Wearable Technology - Function, Fit, Fashion, Fun

Robert Morris
March 20, 2015

Executive Summary

Have you seen a person wearing a laptop strapped to their back or someone jogging along the street with probes and cables dangling from various parts of their body? The answer is most certainly “no.”  However, due to the ongoing miniaturization of electronic components and increasing computing power, these same electronic technologies are now available in devices known as “wearable technology” or “wearable devices.” Wearable technologies are electronics or computers that can be incorporated into items of clothing and accessories that can comfortably be worn on the body. These devices typically include some form of communications that provides real-time information access.1 Their purpose is to offer readily accessible, portable and mostly hands-free access to electronic information and media.

The first wearable devices originated in the 1960s to enable gamblers to cheat casinos by counting cards or improving their odds at the roulette table. The first consumer device to gain attention was the calculator wristwatch introduced in the 1980s. More recently, smart devices such as fitness bands, eyeglasses and wristwatches have become available to consumers.

Some of the more interesting milestones in wearable technology history are noted below.2

  • 1960s – An MIT mathematics professor and a co-developer create the first wearable computer providing a 44% edge in playing roulette.
  • 1970s – A wearable computer named George is developed to increase the chance of winning at blackjack. The inventor stops wearing the device, however, after he loses more than $4,000 in a single weekend. 
  • 1980s – Digital hearing aids enter the market but see little success due to their large size and poor batteries.
  • 1990s – Steve Mann creates the wearable wireless webcam that can upload images to the web.
  • 2000s – The first Bluetooth-enabled headset is shipped.
  • 2007 – FitBit is founded; its first wearable activity-tracking device is launched in 2009.
  • 2012 – Fundraising for The Pebble, a customizable smartwatch begins and the watch begins shipping in 2013.
  • 2013 – Google Glass is released to developers.

The most familiar wearable devices on the market today are smart fitness bands, smart glasses and smart watches. Individuals wear smart fitness bands on their wrists to collect data regarding physical activities such as distance, cadence and speed and to monitor the impact on their body as measured by heart rates, calories burned or sleep patterns. The data can also be uploaded to fitness websites or apps to track historical trends.

Smart eyeglasses are a voice-command device that display text and images on the lens and have an embedded camera and video recorder. The use of smart glasses is similar to a smartphone, but the glasses offer more flexibility as it frees the user’s hands for other functions.

In addition to keeping time, a smart watch has similar functionality as a PDA (personal digital assistance) device, which you may recall was popular prior to 2010. The watch communicates with the user’s smartphone using Bluetooth and can be used to receive texts, play games and music, and run mobile apps as well as GPS navigation.

According to a study by Deloitte, these three wearable computer devices were predicted to sell about 10 million units in 2014, generating $3 billion in sales. Smart glasses were projected to generate the most revenue from sales of 4 million units at an average selling price of $500. However, early in 2015, Google announced that Google Glass would no longer be sold to consumers, and alternatively, would be targeted to the medical and industrial sectors. Smart fitness bands should also sell about 4 million units with an average selling price of $140 and smart watches are expected to sell 2 million units with an average selling price of $200.3

Although many experts predict wearable technology may be the next big thing in consumer electronics, there are several obstacles that will need to be overcome by designers and manufacturers of these products.

  • Battery Life – The battery is among the single biggest component of a wearable device, so it must be aesthetically pleasing and offer the capacity to power the device over an acceptable period of time. There is little demand for a product powered by a battery requiring frequent charging or so physically large that the device itself is bulky and unattractive.  

    For these reasons, battery life may be the most significant challenge in wearable technology. The good news is there are several possible solutions on the horizon. Imprint Energy is developing a ZincPoly battery technology that results in an ultrathin, flexible, high-energy density, rechargeable battery that does not increase the device’s desired size, shape or weight. The ZincPoly battery is expected to have the same recharging time as the traditional lithium ion batteries presently used.4

    Another battery being researched is based on the lithium carbon fluoride (CFx) chemical formula. The CFx batteries could be as small as coins and are being designed to keep wearable devices and healthcare devices running for ten years or more without a recharge. The military has used CFx batteries in drones, night-vision goggles and other electronics so this is not a brand new technology. Based on existing research from the U.S. Army, the CFx chemical formula is “known to have one of the highest theoretical energy capacities compared to other popular lithium cell chemistries."5
  • Size – Wearable devices used to view text or play games require screens large enough – but not too bulky – to view text and images and be touch-enabled to interpret taps, swipes, pinches and maybe even drags.6
  • Fashion – By definition, wearable devices are worn, so they need to be aesthetically appealing and comfortable. If the device is unattractive or uncomfortable, the consumer simply won’t purchase the product. To address consumer demand for more fashionable products, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts formerly of Burberry as its head of retail and Google Glass has partnered with Luxottica (maker of Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses) to design a more stylish Glass.7
  • Privacy – One of the more publicized privacy concerns is smart glasses’ ability to take pictures or video of anyone in a public or business setting without their knowledge or consent. This has led some bar owners in San Francisco to ban Google Glass from their premises due to their customers’ concern.8  There is also the possibility that an employee undergoing a disciplinary action could videotape a meeting with management or discussions with fellow employees that could later be used in a legal proceeding.

