Whisper it, but if the trend at London's Wearable Technology Show is any indication then the future of wearables may not be in fitness. Yesterday, Apple announced a medical research platform in the form of Research kit and less than 24 hours afterward, the dominant theme is not about pleasing marathon runners. "There's a kudos in sport," says Smartlife's Martin Ashby -- one of the exhibitors at the show. "But the future of wearables is in health and wellbeing." It's a bold statement from the CEO of a smart sportswear company, but is it true that companies are looking to ditch fitness fans in favor of hospitals? If you're curious to read what others believe, keep reading.
According to Ashby, the first generations of smart clothing, like the OMSignal and Hexoskin had to be unfeasibly tight to ensure a strong data connection. The latest iteration of Smartlife's product is a zip-up merino wool jacket that is designed to be not only a little more comfortable, but also to look slightly less ridiculous on non-athletic bodies. If you aren't a hardcore sprinter, then cloth sensors can monitor your heart rate without worrying about losing contact through exercise. That opens up the technology to hospital patients and the elderly, enabling facilities to offer rudimentary patient tracking and ECGs without the wires.
Another startup at the show, Bainisha, has developed a prototype flexible sensor that can be stuck onto your spine. The measurements taken are then pushed wirelessly, enabling professionals to measure your posture. With these "digital tattoos," users can then have their doctor study the way they stand over several days, offering helpful suggestions to reduce back strain. In addition, the company is offering its know-how to various companies, including one that's conducting research into the most aerodynamic way for performance cyclists to ride.
Freelance research outfit Cambridge Consultants is also getting into the game, unveiling a smart insulin injector. The KiCoPen is designed with a tiny generator on-board that's capable of powering a Bluetooth radio over short distances. When a patient opens it up, it sends a transmission to their doctor, enabling them to keep track of their insulin usage. In addition, the company is working on an implantable sensor that can transmit monitoring signals on common wireless bands that could be used in medical environments. The company's Dipak Raval believes that we'll see a lot more of this over the next few years, and that Cambridge Consultants can "do a lot more than this" in the future.
Activinsights isn't a name that you'll be familiar with, since its anonymous-looking hardware is handed straight to the medical profession. The hardware is then passed out to sick people for a week at a time, enabling doctors to get an accurate portrait of their lifestyle. The company's Stephanie Sargeant believes that it may not be necessary for users to always have a device strapped around their wrist to improve lives. Just a week of activity data offers "a lot of detail," enabling doctors to make a "low-risk intervention" to combat conditions like sleep disorders and obesity.
That said, not every part of the industry is making a last-gasp sprint toward the doors of the emergency room. Atlas, a company that we first encountered when we took our live show to Austin last year, is doing its best to worm its way into the hearts of gym goers. Using algorithmic secret-sauce, the device can tell an extension from a curl, and can offer helpful insights to improve your weight-lifting technique. Yes, we've seen tech like that before, but the fact that Atlas is chasing such a specific niche shows that the ideas of a one-size-fits-all wearable device may be drawing to a close.
Photography by Nicole Lee.