November 28, 2014

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Wearable Computing – A Technocrat’s Perspective

Google Glass is finally available in the market, although a little expensive. I’m looking forward to seeing if Google can price it at a point where every common man can purchase it. There are other competing goggles in the market that can even record videos, take snapshots and zoom their eye lens.

An article from the Economic Times states, “When a patient enters the emergency ward of Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai; he would be greeted by a doctor, who would be wearing a Google Glass and would already know the patient's entire medical history, allowing the treatment to begin within a few minutes.”

And it is not the glasses, bracelets and watches that have been trending in wearable computing devices! There are many more in the retail space and medical devices market, especially for insulin pumps, health monitoring jackets, haptics, and more.

People generally perceive this category of technology to belong to consumer durables but there are multiple domains where wearable computing has been applied and where it is required for some new domains too.  Wearable devices are distinctive from portable devices.

Influence of Wearable Devices

The trend is tilted towards wearable devices that are a major influencing factor in health and fitness, more so in the area of sports. For example, in cricket, haptic-based wearable electronic gloves are used to monitor the bowler’s spin performance. Similarly, there are many other use cases where wearable technology has been dominant in sports and athletics such as running, bicycling, and more.

Even animals are monitored and traced with hidden cameras over trees, and hidden in robotic stones that move slowly. This can be seen very well in channels such as Discovery and Animal Planet. Now, they are even implanting wearable gadgets and sensors inside the animals’ bodies to track their movements and activities.

Another area that has been influenced a lot by wearable devices is fashion technology. Clothes change colors and conductive threads are used in stitching them, enabling color blinkers during ramp shows.

Recently, a wearable drone known as Nixie was introduced and rewarded by Intel's Make It Wearable challenge.

Nixie is a tiny wearable camera on a wrist band. The wrist strap unfolds to create a quad copter that flies, takes photos or videos, and then it returns  to you.

Most of the manufacturers encourage innovation and development and hence Android operating systems that are widely used for wearable devices are coming out with open APIs for development and customizing applications as required. Most of the body sensor network applications are being extended to wearable devices and enabling them to different use cases apart from health and fitness.

One of the use cases that has fascinated me is the low cost wearable bracelet that can be used in a building construction system (e.g. a multi-storey building), for communication among each native laborer with the nearby monitoring unit, so that the supervisor can monitor them and help during any confusion.

Similarly, portable devices introduced for data acquisition and control in process control and instrumentation can be further extended with wearable computing to establish easy connectivity and more accurate monitoring.

Underwater communication has developed so well that divers can now do extensive research and exploration in the fields of archaeology, oceanography, etc. One such wearable device is the Casio device - “Logosease transceiverswhich lets scuba divers converse underwater at even a depth of 180 ft. The communication mechanism of the Logosease has been shown below. 

“Logosease – A pocket sized underwater two-way radio which enables underwater communication

There is lot of scope that can be extended further to many other domains and many applications of wearable computing devices. Although the area of wearable computing is currently a hot research topic, there is more research to be done and many more devices to evolve and mature in their respective domains. Most of them are experimenting in wearable computing, and hence, only a few commercial products have matured with a wide user base.

References

  1. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-10-30/news/55595454_1_google-glass-the-glass-patient
  2. https://makeit.intel.com
  3. http://logosease.yamagata-casio.co.jp/en/