Entering the World of Wearables
By Anirudh Madhav

In 2016, Denis Anselmo from Morinville in Alberta, Canada was going about buiding a fence in nearby Edmonton area just like any other day. Suddenly the 62-year-old worker realized he felt a little tired and unusually weak. He decided to take a break and started fiddling with his Apple watch, which he had just purchased two weeks ago and ended up checking his pulse. Denis realized that he had to call an ambulance when he saw the pulse rate on his Apple watch – he had 210 beats per minute (bpm) compared to the normal pulse rate of 60-100 bpm. The incident is one of the few recorded instances when a wearable technology helped in real-time monitoring of a person’s health.

The origins of wearable technology go back to the 1980s when calculator watches and hearing aids made their entry into the new world market. Though wearable tech made its debut in the 20th century with Bluetooth and Internet connected clothing, earring and neckties, it couldn’t create a solid impact with its limited capabilities. The advent of the Internet, feature-rich operating systems and tiny sensors paved the way for the wearable technology revolution.

During the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2014, wearable technology raised eyebrows when a range of devices were launched for business and personal usage. The gadgets in their initial stage of development faced a range of glitches pushing them into oblivion. Around the same time, Google Glass launched into consumer beta in 2013 was a bold entrant into the head wearable segment. Consumers could click, capture photos and videos at the touch of a button while the glass provided real-time information such as weather and navigation. However, concerns over privacy and its sluggish development from the prototype stage made it one of the biggest failures in the wearable tech industry.
The wearable tech industry has come a long way since then. Right from Silicon Valley companies to kickstarter projects, firms are venturing into every aspect of wearable technology with some betting big on artificial intelligence. Take a look at few of the futuristic wearables that could change the way humans interact with technology in the years to come.

How about owning a piece of garment to which you can gesture to play music as you cycle, attend calls by just tapping the cloth and also notify you, when you reach your desired location? Slated for release in the coming months, Levi’s Project Jacquard is a technology straight out of a sci-film. Using conductive yarns, thin metallic alloys and synthetic and natural yarns structures like cotton, silk or polyester; interactive areas are woven into the textile that are connected to tiny circuits. The technology would make its debut in the Levi’s Commuter Trucker collection which is embedded with haptics, LED and embedded sensors that interact with the digital world in real time. What makes it more interesting is the durability of the garment and the fact that it is washable after removing a button-sized device from the cufflink. The connected clothing functions as an invisible screen, capable of carrying out functions like playing music, providing directions and communicating on-the-go. While Google has released the interactive clothing with limited features, it has promised to add features in this one-of-a-kind technology.

The latest entrant into the luxury smartwatch segment is Louis Vuitton with its Tambour Horizon series. Incorporating Android 2.0, the smartwatch combines the signature design of the premium brand and the technology of Qualcomm and Google. Along with the usual Android wear features such as email, message, call notifications, step counter and others, Google has piped in unique features for the Vuitton series. The smartwatch boasts of a 24-hour display along, a monogram flower to display notifications and a ‘My Flight’ function which provides flight time, terminal and gate information. The Tambour Horizon comes in over 60 premium leather design straps with prices ranges around $2,490 to $2,900. However, the Tambour series has a major downside which can’t be overlooked. The module is non-removable unlike the Tag Heuer Modular 45 smartwatch which can be completely customized with a range of strap designs. A removable module will also ensure that the timepiece can be upgraded to an advanced version without shelling out extra for the straps and lugs.

With Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant making their way into the AI segment, there is no better time for voice assistants to explore the ambient computing market. Bragi has been dominating the personal In-ear personal assistant market. The earbuds integrated with Bragi OS focusses on minimizing touch controls and instead communicates with head gestures. The AI interface automatically detects when a person is running, swimming or walking and transmits the data into an Apple or Android device. Another smart hearable is the Here One Wireless smart earbuds, which combine augmented audio and noise cancelling into its AI system. The earbuds collect and deliver ambient sounds in real-time for noise cancellation while the three inbuilt mics ensure that only the clear voice is amplified to the receiver by filtering out the unwanted noise.

In its beta stage, Tattio, developed by Microsoft research uses imitation gold leaf, conducive fabric tape and curvy wires that could support a range of feature starting with a NFC tag. LEDs, sensors and color changing thermochromic paint can be added for heat-activated fashion accessories and smartwatch-like features. Another futuristic project is Tech Tats from Austin-based Chaotic Moon. Using eletro-conductive ink, advanced fitness sensors are attached to the skin that monitors heart and sends data to your doctor every six or twelve months. The tattoo could be used in a variety of sectors such as payments, defense and healthcare. While the tattoo wearables at this point of time look like stick-on chips with sensors, the future could be more interesting with nano-ink technology.

Instead of tracking the number of steps directly from your wearable on your wrist, Under Armour has gone a step ahead and embedded sensors directly into running shoes. The UA Speedform Gemini series tracks- running and stores metrics that helps an athlete or runner to improve his workout. A built-in chip also synchronizes with UA’s MapMyRun app which GPS tracks real-time and allows you to track routes and compete with friends. Samsung is also set to utilize its IoT technology in the form of lofit golf shoes, launched by Samsung-backed Salted Venture. Priced around $200, the smart shoes are intended to track a golfer’s posture and swing, and provide real-time feedback to improve their game without a trainer’s help.

Asteroid OS, an open-source operating system comes to the fore as an alternative OS for wearables. Considering the huge amount of data collected by Google-based Android Wear 2.0 OS and iOS in Apple Watches, Asteroid OS focusses on privacy and freedom of users. The project created by Revest Florent in 2015 has already started making inroads as an alternative wearable OS into several smartwatch companies such as Samsung, LG and Sony.

Wearables are often criticized by many as another technology fad as people point out they already own smartphones, which can mimic the same functions. However, artificially intelligent wearables with specific applications such as real-time healthcare, a personal fitness trainer or a personal business assistant could be a step further in wearable technology.

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