There are many devices being developed in this fast expanding market. This new wave of wearables encompasses a wide array of devices including: watches, glasses, contact lenses, hats, textiles, and jewelry.
Watches: Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Nike, Garmin, and other companies have jumped into this new smart wristband and smart watch market. Currently these devices provide health monitoring (steps walked, heart rate, calories burned). As these devices mature and provide connectivity to a companion smartphone or directly to the Internet, expect to see more and more sophisticated features such as providing ways to make payments, unlocking doors, logging into computers, and starting cars.
Eyeglasses: Google is the most notable entry for this type of wearable with their product Google Glass. Glass is a groundbreaking pair of eyeglasses that provides a user with a heads-up display, camera and touchpad control. It can take photos, record videos, show maps, translate language, find information, and show messages.
Clothing Sensors: Sportswear is now being embedded with sensors to provide biometric feedback for athletes. Instead of wearing bulky medical monitoring devices, clothing is being designed to detect medical conditions such as breast cancer or epilepsy or provide feedback on a person's existing condition. Another example of this type of wearable is a soldier's clothing that is capable of tracking location, movements, and vital signs.
While wearable technology can be put on or taken off, there is an emerging wave of embedded technology that can be incorporated into the body to create an even more intimate and convenient interface to information and technology.
Expect to see implanted subcutaneous devices to unlock a door, make a payment, provide deeper health monitoring, or even contact lenses that act as a computer interface, similar to Google Glass mentioned above. Embedded technology is just in its infancy and has enormous potential, but will likely not be without controversy.
There are already people who cannot wait for this type of technology to be made available and are commercially providing do-it-yourself instructions (called bio-hacking) and devices for implanting and embedding bio-magnets, near field communication (NFC) devices under the skin. The end result is the ability to control devices, unlock doors and other abilities. However, none of this is medically tested or certified by any regulatory agency, so it is an interesting and possibly dangerous example of how this technology is rapidly evolving. There are even organizations, such as the nonprofit Cyborg Foundation in Barcelona, with a stated goal to help people extend their senses by applying cybernetics to their body.
As with any technology there are issues surrounding the use of wearable and embedded technology.
Need for More Security and Privacy: Personal information is gathered and stored—personal health information, location, financial information, personal authentication information, and more. Wearable technologies are far more intimate and need to provide a deeper level of privacy as well as security.
Protection of Intellectual Property: With the increasing ability to surreptitiously record audio or video, firms may need to restrict the use of wearable technology where people have access to intellectual property.
Increased eDiscovery: Wearable technology can interact with a cloud account, a smartphone, a computer, or take photos and videos. Since these devices may contain relevant electronically stored information, litigating lawyers will need a deeper technical appreciation of what wearable technology can store and provide.
Technology Dependence: Increasingly we are becoming dependent on our technology. As it plays a more intimate role in our lives there is no doubt we will become more dependent on wearable or embedded technologies. Such dependence puts an increased importance on safety, security, and understanding possible long-term psychological effects.
Where is this going?
Wearable technology is in its infancy and an early market of devices is just starting to emerge, so it is difficult to predict what this technology will offer in the coming years. The following are possible directions wearable technology could go.
Sophisticated Interface: Gone are the mouse and keyboard—wearable/embedded technology may give rise to a whole new interface with subtle and intuitive expressions and micro-gestures. Nod at something to approve it, take a photo by blinking, stare at something to select it or for privacy, click your teeth, or swallow. If we are wired with sensors any of these are possible.
Persistent Identity: Already smartphones carry a person's "identity" allowing people to do many things including: verify who they are, make payments, log on to computers, or open doors, among many things. Technology that is worn or embedded could potentially do all of the above with the wave of a hand or literally the blink of an eye.
Becoming Big Data / Crowdsourcing: Researchers foresee patients using wearable technology to crowdsource, share and aggregate information about their body, allowing large sets of data for possibly better analysis and research.
Body Power: Wearable technologies to be recharged, but what if the human body could be the power source? Our bodies generate heat and motion and this could be converted into electricity. Researchers with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working to harness this body energy to power wearable technology.
Augmented Reality: Embedded devices may eventually allow us to overlay our everyday reality with visual data as well as computer-generated sounds and sensations. Examples are enhancing a meeting with additional data about people, topics or presentations, or enhancing a walk in the woods with overlays of plant or bird names. This could potentially range from a light augmentation of information to a total immersive experience.
Augmented Senses: An added benefit of embedding technology could ultimately be the ability to augment or improve our senses: hearing additional audio frequencies, seeing more light spectrums, or even feeling magnetic fields.
Blurring of lines: How much wearable or embedded technology is too much? Technology typically gets smaller and faster as it progresses. If embedded technology becomes sophisticated synthetic biology and merges with organic biology, the line between where the technology starts and stops becomes blurred. Will synthetic technology disappear into our organic biology, or vice versa? We are at the early stages of this discussion with more questions than answers.
Wearable and embedded technologies are in their infancy and already provide highly useful features that are fast becoming part of our lives. This technology is also quickly evolving and potentially can change how we interact, not only with each other and our environment, but also with our technology and data. However, as these technologies mature, the line between what is human and what is computer will no doubt blur. Where does a human stop and the computer begin? There are no doubt enormous debates to come regarding the legality, ethics, privacy, spirituality, and efficacy of using such technology on or in ourselves.
Fiona Graham, "Wearable Technology: Clothing designed to save your life," BBC News, August 25, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28844162.
Catherine de Lange, "Clothes with hidden sensors act as an always-on doctor," New Scientist, April 3, 2014, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229634.300-clothes-with-hidden-sensors-act-as-an-alwayson-doctor.html#.VHCz6ofJu8s.
Jonathan Follett, Designing for Emerging Technologies: UX for Genomics, Robotics, and the Internet of Things, November 7, 2014, ISBN: 1449370519.
Michael Belfiore, "Embedded Technologies: Power From the People," Smithsonian Magazine, August 2010, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/40th-anniversary/embedded-technologies-power-from-the-people-1090564/?no-ist.
Samuel Gibbs, "Court sets legal precedent with evidence from Fitbit health tracker," The Guardian, November 18, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/18/court-accepts-data-fitbit-health-tracker.
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Danie D. Taylor, "Apple, Google Push Wearable Tech--But Can They Keep Your Data Safe?," Forbes, August, 19, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/symantec/2014/08/19/how-safe-is-the-data-on-your-wearable-tech/.
Keith Lee, "The Newest Field of E-Discovery: You," Above the Law, November 20, 2014, http://abovethelaw.com/2014/11/the-newest-field-of-e-discovery-you/.
Julianne Pepitone, "Cyborgs Among Us: Human 'Biohackers' Embed Chips in their Bodies," NBC News, July 11, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/innovation/cyborgs-among-us-human-biohackers-embed-chips-their-bodies-n150756.
Melanie Swan, "Crowdsourced Health Research Studies: An Important Emerging Complement to Clinical Trials in the Public Health Research Ecosystem," Journal of Medical Internet Research, March 7, 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3376509/.
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