The Internet of Everything: Wearables
Imagine a hospital gown capable of reading a patient’s vital signs even during a walk to the washroom or around the grounds. Imagine military fatigues capable of detecting gunshots and allowing for split-second protective or retaliatory action against snipers. Imagine your next smartphone as a color-coordinated piece of jewelry mounted in your lapel or worn as a necklace allowing hands-free communication with your clients, your car and your home-delivery grocery list, or one that could transmit business contact information and up-to-date product website links to a prospect through a handshake.
These are just a few of the types of applications that fall under the category of wearables in the expanding universe of the Internet of Everything. They represent the next generation of Internet usage, following in the footsteps of Generation 1 (web pages and email), and Generation 2 (social media), in which technology is not merely placed on the physical body, but is in touch with dozens, hundreds or thousands of other devices, not just computers, through a wide range of networks, from traditional Wi-Fi through to a personal body area network connected, for example, to a heart and health monitor worn on the wrist.
Wearables are coming…
Wearables are coming to the consumer and industrial markets quickly and from all directions, and analysts, both technical and financial, are expecting the total market value in this area to increase ten-fold – from $3-5 billion to $30-50 billion – over the next three to five years.
When confronted with the term wearables, many people think first of Google Glass, the lens-mounted computer that is still in its early days in terms of functionality and acceptance. But Google Glass is not so much a wearable as it is a wearable smartphone. True wearables are integrated into a person’s physical space and compute and communicate in a more subtle and agile fashion. Imagine, for example, a personal monitor in the form of a tattoo that detects rising levels of stress through electrical signals, heart rate and hydration levels – a monitor that automatically talks to your house to set the lighting and temperature to an optimum level for relaxation and health, suggests an ideal low-sugar, low sodium snack, and where to buy it, and also chats with your car to program the best route home in order to avoid traffic jams and to maximize a decompression environment. Imagine a Bluetooth enabled dental implant that monitors chewing technique or alcohol intake.
If these ideas seem far-fetched or unnecessary, it is important to recognize that many innovations seem that way at first glance. From backup cameras to baby monitors to Aspirin, all new devices and solutions always seem unnecessary until they suddenly become indispensable. Sometimes the initial prototype even seems to lack a purpose – why after all, would anyone want a Bluetooth chip in their teeth – until someone else comes along and integrates this idea with one of their own. In the same vein, people once asked why anyone would want a camera in their phone, or a computer in their house. Further back in time people once asked why anyone would want to use a plastic card to make purchases when paper cash was already good enough. Or even why anyone would want to travel in a horseless carriage.
Amid the reactions posited by the naysayers, innovations have a marvelous habit of tweaking, evolving and parlaying themselves into useful inventions through a dynamic and growing web of interconnected minds, now no longer held apart by distance, country or even age.
Success secret for wearables
The success secret for wearables in the next five years will be in its sources of power. With conventional batteries, such as Lithium-Ion, reaching a plateau in terms of power-versus-size-and-cost, other sources are being developed, which include rechargeable silicon wafer-based solid-state batteries, near-field charging, which picks up energy waves from a transmitter (the same way a radio does), or energy harvesting, which converts energy either from sunlight exposure or kinetic movement. Many wearables will be built to take advantage of all of these sources, switching between them as circumstances allow.
In addition to the power source, wearables will also work using ultra-low-power processors, tiny mobile sensors and wireless networking, all built on a scale that makes a penny or dime huge in comparison, and which essentially “disappear” into any product.
Wearables form a key component of the Internet of Everything revolution, and they reinforce the notion that ultimately everything can become smart. As opposed to being merely gadgets, IoE wearables will become smart versions of already useful products.
The potential for mobile applications in the business sphere is huge and essentially unlimited. Basically anything that an individual carries on their person at this moment, from car keys to business cards, from a phone to bank cards, can and will eventually be absorbed into some type of wearable, replacing today’s hard devices in exactly the same way that bank cards did actually replace most paper money in many parts of the world, and cellphones eclipsed payphones.
As companies and entrepreneurs assess the growing and ever-changing frontier of cloud-based computing, there is constant challenge and wonder in visualizing just how a wearable technology could improve life and maximize opportunity for people all over the planet.
By Steve Prentice