From wi-fi wigs to tiny skinjob computers, your body is technology’s final frontier
You may laugh at friends who are pretentious (and rich) enough to flaunt Google Glass, but Forbes has already proclaimed 2014 as The Year of Wearable Technology. The sensors and computing power we've become accustomed to in our smartphones has finally shifted to body-worn devices. Wearable tech has changed the way we work, play and socialize; in many ways, its enhanced every aspect of society.
A recent survey by Rackspace and CAST revealed that half of the British public has privacy concerns with wearable technology such as Google Glass, but 71% of those already wearing similar gadgets feel that they have enhanced their life. Early adopters of wearable tech remain overwhelmingly positive about them.
What’s powering the wearable technology revolution? Cloud computing. It allows the data generated by such devices to be captured, analysed and made readily accessible whenever users need it. From stretchable microchip "tattoos" and fitness-tracking bracelets to computerized wigs that can lead the blind – here’s our top ten of the most cutting-edge wearable gadgets around today.
No matter how much you might hate ‘em, Google did it first. At its most basic level, Glass syncs with email, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, as well as taking photos, recording movies, and providing location info and directions. At its most advanced, there are applications in the works that include medical diagnostics and augmented reality gaming. There’ve already been surgeries streamed from Glass to medical students for educational purposes. That said, Glass needs a lot more apps before it earns its hefty $1,500 price. Remember, the real utility of the iPhone comes from its apps, not its slick exterior.
Don’t be surprised if you spot a SmartWig on the runway soon. Or the high streets, for that matter. Marketed as an "inconspicuous" smartgadget and a hair accessory in one, it's basically a wearable computing device that includes a laser pointer, shock device, and an interface that is able to communicate with and transmit info from other devices. Besides potentially revolutionizing Fashion Week, SmartWigs might also help the blind to navigate their way via GPS and wi-fi "vibration commands." The gaming industry is also interested in the hairpiece as a virtual reality type of appliance. Just think of daily "wig-to-wig communications" with your besties, in an endless choice of horse hair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair or any kind of synthetic material. We can’t wait to see what Lady Gaga’s will look like.
The BioStamp is start-up MC10’s first flexible computing prototype – "flexible" being the operative word. It’s a collection of sensors that can be applied to the skin like a Band-Aid or, because it’s even thinner than that, a temporary tattoo. MC10’s BioStamp could be used to verify a person’s identity to a computer or mobile device. Users now rely on key chain fobs or credit-card-size displays that authenticate a user’s access. Even better, the BioStamp can be worn constantly (each lasts about two weeks), which changes the nature of medical diagnosis. The sensors within collect data such as body temperature, heart rate, brain activity, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
You’re probably already familiar with the stylish easy-to-use FuelBand, Nike's break-through foray in fitness trackers. So how is the new FuelBand SE better? Well, it can’t make you go for a run or swim, but besides providing water-resistance, with more accurate sensors this time round, it might motivate you to burn more fuel points on your lo-fi LED display. There’s also the niftily added Bluetooth LE, which enables the band to constantly sync with your iPhone, rather than having to manually update it – which everyone knows, can be like, such a pain.
When tech gets slap-sticker-happy with pets and children, you know it's gone mainstream. And that's precisely the case with the conveniently (if not somewhat cheesily) branded Stick N Find – circular stickers about the width of a few 10p coins, that send you an alert just in case your tagged cat or child wanders off. Designed to be used with a smartphone app which shows a radar image covering a 200ft (61m) radius, Stick N Find contains a Bluetooth chip, temperature sensor and battery. Co-founder Jimmy Buchheim claims the innovation was inspired by an incident involving his eldest daughter.
Strictly for those who live life in the fast lane, Skully P1 is also the world’s most intelligent heads-up display (HUD) motorcycle helmet with GPS navigation, a Bluetooth chip and a 180° rearview camera. This vertically-integrated device was built on the belief that intuitive wearable technology design could not only make people safer, but also enhance their experience of the world. So feel free to slip on a Skully, and let 'er rip, Easy Rider-style.
In our self-obsessed age, there’s something terribly seductive about using your body like a computer, complete with live biometric feed. And that’s exactly what Jawbone promises, with its tagline "the app that’s all about you." Its latest UP24 wristbands are designed to wirelessly track your movement and sleep, and sync your data in the background using Bluetooth. The app itself displays your data, lets you add things like mood and meals ("You’re hydrated!"), while delivering insights ("1,000 steps!") that keep you moving forward.
Giving Google Glass a run for its money, Canada-based ReconInstruments has revealed the Recon Jet, which combines sunglasses with a heads-up display designed specifically for sports. Recon Jet is essentially an upgraded model of the alpine goggle technology that's been fixed to a pair of polarized sports sunglasses. The Jet's onboard GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, thermometer, altimeter and barometer together can put together a ton of information, but it can also pair with other wireless sensors to report heart rate, power meters and cadence for cyclists.
While Samsung Galaxy Gear’s is probably the most publically visible smartwatch, Pebble is the real crowd favorite. It set a new Kickstarter record while still in the concept phase, and its popularity has not waned a tad since. And why not? Water-resistant Pebble is clever enough to tap into your day-to-day activities such as Gmail and track your footsteps. While both Galaxy Gear and Pebble act as wearable info companions to your smartphone, Italy’s Exetech XS-3 seeks to pack everything into one watch-like device. Thanks to an included touchscreen, GPS, and Wi-Fi, you too can enjoy a 007-worthy moment, and make and take calls from your XS-3-strapped wrist.
Is German engineering in decline? O-synce, the team behind Screeneye X, don’t think so. Their sports visor flaunts a built-in display that shows two numbers in green in the style of a digital watch. These can be set to represent a runner's speed, heart rate, lap time, distance travelled, or other data measured by sensors connected to the visor by a radio link. You can then use this data to compare your performance to your friends' and anyone who has done the same routes.