At the consumer technology show in Las Vegas this year, 10 Smartwach companies have set up their wares in the "WristRevolution TechZone," an exhibit where attendees can supposedly "witness the unveiling of next generation tech wearables." If you’re really looking for the future of wearable tech, however, you may have been better off attending a hackathon that took place the weekend before.
Tech attire is still, as the New York Times recently put it, "more beta than chic." Creating a product that fits anywhere within the category is a risk for a manufacturer. Pushing the limits is out of the question. Recreational inventors, however, can think beyond watches that check email, fitness trackers, and publicity stunts.
Last weekend, at a wearable tech hackathon hosted by AT&T, 59 groups of coders spent 36 hours thinking of new ways to integrate technology with attire. Tinkering in a Las Vegas nightclub (the same venue AT&T had reserved for a concert finale to its developer summit), they had access to a room full of wearable gadgets, sensors and common household items. "I think there were even 10 sewing machines," says Jeff Bradley, the senior vice president of devices and developer services for AT&T.
The resulting projects aren’t fully baked, and not all of them would make good products even if they were. But together they demonstrate the breadth of potential in our emerging smart wardrobes—something a room full of wrist computers doesn't.
There’s an obvious solution for keeping kids close while on a field trip. Thankfully, the team that invented Safenecklace thought of a better one. "No leashes," co-inventor Laura Jensen explained while presenting the idea, "just a necklace for the children, a beacon for the bus, and an app for the teacher."
Each necklace has a bluetooth beacon on it, which Jensen says "costs less than a school lunch." The teacher’s app has a dashboard that shows the distance between himself and each student. It sets off an alarm if students venture too far away from the group. In a set location, like a school bus, there’s an alert that goes off when a child leaves a set distance. The team, which also included Brad Smith, Maxime Domain and Marcela Lemus, won the $25,000 first prize at the hackathon.
Simon Signs, developed by Alex Poon, is an application for the Samsung smartwatch that turns practicing sign language into a game. It works, as you might guess, like the game Simon Says. On the app’s command, Poon signed phrases such as "I eat ice cream" and "I love monkeys" that the watch was able to identify as correct using its accelerometer. There's also a setting that allows a friend play Simon remotely by signing a word or phrase to copy. It’s difficult to tell how accurate the app would be across a broad range of phrases and users, but for now, it’s an appealing idea.
Designed to prevent "highway hypnosis" and sleep deprivation from causing crashes, "Pilot Angel" uses a headset that measures brainwaves called NeuroSky Mindwave to keep pilots awake. When a pilot loses focus, the app sets off an alarm, vibrations, and alerts. If she doesn’t respond, it sends a tech message with GPS coordinates to a supervisor and emergency responders.
This 3-D printed bracelet uses a pulse sensor to determine when you are anxious and sends soothing images of kittens to your phone to help you calm down. Its creator, Susan Hinton, calls the gadget P.U.R.R.
Pebblewhack, created by a team from startup Clickslide, is a dog collar based on the Pebble Smartwatch that works to keep your pet nearby. When a dog ventures too far away from its owner’s iPhone, the owner receives a text message and the collar sets off a high-pitched signal and a vibration. If the collar’s signals fail to bring the dog back (which one might guess will frequently be the case), there’s a GPS component that can help track the dog down. A buzzing, screaming collar may not be a bulletproof way to secure a pet, but it already has a great jingle.
The fabric of this hoodie, built by a team from hackcouture.io, is packed with sensors that can help wearers keep tabs on how they move throughout the day. Unlike typical fitness trackers, however, it can also detect a fall, high-velocity impact, or heart-rate anomaly and alert a rescue network. The hoodie helps rescuers locate the wearer and allows them to monitor his or her vital signs while in transit.