You'll have heard of wearable technology appearing in watches, jewellery and glasses. But what do we mean when we talk about 'wearables', and what will we see from the technology in coming years?
We've asked an expert, Dr Daniel Roggen from the Sensor Technology Research Centre at University of Sussex. Here, he offers an insight into what we can expect from wearables in the near future.
Read on to discover what's coming soon, and then add your questions for Dr Roggen in the comments section. He'll be joining us on the site very soon.
What is wearable technology?
Wearable technology – popularised recently through Google Glass, smartwatches and fitness trackers – refers to miniaturised electronic devices designed to be used on body. They generally comprise numerous sensors that pick up data and can process this data locally.
By closely analysing this data, they can provide new information to the user, such as the number of steps walked in a day. Wearables are designed to be integrated within everyday accessories – and, in future, could even be woven into the fabric of our clothing.
However, wearables are more than just electronics worn on the body. Researchers such as Thad Starner and Dan Ashbrook have outlined a vision where wearables could become personal "smart assistants."
As they are constantly on the body, they can sense our behaviours, learn our habits and even our needs. Eventually, with the right sensors and the right algorithms, a wearable smart assistant could provide us information just at the right time, entirely automatically.
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What will we be able to do with that technology?
In the space of 10 years, a lot can be achieved - especially in the world of science. If the advances we’ve seen so far continue, here's what we may be doing with wearables in the next 10 years:
1. Training with our wearable coach
Imagine wearing a miniature bracelet with sensors that analyses body movements during virtually any kind of sport, then provides you with useful analytics to improve your technique.
This could be a consumer product targeted at beginners who may not be able to afford a professional coach, or it could help elite sportspeople reach that extra level of performance.
We have been working with semi-professional beach-volleyball players and have shown that we can automatically detect different serve styles from a miniature wrist-worn sensor. That information which could then be used to improve serve training.
2. Taking care of our health with our wearable doctor
Healthcare is one of the domains where wearables can shine. For example, the automatic recognition of activities and the context in which they occur could lead to wearables that automatically update people’s diaries, which could help those with mild cognitive impairment.
Continuous monitoring of physical activity and vital signs could be used to prevent asthma attacks (there are over 1,000 asthma-related deaths each year in the UK), and monitor long-term health conditions.
We have previously shown that wearable motion sensors and biofeedback could help people with Parkinson's suffering from a mobility impairment known as 'freezing of gait'.
3. Safely working with robots
Future manufacturing must be highly automated in order to be cost-effective, while at the same time remaining flexible to address the need for built to order products.
At Sussex we’ve integrated sensors into a worker's jacket, showing that subtle activities can be detected, such as those performed during quality control right at the end of a car production line. This lets us create an electronic quality assurance checklist.
Thanks to wearables which indicate the activities and needs of workers, future factories may see people work safely and effectively in close cooperation with robots.
4. Gaming with wearables
Advances in wearable sensors and display technologies bring augmented reality closer to home, meaning new forms of gaming will emerge.
Imagine if Pokémon GO – Nintendo’s recent smash hit – was played on head-mounted displays instead of a mobile phone!
There are still some challenges in getting to this stage. First, we will need to find new ways of interacting with wearable devices. Google Glass displayed some of the ideal characteristics of a wearable because it allowed “micro-interactions”, where users could reach key functions within seconds.
For instance, a simple head tilt would show the time on the display, much faster than actually taking one’s cellphone out. Many smart watches now feature similar ideas, but there’s lots more progress to be made in this area.
Wearables also have to get better at understanding what we need and when we need it – something that involves sophisticated machine learning techniques.
At Sussex we’re exploring how machine learning can help wearables automatically recognise a user’s activities, a vital step towards providing the right help at the right time.
Dr Daniel Roggen is going to be joining us on The Student Room to discuss wearable technology, so post your questions for him below!