Earlier this month, I headed out to the Wearable Technologies conference in Munich to see some of the latest innovative devices hoping to weave mobile tech even more deeply into our day-to-day lives. Here are four examples due to launch in the next 12 months, which show just how varied the wearable ecosystem is right now.
Launch: June 2015
Ahead of the Apple Watch launch, activity trackers are without doubt the most successful form of wearable technology we've seen so far.
But while they do a great job of monitoring the user's exercise regime and the calories they're burning, they're not so good at tracking the calories the person is taking in. Most trackers' companion apps enable users to manually input the type and amount of food they've eaten, but this process is time-consuming and doesn't offer any particularly rich data.
Enter BitBite, a nutrition tracker worn in the user's ear that analyses chewing sounds to calculate how much food the user has eaten. This still requires some manual effort, though, as the user has to select the foodstuff – although this can be done via voice commands. More importantly, they have to remember to actually put the tracker, which is stored in a clip or wristband between uses, into their ear.
This is used to populate a daily food log with a calorie count and nutritional information, but where BitBite's USP is that it can help you improve not only what you eat, but how you eat. The built-in microphone and sensors track the rate of chewing to encourage uses to eat more slowly and chew more thoroughly.
Launch: June 2015
The current crop of wearables offers a solution to just about every problem you could think of. As we've just seen there are devices to help you to exercise more and to eat better – and now, even to stop you slouching at your desk.
The UpRight attaches to the user's lower back via disposable adhesive stickers. It stays there and uses an accelerometer and stretch sensor to detect any slouching. When this happens, the UpRight vibrates – not quite enough to be uncomfortable, but it's certainly an effective reminder to sit up straight.
“We don't want to just gather data about your sitting habits,” says Upright business manager Ori Fruhauf. “We want to be able to let you know what to do about it.”
Unlike most wearables, UpRight doesn't expect its users to wear the device all around the clock for the rest of their lives. It pitches itself as a training device, which the user just wears for a couple of hours a day, over a period of two or three weeks. After that, UpRight believes most users will be more conscious about their posture, and can reduce their wearing time to just an hour a week.
While not technically a wearable itself – you won't be strapping this technology onto your own body – COBI slots neatly into the current wearable landscape, and onto your bike.
At first glance, COBI looks like just a cradle for your smartphone and a lamp which attach to the handlebars of a bike. But through compatibility with an iOS or Android app, it promises to add over 100 features, turning any bike into a smart bike.
The COBI system contains a power supply to keep the phone's battery charged, and features an accelerometer, barometer and altitude sensors. It can connect to devices via Bluetooth; ANT+, a protocol used by many fitness devices; and CAN, which can be used to communicate with other connected equipment on the bike in order to adjust suspension, switch gears or even control the electric motor of eBikes.
These can be combined to create some fairly unique cases. For example, if you don't want to break a sweat on a ride, pairing a heart monitor with COBI can be used to clock when your heart rate exceeds 100bpm, and activate the motor on an eBike to give you a little more support.
As it stands, the most immediately practical use cases for wearable tech lie in the enterprise space. Consumers might not be interested in shaving a couple of seconds off an activity they do dozens of times a day – but businesses certainly are. This is the market ProGlove is targeting, from car manufacturers to airlines, where small improvements in efficiency can be worth millions.
The ProGlove is actually made up of two components. The glove itself, with an embedded RFID chip and circuits, is disposable and intended to sell at a comparable price point to standard industrial gloves. Meanwhile, an Intel Edison chip in the permanent wristband handles the processing, with a simple LCD display to feed info back to the wearer.
In combination, these two parts aim to replace the hefty scanners currently lugged around by most workers in factories and warehouses, making the process hands-free. The gloves will also be able to identify the tools and parts being held by the wearer to help avoid human error, and enable the business to collect data to improve the process going forward.
Initial pilots will focus on individual functionality, but when the ProGlove comes to market next year it promises to be a multi-purpose device that can fit, hand in glove, into a wide spectrum of businesses.