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Wearable technology: Obsession or revolution

Friday, September 19, 2014 by Simon Block

In recent years the term ‘wearable technology’ has begun to permeate our media and consciousness. Until recently, to most people this conjured up the image of the jogger with the smartphone strapped to their arm. However this perception is changing, to the point where today some of us might view this jogger in a similar light to someone using a mobile phone ‘brick’ in a 1980’s TV show. You could certainly argue some of the demand for wearable technology, has been driven by the ‘coolness’ factor rather than utility.

In its infancy, the idea of a “wearable computer” has stirred the imagination and the wallets of many budding technophiles. This early demand was not always driven by a clear idea of utility. At a meeting I attended last year for Android developers, the audience was spellbound by the possibilities of an Android tethered watch. Then after explaining how to develop on platforms the presenter had to explain how it could actually be useful to receive an email notification while your phone was charging in the other room. As if the utility of product was actually of secondary relevance. 

There are signs the wearable product category is maturing past its tentative initial steps into the market place. Accelerated by a plethora of watch-type products such as the long list of Galaxy Gear models, the market has begun to look for value in ‘the killer app’ over cool hardware. This is evidenced by the price drop in second-hand early generation products.

Finding utility

The fitness tracker band idea has found more of a soft spot in the market as it is focused on our need to measure, manage and track all aspects of our life. There is some feeling of control we gain from seeing our run on a web portal or tracking our calories at a gym, as if part of building our online credibility. Manufacturers have been adept at plugging into this need with associated cloud-based services that permit us to share, compare and socialise the fitness experience. The Nike FuelBand even introduced its own currency in this domain.

Recently however, a friend explained he had lost weight through eating better and exercising more, due to wearing an activity tracker. The device gave him an estimate of calories burned verses consumed which would guide him on managing his weight and eating well. He was clearly not driven by the social aspect of the technology, however it is ironic that a Doctor married to a Dietician needed a $150 band to eat well!

Last week saw the triumphant release of the much rumoured wearable device from Apple. As a company driven equally by function and design, the Apple Watch promises to bring a entire ecosystem of services to track health and wellbeing. Through partnerships with organisations such as the Mayo Clinic, Apple will no doubt try and concentrate on a holistic approach to heath and fitness, rather than just tracking your exercise and diet. 

In the future we can expect to see manufacturers track more biometric parameters, where it makes sense and provide increased utility to the user. There are rumours of  the Apple product support tracking blood sugar which would be impressive on a non-intrusive consumer class device. No doubt makers of wearable technology will be exploring non-intrusive detection of any biometric indicator that may provide the next ‘killer app’.

Where is Optalert in the ‘wearable’ market?

Optalert is a world leader in early-warning drowsiness detection and fatigue management and our products are currently used throughout the world in industrial environments. Optalert was an early pioneer of wearable technology, with several generations of devices for biometric data acquisition. However, the interpretation of this biometric data is the real value that can turn this data into a real-time, predictive assessment of an individual’s drowsiness. Optalert is working with several external entities on embedding this technology into a range products and technologies. Coupled with the emerging cloud services for all aspects of our health and well being, its not hard to see a future where ‘drowsiness measure’ forms part of the wearable technology ‘killer app’. Albeit one that may save your life!


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