    According to consumer analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group in San Jose, California, “Wearable gadgets will be banned in courts, hospitals, law offices, government buildings, public bathrooms, schools and anyplace where confidentiality is important.” In addition, “The problem will quickly become how you identify folks using them as they (wearable devices) become far more concealable."9

    For users of smart fitness bands, their personal fitness activities and health data may be uploaded and collected by the product manufacturer. How this information is retained, used or sold by the manufacturer should be clearly disclosed to consumers through a written privacy policy. Communicating whether the manufacturer’s website will allow public viewing of captured data or whether the manufacturer will sell such information to data brokers or other companies is another good business practice.

  • Security – Wearable devices present a data security concern since they can record, store and transmit personal and company data. These devices can be used to send and receive text messages, voice and video recordings and photos. Some of the data and images may include personally identifiable information (PII), health-related records, personal social activities and other sensitive information. Typically, the data from the wearable device is transmitted wirelessly to a mobile phone via Bluetooth. Many of the wearable devices are easily visible so the user may become a likely target for a hacker.

    Some possible data security solutions in the work environment include the creation of organizational rules regarding the use of wearable technology and mobile phones in the workplace. If wearable technology and mobile phones are allowed, Mobile Device Management (MDM) application can be used to manage what is enabled or disabled on the mobile phone. The next step would be to upgrade the network security infrastructure to help detect and prevent data leakage through the use of wearable technology. The network security system should be able to analyze data flows and identify the type of device sending and receiving data. Furthermore, the network administrator should be alerted when an unacceptable device is being used to transmit data and the system may be able to block the communication.10

There is a lot more to come

Many of the devices under development are fascinating and could improve both the enjoyment and quality of life. Some of the likely uses of wearable technology may be in the fashion, gaming/entertainment and medical industries.

Fashion

Recent advancements in wearable technology have been in the fashion industry. Electroluminescent clothing11 and eyewear have been used by concert performers and entertainers to dazzle their audiences. A recent winner of a digital clothing contest sponsored by Sony Ericsson and the London College of fashion designed a cocktail dress with Bluetooth technology that lights up when a call is received. 

Electroluminescent Clothing

 

Another fashion device that is gaining popularity is the smart ring. The MOTA SmartRing was introduced at Berlin’s IFA consumer-electronics show. The ring is used as a notification hub that can deliver visual updates when you have new text messages, email, calendar events and incoming calls. There is also a silent vibration mode that can be set to deliver different vibration patterns for your smart phone contacts.12

Gaming & Entertainment

Samsung has introduced a virtual reality mask called Gear VR Innovator Edition that is used with the new Galaxy Note 4 phone to turn the phone’s screen into goggles running software made by Oculus VR. The mask has a nylon strap that allows the user to mount the new Galaxy Note phone in front of their eyes to play games and watch videos in a 360-degree world.13 14

 

Medical & Healthcare

Google has partnered with Novartis to make contact lenses that not only correct vision but will monitor diabetics’ glucose level in their tears using a wireless chip and miniaturized sensors. This should allow the diabetic to better manage their condition by reducing the risk associated with glucose testing and eliminate the need to prick their fingers for droplets of blood.15

 

Another emerging practice in the medical field is to have the lead surgeon wear a head-mounted 3D camera while performing a surgical procedure. The video would then be downloaded to a virtual reality headset and used to train other surgeons. According to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Gregory, who used this technique to video one of his hip replacement surgeries, “When you are a surgeon in training, you watch a lot of procedure, but you are very rarely in place of the primary surgeon. This project uses virtual reality to improve surgical training by putting the trainee in the shoes of the surgeon.”16

Consumer fitness is expected to benefit from the development of durable smart garments that have biosensors woven into the garment. A smart garment compression shirt from OMsignal and Carre Technologies with embedded biosensors reportedly can withstand 50 washing cycles. These garments can be used to accurately monitor vital signs such as heart rate, breathing and exertion levels due to the larger body surface area they cover.17

Conclusion

This paper has only touched on the current and certain future uses of wearable technology. Other imminently available wearable technologies include:

  • smart motorcycle helmets that provide head protection but also feature a display so the rider can view surrounding traffic conditions on a transparent screen; and
  • sign language rings and bracelet sets that can translate hand movements into spoken words to help the hearing-impaired communicate more easily with others.18

As you can imagine, there seems to be an unending number of applications for this technology that can greatly benefit individual consumers and the business community. The main challenges appear to be for the designers and manufacturers to develop products with a reliable power supply that are also visually appealing and comfortable, while maintaining an awareness of the security and privacy implications. It’s an exciting time to be fashion-forward.

