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Future trends in wearables

Now in its third year, the Wearable Technology Show, held in London’s ExCel, showcased a wide range of wearable technologies. Run in conjunction with the Augmented Reality and IOT Connect Shows, it provided a platform for a host of product launches, ranging from new healthcare devices and activity trackers to devices for the smart home and enterprises.

While the consumer wearables market is currently experiencing growth, speakers at the event highlighted what they saw as a ‘big wave of innovation’ in the enterprise space, with more intelligence being built into clothing.

Peter Fullagar, Head of Innovation at design consultancy Kinneir Dufort, said: “There is more freedom when it comes to designing for the industrial market and there is real diversity among the form factors – wrist or body, even ear-based, or ‘hearables’ – that are available. In the longer term, I think wearable technology will become invisible, disappearing into the user’s clothing. The technology will be less overt.”

The issue of security was addressed by Brian Witten, a senior director of IoT security at Symantec, who warned that the proliferation of devices was a concern.

“Companies do not know how to protect connected devices, which leaves them vulnerable to skilled attackers,” he suggested, “and many people believe that security can’t be built into these devices because of the limited computing power or the obscure architectures. But it can.”

According to Witten, Symantec works with vendors by injecting cryptographic keys into IoT devices, some with the physical width of a human hair.

Corey Rosemond, worldwide business development director with Plantronics, told a panel discussion looking at future trends in the wearables market: “The wearable space has been open to criticism because the data being generated has not been brought together in a meaningful way. Making sense of that data will be the next big challenge.”

He pointed to Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI) from Mio Global as a step in the right direction. Thius translates an individual’s heart rate into a single meaningful but simple metric.

Fellow panellist Burkhard Duemler, director IT Innovation Program and Projects at Adidas, agreed. “We need to make sense of the mass of data we’re generating. Look around the show; there are apps providing data on nutrition, exercise and sleep tracking, data for every aspect of your life – how do we combine all of this in a way consumers can understand?”

Wearable technology is currently dominated by devices designed for the wrist, but Mark Bernstein, CEO of Wearables Technology, believes there is likely to be a shift away from the wrist to the body in the next few years.

“The wrist limits the technology; the body provides more space and new opportunities for embedded technologies. We’re seeing clothes in the enterprise space being turned into hubs supporting sensors and cameras, for example, connecting workers via mesh networks.”

An issue raised by the panel was the high price of smart clothing. “If we are to drive the market forward, prices need to fall,” said Bernstein, “and that will depend on higher volumes. Most start ups are only looking at low volumes, so unit prices are too high. Who is going to pay $300 for a shirt containing embedded tech?”

“Price is crucial, but so is usability,” said Duemler. “We need to reduce barriers for consumers and make it easy to use the technology ‘out of the box’. If prices fall significantly, we’ll be able to introduce the technology into everything and, if that happens, consumers will then have a choice as to whether they use it or not.”

Another issue discussed by the panel was accuracy; doubts have been raised about some of the products currently on the market.

“What does it mean to be an accurate device; who decides that?” Duemler asked. “Will we need to establish a set of standards that consumers will be able to trust? Remember, wearables is a young technology. We need to accumulate more data if we are to improve the accuracy of our devices.”

Neil Tyler

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