Smart watches and IoT devices with Bluetooth and GPS capabilities and health applications are gaining market momentum. According to health specialist Joao Bocas, wearables go beyond merely being present in a person’s life, they are the first step in the fusion of human and computer. Wearables such as heart rate and glucose monitors are increasingly designed for perennial use. And as technology becomes more efficient, smart devices become less cumbersome, less noticeable, and more accepted as a natural extension of our selves.
Wearable technology has its origin in the 60s and developed slowly until 2010 when it had evolved sufficiently to attract mainstream attention and consumer dollars. In particular 2014 was a pivotal year for IoT and the wearable industry with the global release of Google Glass and the Apple Watch.
Since then, many companies and startups have dedicated themselves to develop and improve upon smart wristbands, rings, pendants, watches capable of monitoring the wearer’s vitals, taking photographs, sending data. By extension, wearables confer these capabilities to the owner – creating a generation of consumers privy to real-time data on their own blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, sleep cycles, and daily activity levels.
Applications: Lone Worker Safety and Preventative Healthcare via Monitoring
Data on these vitals have a myriad of medical and safety applications. Sensors in the helmets of firefighters can detect oxygen levels and automatically trigger a release of more oxygen to regulate levels. Similarly, workers on oil rigs and in mines can rely on real-time location sensors and environmental sensors to remain safe and located in the event of an emergency.
Lone or Emergency worker safety is just one application of the technology. Wearable sensors extend the independence of senior citizens who prefer to age in their own home. Many smart bands contain emergency SOS buttons which alert local healthcare facilities or family members of a crisis. Bands equipped with accelerometers can detect if a patient has fallen based on the speed of downward movement. Kinks still exist, but algorithms are getting better and better. Many smart bands can tell the difference between a wearer flopping onto a couch versus falling onto the floor.
Elderly Smart Watches are a booming niche market, especially in China, where life expectancy is on the rise and children of aging parents are ill-equipped to provide live-in care or pay for special accommodations. The use of smartbands in senior centers is also rising in an effort to decrease the need for and burden on staff.
While most wearables stick to the basics and monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and activity levels, there are also highly specialized wearables which treat specific conditions. for diabetics which can monitor and regulate blood glucose levels through automatic injections. For more information of innovations for the management of diabetes, see this article by Nicole Davies. These devices can send medical data on a patient’s vitals to a nearby clinic. Medical sensors extend the independence of those suffering from medical conditions or old age.
The Future of Wearables
If you can’t picture yourself wearing a smartband 24/7, plastic-free wearables are already here – they just haven’t gone mainstream yet. Scientists have created an ulra-thin wearable that record bio-metrics through skin. Think of these wearables as electronic tattoos which allow full range of motion while transmitting data to the internet via Bluetooth or WiFi. The electronics are so thin, flexible and unobtrusive that the wearer may forget their presence – ideal for long-term health monitoring.