#TECHNOLOGY Page 22
YOU CAN’T GO OUT IN THAT! A RUNDOWN OF TOMORROW’S WEARABLE TECH
Got your mobile phone and keys? Yep! Got your wallet? Check! Digi-specs, smartwatch, and sweat-activated, illuminated sweater? Err... Wearable technology is soon to become a bigger part of our lives. Here’s a rundown of four emerging technologies with our ‘whether you should really wear it’ score.
It seems that Apple are running out of ideas. Loved for their ability to charm the masses with beautiful and innovative technology, their iconic smartphone is starting to look decidedly less exciting with each new version that appears. A bigger screen? Yes. A better camera and remodelled case? Well, that goes without saying. A new fingerprint scanner and ‘ask-me-anything’ Siri? They’re really only fun for about five minutes. Put simply: smartphone creativity has plateaued. Developers know that it is time to diversify. Where next, then, for the pioneering Steve Jobs-wannabes of this world? Looking laterally, most pundits think that the next frontier in ‘smart’ technology is in what we wear: watches you can talk to, glasses that can guide you, and underwear that tells you when you’ve eaten too many doughnuts. And while some of this wearable tech promises to be pretty neat, most of it sounds plain nuts. Here are four examples of wearable technologies that are worth watching out for. Expect to see them adorning a body near you very soon…
Always on the lookout to make our lives just that little bit more sci-fi – what with their self-driving cars, space rockets and office sleep pods – Google are now trying to make the internet just that bit more accessible – by sticking it on the end of our nose. Heralded by techies as something we’ll all want, Google Glass is a pair of spectacles for people who don’t actually need them – a cunning bit of kit that projects a digital overlay onto everything you see. Originally designed by people with the all the fashion sense of a fourteen year old boy, they look decidedly man-geek – although slightly less so after a recent high-profile redesign. But it’s not just the image that needs work; it’s their functionality. If you can’t think of why you’d want a pair, then don’t worry – neither can Google. They’re still trying to come up with desirable uses for these digi-specs. Let’s be honest, the prospect of social media updates, GPS directions and weather reports popping up in your visual field aren’t the sorts of things that get the heart racing. And the in-built eye-level camera and video recording facility may feel a little voyeuristic to some. At the moment, it seems that Google Glass is one of those initially pointless creations that will ultimately end up becoming quite useful. After all, who’d have thought just a few years ago that a third of us would be owning big, flat, touchscreen smartphones that you can’t fit in your pocket*?
Summary: Isn’t the world better without Facebook in your face?
‘Can’t wait for it’ rating: 2.5/5
*Also known as tablet computers
It wasn’t so very long ago that people were claiming that time was up for the wristwatch. A survey in 2011 showed that the majority of 16–34 year olds no longer used watches and were instead using their smartphones to tell the time. But the times could be changing again: the 400 year-old creation is set to make a comeback, thanks to smartphone developers looking to inject life into their stagnating brands. The idea is pretty straightforward: squeeze the functionality of a smartphone into a watch, à la Captain Kirk’s wrist communicator from Star Trek. Yet, despite its hype, Samsung’s first smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, was a rip-roaring failure. Ugly, bulky, and with pitiful battery life, it was so awful that nearly a third of people who bought one took it straight back to the store. Fundamentally, however, smartwatches aren’t a terrible idea. Aside from the time-saving feature of not having to reach into your pocket to read your text messages, an internetenabled wristwatch could actually be pretty useful. For example, a smartwatch could let you check the weather report, glance at your calendar or check social media updates. Without doubt, the real beauty of a watch is its simplicity: all a wristwatch does is tell the time. And that’s something the developers need to get right: a simple but useful watch. No-one uses digital calculator wristwatches anymore because people never really needed the calculator anyway. Thankfully, future smartwatches look set to do a better job that the Galaxy Gear: both Pebble and
Qualcomm have released devices that are simple, fairly attractive… and are good at telling the time.
Summary: Probably pretty useful providing they don’t have too many bells and whistles.
‘Can’t wait for it’ rating: 4/5
Go faster socks and bra
The fastest growing wearable technology segment at the moment is the personal health and fitness niche. From a developer’s viewpoint, fitness gear is a fairly safe bet: components are relatively cheap and there is an established market of people who like to buy digital pedometers and pulse rate watches. The newer, ‘smarter’ generation of sports clothing showcases new ways of fusing tried and tested technology into it. Take AiQ’s smart
fitness shirts, for example. These shirts are woven with super-thin stainless steel fibres and embedded with electrodes for recording heart rate, and will soon be able to monitor stress levels, fat content and muscle strength in real time. Meanwhile, Vivobarefoot have released a smart
sock that analyses foot pressure and force, pace and stride length as you walk or run – feeding all the data to a smartphone for analysis. Microsoft have even patented a bra that takes an ECG heart trace while out and about. Perhaps the best thing about all this new fitness gear is that it is all machine washable, so you needn’t feel guilty about getting sweaty in it.
Great for the hardcore fitness types.
‘Can’t wait for it’ rating:
5/5 if you’re a fitness fan, 1/5 for everyone else.
Smart fashion wear
In a refreshing departure from all this man-centric wearable technology comes a new wave of ‘smart’ fashion wear and jewellery that actually has a bit of style.
Sensoree have recently unveiled a decidedly futuristic ‘ mood sweater’ that promises to deliver “exitmacy” (meaning “externalised intimacy”). The sweater’s collar is embedded with LED lights that illuminate in a variety of colours according to the wearer’s excitement levels. Hand sensors detect emotional state by monitoring skin sweatiness so that the wearer’s feelings are projected for the whole world to see (see sidebox). Designer Kristin Neidlinge says that the sweater’s illuminated collar “replaces speaking, [by making] the wearer’s truths instantly expressed with colour”. It has the makings of fun on a night out, but you definitely won’t want to be wearing it to work. Finally, no 21st Century outfit would be complete without accessories. ‘ Beauty Tech’, a fledging brand set up by computer science student Katia Vega, offers just that. She is creating ‘conductive’ make-up and false fingernails that have miniaturised electromagnetic components embedded within them. The plan is that divas will be able to click a finger or wink to turn on a light, or buy their groceries with a waggle of their thumb. And for the more conservative dresser, there’s ‘ Ring’, a Bluetooth-enabled metal ring that lets you operate all your electronic equipment – and even make shopping payments – with finger gestures.
Summary: And with a click of a finger I can make the rabbit disappear.
‘Can’t wait for it’ rating: 3/5
Dr Stuart Farrimond (Doctor Stu) originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing. He drinks too much coffee, eats ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit. You can check out Doctor Stu’s blog at realdoctorstu.com.