As wearable technology seems to be the emerging big trend out of this year's CES, PFSK and Intel have teamed up to present the forces behind the usefulness and vitality of its future. Three overarching themes seem to be the drivers of developments aiming to make strides in improving the human condition.
What if our e-communication actually meant something? This is one of the advancements wearable tech is trying to make regarding our empathetic interactions and care-taking. Devices are promoting "long-distance togetherness" with wearable items like Jacket, intended to monitor a child's jitters from afar and offer a long-distance hug with the tap of a button, and the data-streaming Mimo, a onesie displaying your cribbed baby's mood on a connected coffee mug. Sure, it might be strange, the notion of robotic interlopers helping you express affection for your kith and kin, but Intel seems to think there's room for more electronics in those relationships.
Prosthetics are another major growth area, says Intel and PSFK. Gadgets like Wristify, a wrist mounted body coolant, and Dextrus, which is an attempt in conjunction with the Open Hand Project to make prosthetic limbs accessible, could bring a new wave of customizable biometric wearables. Coaching devices like Lumo have users maintaining a postural relationship with their chairs to alert the way to a better sitting position.
Here's where it really starts verging on science fiction: These "co-evolved possibilities" strive to better connect us with our devices, aggrandizing our sensory perceptions for an "authenticated self" that can be stored in cloud memory. Smart bracelets like Nymi can register each person's unique cardiac rhythm and use it as a password, allowing you to authenticate on everything from an iPad to your home HVAC system, just by being nearby (and alive).
Zoomable contact lenses, meant for those with less than perfect vision, enhance perception, and Kapture, a wristwatch that records audio throughout the day, grabs what we might have forgotten and tosses it in the cloud. (The combination of the two gets a little to close to the grain in an episode of Black Mirror for this writer's comfort.)
But do these and other wearable technologies have a future in ubiquity? Maybe not until consumers start imagining better ways to use them.
In a survey of 1,500 smartphone owners in 2013, 15% of people responded "I don't know" when prompted with "What is a smartwatch for?" The majority either felt it was for sports and activities or checking the time. Fewer thought it could be used for communication or information gathering over the Internet. Only 25% reported they would use a device they would wear as a wristwatch or attach to a piece of clothing, meandering down to 4% willing to put in smart contact lenses.
Despite what Intel says, too often it seems as if these sartorial devices are exploiting the laziness of humans through high-tech conveniences instead of solving legitimate problems. Do we really want to act out a door-opening gesture for Nymi to unlock our cars? Is Jacket fostering "long-distance togetherness," or are we coddling and conditioning children so that the only way they'll be able to overcome anxiety is from the pressurized sensation of a hug, simulated and otherwise? The devices with the most convincing punch are the ones like Dextrus, which offers a tangible solution to a real problem.