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Wearable Tech in 2015 

I attended the Wearable Tech Show 2015 on March 10th at the ExCel in London, just for one day. Let me start by saying that the ExCel is an okay venue and I’ve been there before. I don’t understand the logic of shutting over half the places that serve food midweek when there are clearly more than one event going on. Anyway…

I was on a fact finding mission and so visited almost every stand. In the end I got a little tired as it was all much of a muchness. There were certainly some interesting products and ideas on display although about half of them looked like they were products looking for a use and another quarter were ideas and tech that will presumably be subsumed by some larger tech corporation like Samsung or Apple. Someone should have warned me to expect the trackers though. Trackers. So many trackers.

Trackers

Everyone is selling a health tracker of some sort and they all have some interesting or really boring USP. Worryingly, I had to explain the concept of USP to some of the presenters…

Inevitably I did not see nor care for all of the trackers so I’ll be missing out a lot of items that were there, especially from smaller companies or those that had no one on the stands interested in capturing the attention of potentially interested attendees.

This is clearly the emerging market and I saw practically the same graph on two different presentations (one on the main stage and one in the exclusive seminar rooms I caught glance of when the door person left the curtain open for a moment).

Lumafit, Pulse O2 and others


Lumafit was one my preferred devices, maybe my favourite. That’s because a. it’s only worn when you're exercising (I don't wear a watch and haven't for so long I now find them irritating) and b. it seems to have a proper transmissive pulse oximeter on it, though I'm not entirely sure what tech is in it. The Lumafit is just a health and exercise tracker, it doesn't have any other functions, but it seems like it’s trying to record a whole load of variables and do it well.

Withings had their Pulse O2 on display, Jawbone was there (but they ignored us despite not being busy when we came to the stand so I didn't get to look at the devices), Misfit was there and so on. There was a smartwatch by Practech that isn't a fitness tracker, but a quirky and interesting take on the smartwatch. These devices are all similar but different, unique but the same, etc etc. There were a couple of UV trackers too, SunFriend being the stand out because of it’s bright (garish?) colours.

I can't help but think that rather than having different products with different claims/USPs just put it all together and create a range of products that have the best of each with the outlying quirky stuff in a “special” section. Lumafit was unique in this field in that it is not a watch (or watch-type module) and, as I stated previously, it looks like it has a better heart rate and oxygen saturation sensor.

Hacking The Vagus 


The most controversial part of the show, in my mind (no pun intended), were the “brain scanning” devices. These are a new breed of wearable(?) that are popping up more and more recently and, like all new things with wonderful claims, I’m approaching them cautiously.

v1ibes is some sort of tech ring that is making some interesting claims. It can measure your heart rate, which is a pretty ubiquitous feature of wearables at the moment, but also some more interesting things. Apparently it can also do an ECG, which is pretty impressive considering the equipment one needs even in hospital to get and accurate ECG. If you put it on your forehead it measures your brainwaves; I quote (from their website) “explore you mental states and how stressed you are”. I’d really like to see the science behind this so I’ve emailed them for information and some references.

v1bes can also measure electromagnetic fields, which is nice. The makers claim that EMFs cause stress — “ EMF creates stress, many scientists define it as a form of molecular stress.” — and this I’m sceptical about. Theories about about EMFs causing molecular changes, oxidative stress and being risks for cancer but as far as I know nothing definitive has come out of the research on this. References, please.

Finally, v1bes has a muscle strength comparison component and some way of seeing how potential romantic interests affect your “vibe” with their electrical field. This is all laudable as a bit of fun and a trailblazer in the more, err, interesting uses for wearables but realistically this all seems rather flawed.

One final thing. The gentleman manning the stand was talking about “hacking the vagus” and making a lot of wild claims about the vagus carrying ALL the health information gathered from the rest of the body. Really? Hmmm.



Muse, by Interaxon, has received a lot of publicity online, on TechCrunch, and there was a suggestion at some point that Google wanted them. The device and app supposedly reads your EEG and helps you to destress. Some of the claims in the pamphlet seemed to be anecdotal rather than researched; saying that people are more stressed these days and are finding it harder to relax. I’m just not so sure that this devices can do accurate EEG readings or if those readings can really be interpreted in any meaningful way. The claim you can it will grow your brain, in particular, needs looking into.

I should be clear here — I’m not saying these devices don’t do what they day they do, I’m expressing my scepticism until I’ve seen the results of the research.

Similar to Muse, but apparently developed in conjunction with the Brain and Spine Institute (ICM) in Paris is Melomind. This is another EEG reader paired with an app that aims to relax you, with music this time. I also saw Neuro:on, a sleep mask that also has an EEG reader and which is intended to help you, umm, sleep. It also has an oxygen saturation and heart rate monitor and is aimed at a different market than Melomind or Muse, I think.

Do You See What I See? 


Augmented Reality products were less numerous than health trackers at the show but still there in force. Amplified Robot, specialising in AR software, Draw Code, who do similar work, and Octagon Studio, more of the same. I’m being flippant but, if you have a look at any demos or demo videos from these companies, you’ll find that — like the trackers — they are all similar with subtle differences that are probably more important than I could tell.

Fringefy were a little different. This startup (whose website doesn’t show up in a Google search, oddly) has a world “annotation” app. It’s really a search app that isn’t to dissimilar to Google Goggles; you view an object, or a building or shop, and it automatically searches for and gets packaged information for you. The interesting aspect of the project, to me, was the prospect of leaving markers around in virtual space, annotating it. Yes, the other companies I’ve listed could do this, but they aren’t as far as I know.

I think there is something in this AR business, though I’m not quite sure what it is yet.

Projection

The next step up from AR apps is AR hardware. I didn’t try that much of it but I did try the Lumus device. It works, it’s okay, it essentially puts a small screen about 20 meters in front of you with it’s very clever optics. I don’t know that I’d use it to watch a film but as a HUD this’ll work quite well. Combine it with Fringefy and you’re onto a winner. Except people who don’t wear glasses may not want these types of device. They certainly aren’t cool enough to be fashionable.


The entire problem with AR is how to view it. You have to use glasses or a phone and neither of these is particularly… convenient. It’s going to be an interesting issue to crack and the first product that does it well will be onto a winner.

Trail Blazers

I expressed my disappointment with the whole thing to a friend who attended the event with me. My disappointment isn’t at the products but at the fact that the tech isn’t really there yet, it’s not all ready. What we’re seeing now are the very first smartphones, or (if we just think of mobile phones as in phones that call) the mobile phone explosion of the 90s.

One day, something wearable is going to be amazing. I’m waiting.

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