)
  • Fitbit Flex on right wrist. (Activity/exercise/sleep tracker; Bluetooth connection to phone.)
  • Phonak Audeo hearing aids/wireless headset in both ears. (I have some high-frequency hearing loss, but these tiny, practically invisible devices solve that plus let me listen to music wirelessly and get phone calls fed into both ears.)
  • Phonak Compilot around neck. (A small pendant device worn around my neck, which provides the Bluetooth connection to my phone; the Compilot sends audio to the earpieces, wirelessly, and includes a microphone for phone calls so that my phone can stay in a pocket.)

I’m not yet one of the fortunate few to try Google Glass, but I expect to add a less-dorky looking pair of “smart glasses” at some point. Many companies are working on Glass competitors. Something like the upcoming Epiphany Eyewear I can envision wearing, although when those glasses debut they will have a camera and HD video capability, but not augmented-reality features a la Google Glass. (I’d also like the glasses to include audio capabilities sans earpieces, which is likely to become reality soon. Google is expected to include bone-conducting audio into Glass at some point, eliminating the need for earbuds, headphones, or in-ear wireless hearing devices such as the ones I’m wearing currently.)

Loaded down with devices

But that’s just the beginning of wearable-tech clutter and overload. While smartphones have reduced our need to carry multiple gadgets — camera, flashlight, calculator, audio recorder, music player, etc. — the coming wave of wearable tech threatens to add more specialty gadgets to what we carry around. This is not a trend that can continue.

For your future wardrobe-planning enjoyment, here are a few wearable technology devices that you might be tempted to add to your on-body technology arsenal in the months and years ahead:

  • Miniaturized wearable “lifeblogging” camera, such as the Memento, which automatically takes a photo and adds GPS coordinates every 30 seconds.
  • Computerized clothing for athletes, such as this workout body suit being designed by Under Amour.
  • Sensor socks or shoes for athletes to monitor technique and performance, such as Sensoria socks.
  • A (finger) ring that holds your transit account balance or other information, such as the Sesame Ring which makes paying for public transit a breeze. … Although I’d prefer to have my smart watch have this capability.
  • A jacket or other piece of clothing that directs you to a destination, like the concept “Navigate” jacket:
  • A digital dress or t-shirt that can display multiple designs, such as those created by CuteCircuit. This concept includes the possibility of “wearing” and getting compensated for digital ads on your clothing when you’re out in public.
  • Of course, all these wearable gadgets will need to be powered. Expect to see solar-powered digital clothing that handles its own power needs, plus can charge other wearable devices. For women, a purse may be the charging source for your smart watch, lifeblogging camera, and of course your smartphone.

Is there a better way for wearables?

Just as smartphones eliminated the need for multiple devices — remember carrying a phone plus Palm Pilot, standalone GPS, etc.? — wearables will need to consolidate, too. Even with what I’m wearing today, why can’t my Fitbit activity tracker’s capabilities be included in my smart watch? Why can’t my watch also read and track my heart rate, so there’s no need for a heart-rate chest strap when running or cycling and wanting a data record of the workout?

One smart watch headed our way later this year is the Toq by Qualcomm. It includes a compact set of wireless stereo headphones that go over the ear and let you hear music streamed from the watch.
toq-watch-music
But notice that the earbuds are still large and easily visible, unlike the Phonak Audeo hearing devices described above.

Other possibilities exist for consolidation. Smart eyeglasses (successors of today’s v1.0 Google Glass) can and should perform many of the functions of other wearable devices. Indeed, a truly advanced pair of smart eyeglasses could eliminate the need to wear a smart watch. With Google Glass v4.0, or another brand, your glasses could tell you the time without you having to pull out your phone or look at your wrist. Likewise, they could show you an SMS alert or a calendar reminder, or let you answer a phone call and carry on a conversation. And if you want to do lifeblogging, the glasses should be able to snap a photo (with GPS stamp) every 30 seconds, a la the Memento lifeblogging camera.

A “smart jacket” might have the equivalent of a smart watch on a sleeve; however, most of us are willing to wear one wristwatch day after day, but probably not any single piece of clothing. However, a jacket or shirt/blouse that can change designs and/or colors could be worn over and over without the wearer feeling self-conscious.

Looking much further ahead

Some of our most visionary futurists and scientists expect that as computing devices gets smaller and more powerful, at an algorithmic not a linear rate, the computing power of current smartphones and more will be tiny enough to be implanted in your body. You don’t want to wear smart glasses? Then how about a corneal implant that has many of the same capabilities? Or if you’re a fan of futurist Ray Kurzweill, you’ll believe that in the years ahead you’ll be able to get a tiny computing device implanted under your skin, which you will control with your mind. Perhaps that’s how you’ll change the design on your digital t-shirt!

And that leads me to a final thought, which is the result of attending a presentation on “The Future of Programming” at the DaVinci Institute in Louisville, Colorado, last night. One of the speakers covered the push toward creating or improving a programming language that makes possible the development of “bug-less” applications. That’s still some time away, but it will be important — indeed, critical — when we reach the point that wearable technology is literally under our skin. You really don’t want the computer assistant inside your head to crash and have to be rebooted.