Here is my first piece for the Guardian online “Wearable technology – separating fact from science fiction”. I spoke to a panel of technology pioneers discuss the brave new world of wearable technologies and machine to machine communication.
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Wearable technology – separating fact from science fiction
A glimpse into the future: It’s Monday morning and my pants are already conspiring with my cutlery. “Put down the cheesecake, fat ass!” they yell. “Well, let’s see what his friends think about these calories” nags my fork, as my connected sunglasses proceed to flash up a social hub of disapproval as I take another joyless mouthful. My fork starts pulsating in rhythm with the low voltage contractions of my Healthi-Belt, which starts berating me like a digital drill sergeant. “Step away from the cheesecake buster… STEP AWAY”.
As I curse my overzealous digital taskmasters, I think back to a time when overindulgence was a much simpler affair.
At the CES 2013 trade show one of the biggest hits was the “Hapi-Fork“, a fork that vibrates gently and shares socially if you are eating too fast.Mitra Memarzia and Kerve are making a hashtag generated scent for the Digital Shoreditch Exhibition. TEDMED speaker Brooke Roberts is making knitwear from brain scans. Stockholm designer Naim Josefipredicts clothes that will change colour and form on demand, body scans in place of fittings, and designs stored in the cloud for downloading and 3D printing locally.
Today’s headlines are full of stories about connected sneakers, Google Glass, smart watch wars between Apple, Google & LG, and even techimplanted beneath the skin. So, what’s actually happening to the items we wear in this increasingly connected world? I spoke with five innovators in the field to separate fact from science fiction.
Olof Schygergson, founder and CEO, FjordService design pioneers Fjord know how to design for people in the “internet of things”, and are involved in several multi-year research projects into wearables. Their CEO Olof Schygergson puts their findings into context: “Wearable tech is definitely not going to be a replacement for smartphone in the short term. Wearables will initially be cloud connected via smartphones with BTLE (Bluetooth low energy), however as miniaturisation improves then we might start to see, for example, clubbing wear with built in comms functionality.”
He continues: “When tech meets biology for the first time there are massive ramifications in terms of privacy and the data generated by our bodies. Do you want your employer or health insurance company to know everything that these wearables can know about you? If you are meeting someone at a bar, do you want compromising Facebook information floating above your head via Google Glass? Probably not… There are a lot of considerations in terms of figuring out how to stay on the cool side of creepy, designing things that are cool and really add value to users.”
Anina Net is the CEO of the 360FASHION NETWORK, a Nokia ambassador, and also the number one international fashion model in China. She is embracing wearable tech emphatically, “Didn’t you see Google Glass on the runway with Diane von Furstenberg? The world will change when we can wear our GUCCI GOOGLE GLASSES. Nano underwear that cleans itself already exists thanks to the government, why not use this for your Victoria Secrets?”
Anina Net, CEO, 360 FASHION NETWORKAnina cites the “unrivalled” robotic clothes ofHussein Chalayan, the forward thinking engineering of Elizabeth de Sennville, and the 3D printing innovations of Continuum Fashionand Iris van Herpen. Her 360Fashion Network is itself working with QR codes in reflective fabrics and NFC cuffs to easily exchange information while shaking hands. “What will I be wearing in five years? Stilettos that lock my refrigerator when I haven’t walked far enough to burn off my calories of the day!”
But what do wearables mean for the handset manufacturers and app developers? I asked Kim DeReuter, the head of mobile at Cheil Worlwide and one of the top 50 leading women in the mobile industry, could wearable technologies spell the end of the mobile interface as we know it?
“Not just mobile interfaces! This technology can engage with our other senses and with the effects of gravity”. She also quotes David Holtz the CEO of Leap Motion who said at SXSW, ‘This world [of natural gestural interfaces] perceives you in new ways. It is very much a new reality, when you reach out for an object using Leap Motion, it comes to you – it’s like being a Jedi.” Kim adds “Apps and services will need to take into account a far broader spectrum of use cases, contexts and methods of interactivity.”
Wearable tech also has implications for app design. Olof Schygergson gives his perspective: “Firstly the app paradigm itself could actually be completely wrong for wearables, such as having to search and switch between applications in Google Glass. Secondly there are very few, if any, standards for interaction. It is a challenge because it will be fragmented and messy, but it’s also exciting for designers like us at Fjord, because we get to define this new paradigm of interaction in the wearable space.”
Moritz Waldemeyer, who worked for 10 years in Phillips Future Labs before designing wearables for Will.I.Am, Rihanna, Bono, Kylie, and Imogen Heap, introduces a note of caution: “There are only a few niches where it makes sense to go to the trouble to get a competitive or performance edge with wearable tech. Celebrities & athletes are understandably the early adopters, military and emergency services have potential, but the reality is that it’s hard to make it work in a way that’s elegant, and reliable.”
So will our forks be bickering with our waistbands? Will we have non-Glass sections in restaurants for private dining? Our experts agree that smartphones are a major part of the transition to our brave new connected world and that connected accessories will be the first wave of mass-market wearable tech. Namalee Anna-Marie Bolle neatly sums up the mood of our experts, saying this is a future many will be eager to embrace: “We are so intertwined with the internet, it’s basically part of our everyday lives, of our emotions, so people are much more receptive to wearable tech than they ever were before.”