The great potential of wearables

Wearing it well

By Antoinette Price

Do you monitor yourself closely? Heart rate, carb intake, sleeping patterns? Do you track your child’s whereabouts? What about finding the dog, your keys or wallet? Wearable technology, or wearables, was again one of the main themes at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, USA, where almost 600 exhibitors were displaying their products.

VR headset
Virtual reality headset

New on The Strip

While there were perhaps fewer innovations and more variants of familiar wearables, such as for health and fitness, exhibitors still rolled out some eye-catchers:

 

  • Baby monitor – the first at the show to sense, learn and predict a baby's sleep patterns and optimal sleep conditions
  • Self-adjusting belt – accommodating the changes that naturally occur in users' waist lines as they sit or stand
  • Ring – worn on a finger, as its name suggests, this lets users control smart phones, lights, curtains or connected devices in homes with a wave of the hand  
  • Smart watches – combining fashion with functionality, users can make and receive calls without being linked to a smart phone, can shoot videos and more
  • A prototype headset – offering true 3D audio spatialization and sonic immersion with realistic sounds coming from all directions
  • The ultimate Walkman – with 128GB storage, claiming to offer up to 60 hours audio play
  • Wearable drone camera – flung from its slap bracelet mounting, the 'copter takes off and snaps in-flight photos before returning to the user
  • There were also dancing robots, humanlike singing androids… and more.

Fast growing market

Innovation has exploded in the global market for wearables over the past few years. It is one of the fastest growing market segments in consumer electronics and, according to a study by IDC (International Data Corporation), a global provider of intelligence for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets, wearable shipments will generate a 78.4% compound annual growth rate between 2014 and 2018, eventually hitting 111.9 million worldwide shipments in 2018 alone.

As part of the rapidly-expanding Internet of Things, where network connectivity allows everyday objects to send and receive data, wearables track and monitor many aspects of our lives, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, in areas such as health, fitness, medicine, education, gaming and music.

 This is made possible thanks to developments in MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) and sensors, sensor hubs, sensor fusion, low-power wireless connectivity and specialized software development platforms.

In an increasingly crowded market, manufacturers and businesses wanting to distinguish themselves from the rest of the global players will give themselves the best chance of success by understanding fully how to leverage the complex functionality of wearable applications for their products.

Helping to develop wearables

IEC work in standardization and conformity assessment contributes significantly to this technology. Manufacturers are able to build more reliable and efficient sensors and MEMS thanks to International Standards prepared by IEC TC (Technical Committee) 47: Semiconductor devices and IEC SC (Subcommittee) 47F: Microelectromechanical systems.

IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment produces Standards which contribute to this evolving market in terms of quality, performance and their interoperability with other systems and equipment.

Worn out already?

If wearables are going to withstand the test of time and become mainstream items, they need to replace or simplify a useful function. For example, consumers continue to upgrade their smart phones, giving them constant communication and Internet access to emails and applications which in turn connect them to many more products and services. Wearables also need to be physically appealing and have as long a battery life as possible. Research already shows that significant numbers of people are abandoning their wearables after just a few months' use in a market whose potential has not yet been reached.

A question of security

Merely making the wearables relevant is not the only challenge facing businesses and manufacturers. Along with all the other products and services which collect our personal data and connect it to the Internet of Things, using wearables raises issues of security and privacy. It is not uncommon to hear of personal information and photos being hacked and used illegally.

This year at CES, Edith Ramirez, Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission in the US, warned the industry about the threat the Internet of Things could pose to personal, and in some cases physical, security and privacy. She highlighted the fact that data can be shared in ways people don’t anticipate or may be revealed as a part of larger breaches.

If a device or product is connected, it can be hijacked, be it a car, smart home system, or medical device. Ramirez urged manufacturers to take these issues seriously, noting that many new devices have few built-in security features in the apps through which they are accessed and operated or the services that power them. 

Gallery
iHealth-Oximeter Wearable health monitor
motion sensors Sensor technology
wearable devices Wearable accessories