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In the world of fitness, the sensor may be the most important advancement since the running shoe. There is, of course, the device that you can slip into your sneakers to monitor your strides, and various smart shirts that track vitals such as your heart rate at the gym. But few solutions are more encompassing or convenient than the Pebble smartwatch, which uses third-party apps to allow users access to an incredible wealth of information. This connected watch can monitor a range of activity (speed and distance, steps and strokes, calories and efficiency) for running, biking, and even swimming. You can track a single workout or your weekly progress. But the world of connected health devices gets even more interesting – and vitally important – when you consider this: Your personal monitor can send real-time information to your secure medical file in the cloud, accessible by your healthcare provider and doctor. Yearly checkup? Forget it. Make way for continuous health monitoring – and a healthier you.
Mobile payments have made transactions easier and faster for large companies, but they’ve had an almost unfathomable impact on small businesses, drastically reducing the barriers to entry for shoot-for-the-moon startups and mom-and-pops alike. Just as a laptop allows anyone to be a publisher or, say, produce an album, mobile payments have democratized store ownership. For a fairly low cost, a business can equip a mobile device with a credit card reader, chip reader, or even contactless reader, and then swipe, tap, or (just barely) touch their way to startup success by processing payments from credit cards or wallet-oriented apps. Plug and play technology makes it possible to plug and pay — it’s truly as easy as slotting in the reader and downloading an app. Yes, there are some concerns about security, but for the most part, the result is faster interactions and happier customers.
More and more, connected devices are taming the complexity of cities around the world, making them safer and more efficient. One of the fastest growing applications is the smart meter, which allows utilities to instantly identify a power outage instead of waiting for homeowners to report a problem. But specific cities are also wisely focusing on their own particular problems, and in Los Angeles, for instance, sensors have been embedded in the street to monitor congestion and synchronize with traffic lights to reduce the daily snarl. Sensors are also being used in New York to track the health of its enormous – and aging – bridges, transmitting data about stress on their cracks and cables. Meanwhile, Copenhagen’s wireless network of LED road sensors alerts bicyclists to poor conditions, and will soon give clusters of them the right of way at intersections. And for drivers, Copenhagen’s wireless streetlights brighten when they detect oncoming vehicles. Experts predict that in five years, the billion-plus connected devices currently used in cities will increase ten-fold. That means a ton more data–and even greater benefits.
Until recently, pretty much the only connected device that allowed you to adjust your home’s ambiance was that wifi-enabled, multi-room speaker system. But that tune has changed: Now there’s a thermostat that heats your home by learning your daily habits, and can even command the dryer to re-fluff your clothes when you’re close to arriving home. A simple smartphone app allows you to control the color your light bulbs give off. You can even put the whole house to sleep by setting your phone in the charger on your bedside table — and start it all up again when the alarm goes off in the morning and begins “talking” to your various appliances, turning on the coffee maker for breakfast, the crockpot for dinner.
Yes, driverless cars are coming to a driveway near you, but connected-car amenities are already here. One recent advancement: An American automaker now performs wireless upgrades, which is akin to mobile devices unobtrusively receiving an app update. The remote troubleshooting allows the manufacturer to actually upgrade performance and fuel efficiency with new software, rather than old-school hardware improvements. A visit to the Cloud will be more common for these cars than a trip to the mechanic. Of course, connected cars will also increase the amount of vehicle-related data: Every trip – to the office, to supermarket – will deliver precious information about speed, braking, turn times, etc. With over a billion cars on the road today, this will deliver billions upon billions of data streams that companies will pour over in their efforts to improve safety and the driving experience.
This article was authored by FastCo Works, Fast Company’s Content Studio.