How Internet of Things (IoT) Technology is Used in Consumer Wearables
The Internet of Things has applications in all sorts of markets and industries, from agriculture to telecom. For the average enthusiast or man on the street, though, consumer wearables are by far the most visible and the most exciting. Who doesn’t want a high fashion, location tracking, app running, top of the line smart watch?
The definition of a consumer wearable technology is simply any piece of clothing or fashion accessory that “incorporates computer or advanced electronic technologies.” Although the idea has certainly been around in science fiction and comics at least as far back as 1946, the first practical prototype was developed in 2009. At a Sony Ericsson sponsored competition to develop so-called digital clothing, the winner was a Bluetooth-equipped cocktail dress that would light up when the wearer received a phone call.
Today, of course, consumers know all about wearables. The Apple Watch is on everyone’s wish list, if not yet on everyone’s wrist. That’s not the only thing happening in the space, though. Here are some of our favorite consumer wearables that are available right now, or will be in the near future.
Pebble 2 Smart Watch
Once considered a poor man’s Apple Watch, today’s Pebble is a more than solid competitor in the smart watch market. The top of the line of Pebble’s new generation, the Pebble Time 2, is a full-featured wearable that includes a heart rate monitor, step and sleep tracker, and even a built-in microphone.
The most innovative feature of the Pebble continues to be its e-paper display. Most tech enthusiasts are familiar with this technology from e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, and it’s a perfect match for a smart watch. By arranging physical particles of titanium dioxide or other substances to create text and graphics, e-paper is able to achieve a battery life unheard of in LCD displays. The Pebble promises up to 10 days between charges, which is leaps and bounds past the daily charging needs of the Apple Watch.
On the down side, of course, is Pebble’s status as a third party manufacturer. Although the Pebble store includes over 10,000 apps and watch faces, it’s still a far cry from the wealth of software available on either the Apple App Store or Google Play. The company is working hard to catch up, though, and the fact that they have stayed in the game this long speaks well of their tenacity.
Whistle – Location Tracking Dog Tag
IoT tech is making an even bigger difference to certain family members who aren’t interested in a smart watch. They’re more interested in squirrels and squeaky toys, and they’re sadly prone to run off and forget how to get home if they get too excited.
Startup tech firm Whistle are the developers of a GPS-enabled, location tracking smart dog tag. The Whistle represents the sort of classic marriage of form and function that is a hallmark of the Internet of Things. It’s an attractive chrome square that slides right over the dog’s collar, and looks like nothing so much as an ordinary collar fastener. It’s low-profile and noiseless.
With a monthly service fee, pet owners can bring up Fido’s location on their smartphones whenever they’d like. It’s a great application of consumer wearables technology in an unconventional space, and it makes a real difference in keeping dogs safe.
Google Glass and Other Smart Eyewear
Google Glass, one of the first consumer wearables to achieve mainstream awareness, debuted in 2013 and has now been temporarily taken off-market. The device was originally a somewhat bulky augmented reality head-mounted display that would allow users to superimpose text messages, navigational maps, and other data over the real world.
The next generation of the Google Glass is in development, and is rumored to focus on unobtrusiveness and day-to-day usability. They have some competition in the meantime, in the form of Zeiss Smart Lenses. Currently in prototype, the AR lens has been met with near-universal acclaim and seems sure to come to market in the future. Like Google’s next generation, Zeiss has focused on making their product unobtrusive and easy to use. Rather than adding bulk to existing glasses, Zeiss has built their display entirely into a single lens. Their goal is for the use of a Zeiss Smart Lens to be entirely invisible. In other words, it should be impossible to tell if someone has a screen in their glasses just by looking at them.
In the near future, consumer wearables will mean more than smart watches and simple location tracking. Smart textiles are coming, and include such innovations as conductive materials that will interface directly with devices and apps. Google has stepped in to explore the space among others, and we may soon see a line of smart workwear that monitors stress levels, temperature, and blood pressure.
The applications for smart textiles are numerous and wide-ranging. Healthcare is an obvious area where they can help. A smart hospital gown or even bed sheet could be far more effective in monitoring a patient’s vitals than traditional instrumentation. For athletes like bikers and runners, a smart shirt or pants could interface with a Google Glass or other wearable display. Keeping athletes apprised of their hydration and heart rate could be crucial to keeping them safe and operating at peak performance.
And then, of course, there is the 800 lb gorilla of the Apple Watch. The smart watch is a great lifestyle and productivity enhancer, and it has rightfully met with enormous critical acclaim and market success. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Apple Watch is the spotlight it shines on the consumer wearables market as a whole.
Like the MP3 player and the smartphone before it, everyone wants to own the Apple entry into the smart watch space. It encourages competition and innovation, as we have already seen with products like the Pebble. The entire wearables market benefits from the “rock star” status Apple products always enjoy, and we are only now beginning to see where the technology may take us.