The Wearables

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A morning like any other, my wife and I set out on our daily run. Standing at the apartment gate doing a couple of stretches, from across the street we hear a strained “Sar! Sar!” (A localization of Sir). Looking up I saw Ravi – who irons our clothes – walk briskly across the street, with a big grin on his face. He came up to us and shows us a rather large watch on his wrist. “See Saar, I’ve got a watch like yours, I can make calls from it!” My wife and I looked at each other and I had to break it to Ravi that our watches didn’t have the feature to make calls or send messages, but only told the time and distance, speed and so on. Ravi looked quizzically at us like there was something wrong with us – almost like what’s the point of wearing that fat watch if it’s only going to tell you the time (never mind all the other features that are crucial to runners)! That said we quickly got going on our run, and left Ravi staring at his watch with wonder.

In the mid 1980s, I sat glued to the television as it roared “Atomic Punch”… “Rocket Missiles”, Johnny Sakko screamed orders into his watch while his Giant Robot obeyed his commands. On Sundays, Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise spoke to his watch “Beam me up, Scotty”.

The concept of wearable devices has existed for decades. Devices such as hearing aids have been around for even longer. Recently, we’ve see the emergence of Google glass, (rumors of) iWatch, bluetooth ring, Samsung galaxy gear and so on. This is just the beginning of a more internet-connected world, where all wearable devices will be able to interact and share information with each other.

What probably draws us to wearable devices is its simplicity – taking an everyday object and enhancing its features. We’re already familiar with all kinds of devices, so they don’t seem like something extra that we need to carry around. If you were to carry two or even three mobiles you would think twice.  The technology used is still in its infancy no one has really come up with that one gadget that attracts the masses. They are still more tech gadgets than fashion accessories (though this is currently changing).

At present there has been an explosion of fitness and health bands and this will continue to be on the rise for a while. It is contagious – when I run, I’m constantly looking at my watch, what pace am I currently at? Is it too slow? Should I be running faster? And when I happen to forget it, the same questions keep popping into my mind – I do miss it. We’ve turned into a generation obsessing about calories burnt, heart rate, blood pressure – rightly so with all the stress and poisons we live with and breathe in. My parents, being diabetic would benefit from reminders to take their medication – a smart phone would solve this if they remembered to carry it with them, hence wearable device would make it that much more easier. There are infinite possibilities for creating health related gadgets – but why restrict it to humans? Our pets could also benefit. Most of the time we have no idea how our pets are feeling – if a ‘wearable’ collar could communicate with our phones about how a pet was doing, the data could be sent to the vet and help with diagnosis if the situation arises.  

Samsung has already built a ‘Smart Home’ prototype, where users manage all their connected devices from a single application. The fashion industry has also started to embrace this technology. Francesca Rosella of CuteCircuit gave her models the power to customize their outfits with a swipe of their iPods, which caused the garments to do things like shimmer, change color, and even play video. Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak comes instantly to mind – Hyperstealth, a successful Canadian camouflage design company has come up with Quantum Stealth, a material that renders the target completely invisible by bending light waves around the target – imagine being able to enhance this with smart devices.

Going back to Ravi staring at his watch – wearables are penetrating a larger audience, they will become more affordable and are almost certainly going to change our lives in the years to come.

Thanks for listening.

Athreya Chidambi

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