Contact Us

To learn more about how OneBeacon Technology Insurance can help you manage online and other technology risks, please contact Dan Bauman, Vice President of Risk Control for OneBeacon Technology Insurance at dbauman@onebeacontech.com or 262.966.2739.

References

Tehrani, Kiana and Andrew Michael. “Wearable Technology and Wearable Devices: Everything You Need to Know.” Wearable Devices Magazine, WearableDevices.com, March 26, 2014 – http://www.wearabledevices.com/what-is-a-wearable-device/

Max Knoblauch, “The History of Wearable tech, From Casino to the Consumer.”, Mashable.com, May 13, 2014 – http://www.mashable.com/2014/05/13/wearable-technology-history/

3 Deloitte, “Technology, Media, & Telecommunications Predictions – 2014”, http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/Technology-Media-Telecommunications/dttl_TMT_Predictions-2014-lc2.pdf

4 Ryan Matthew Pierson, “The Battery Bottleneck in Wearable Tech”, Wearable World News, July 25, 2014 – http://readwrite.com/2009/07/19/wearable_internet/

5 Agam Shah, “Wearable device battery could last 10 years”, PCWorld, April 24, 2014 -http://www.pcworld.com/article/2148020/wearable-device-battery-could-last-10-years.html

6 Tadgh Kelly, “How Real Will Wearable Games Be?”, TechCrunch, Posted July 6, 2014 –https://techcrunch.com/2014/07/06/how-real-will-wearable-games-be/

7 Amy Merrick, “Making Wearable Tech More Wearable”, The New Yorker, April 28, 2014 –www.newyorker.com/business/currency/making-wearable-tech-more-wearable/

8 Andrew Patterson, “Wearable Technology – the future of privacy”, ICO News Blog, June 26, 2014 – https://iconewsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/wearable-technology-the-future-of-privacy/

9 John Brandon, “Wearable devices pose threats to privacy and security”, FoxNews.com, June 18, 2014 - http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2014/06/18/wearable-devices-pose-threats-to-privacy-and-security/

10 “Protecting Data Against Wearable Technology Risks”, Security Magazine, June 1, 2014 - http://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/85549-protecting-data-against-wearable-technology-risks

11 www.tikp.co.uk/knowledge/material-functionality/luminescence/electroluminescent-wire/

12 Adario Strange, “Vibrating Smart Ring Brings Notifications Center to Your Finger”, Mashable.com, September 2, 2014 – http://mashable.com/2014/09/02/mota-smart-ring-vibrates/#PQpCpqQefuqn

13 Geoffrey A. Fowler, “Test Drive: Samsung and Oculus team up for a Virtual-Reality Headset”, Wall Street Journal – Personal Tech News, September 3, 2014 – http://blogs.wsj.com/personal-technology/2014/09/03/test-drive-samsung-and-oculus-team-up-for-a-virtual-reality-headset/

14 Jonathan Cheng and Wilson Rothman, “Samsung Unveils Curved Phone, Virtual Reality Headset”, Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2014 – http://online.wsj.com/articles/samsung-unveils-enhanced-smartphone-virtual-reality-headset-1409751001

15 Andrew Morse, “Novartis and Google to Work on Smart Contact Lenses.”, Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2014 – http://online.wsj.com/articles/novatis-google-to-work-on-smart-contact-lenses-1405417127

16 Chelsea Stark, “Watch Surgery on Oculus Rift, But Maybe Do It After Lunch”. Mashable.com, August 14, 2014 – http://mashable.com/2014/08/14/watch-surgery-on-the-oculus-rift-but-maybe-do-it-after-lunch

17 Leonie Barrie, “Smart garments and wearable technology set for growth”, just-style, September 24, 2014 - http://www.just-style.com/analysis/smart-garments-and-wearable-technology-set-for-growth_id123027.aspx

18 Andrew Michael, M.D., “Sign Language Ring Translates Hand Movements Into Spoken Words”. Wearable Devices.com, December 5, 2013 – http://www.wearabledevices.com/2013/12/05/sign-language-ring-translates-hand-movements-spoken-words/