In the past, when you wanted to monitor your vital signs or make improvements to your health you used to have to find a way to record the data and chart manually your progress – often this would mean relying on periodic updates from your doctor. However, in today’s digital world there are a range of new devices called wearables that can do all this and more, all at the touch of a button.
What are wearables?
Wearable electronic devices consist of small sensors that are incorporated into items of clothing to be worn comfortably on the body. They are designed to track information in real time using sensors that take a snapshot of your activities and sync them with your smartphone, tablets, or computers. One well known example of the technology is ‘smartwatches’ that not only monitor your vital signs and can track your health overtime but can also receive calls, play music, and send emails.
How do they work?
The growth of the wearable market has centered around three key things; better batteries, ever-increasing processor speed, and ceaseless Internet connectivity. This is because, with these three features a wearable becomes truly portable and can function well, in real time, on the go.
To collect data the wearable itself will be equipped with a variety of sensors – although these sensors vary from device to device. This can include gyroscopes and accelerometers that are used for navigation, wearable electrodes that measure your pulse, temperature sensors, and proximity sensors. In October 2020, for example, runners in the London Marathon used wearables that measured proximity to help them maintain social distancing during the race.
Once the data has been collected by the sensors, it is recorded and sent to your smartphone for you to analyse. Typically, the success of a wearable device is dependent on the integration of sensors with algorithms to make accurate recordings. A study published after the Apple Watch’s ECG app had been on the market for six months, for example, found that the device was sending too many people to the doctors to be checked for heart problems.
In this sense, wearables may push patients to get unnecessary health care and cause stress and anxiety. It is easy to see how even people who don’t have symptoms, may still feel the need to talk to a doctor about an abnormal flag on a device like an Apple Watch.
Examples of wearables
Smart glasses are considered the next big breakthrough for wearables that will filter into our daily lives. With companies like Amazon and Google already releasing their first smart glasses that connect you to virtual assistants and have notifications from your phone read out. What’s more, Apple and Facebook are both also working on smart glasses projects that have augmented reality at the heart, merging virtual and physical worlds overlaying data on the world around you.
They are also great for athletes who need hands free information. Solos smart glasses, for example, have already been worn and used by the US Cycling team, and give the cyclists a host of useful data in real time, including speed, cadence, heart rate and power zones.
The most prominent kind of smart jewelry (as of 2020) might be the smart ring. Exemplified by brands such as Oura, smart rings can obtain health-tracking and sleep tracking data that the user can later review on a smartphone.
By making contact with a larger amount of one’s body, smart clothing can provide deeper insights than smaller wearables can, enabling advanced tracking for both medical care and lifestyle improvement. Examples include, Siren Socks (that can detect developing foot ulcers), Nadi X smart pants by Wearable X (yoga pants that vibrate to improve form during yoga exercises), and Neviano smart swimsuits that provide alerts when the user should apply sunscreen.
Smart Contact Lenses
Smart contact lenses consisting of a built-in visual display, are designed to magnify images for people with low vision. Not only can these lenses correct your vision (using sensors that monitor the amount of light going into the eye) and hard to treat eye conditions like iris deficiencies, higher order aberrations and photophobia, some versions can also project content from a smartphone. Samsung has even patented its own version of smart contact lenses that would allow users to record videos using the movement of their eyes.
Wearable technology aims to influence the fields of health and medicine, fitness, aging, disability, transportation, and finance to name just a few. The goal is to smoothly enter the daily lives of individuals and become a functional part of them. As research and development in this market improves the devices are only likely to become more advanced. It will be interesting to see how such objects become ingrained to our daily lives in the future.
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