Wearable technology could potentially help firemen in rescue operation, or hearing-impaired persons converse better, or even allow those with motor skill disabilities to communicate via brain signals. Wearable devices are also being used in healthcare, and could catch strokes before they happen, and help reduce tremors caused by Parkinsons.
In March 2007, tech giant Google partnered with clothing manufacturer Levi Strauss to produce a jacket that will enable users to control their devices with a swipe of the cuff. The video above, an advertisement for the technology, shows a biker zooming through traffic while dismissing calls, changing tracks on a playlist and consulting a GPS, all with his jacket.
The technology is woven into the fibres of the jacket, which can still be washed (phew). The garment syncs with devices using bluetooth cufflinks. While the product was due earlier in 2017, it has been delayed with glitches in the app development cited as the reason.
Project Jacquard is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improvements in wearable technology.
There’s the Exo Glove, which has a motor that controls the hand. In the video below, a young man who has had a spinal cord injury, is shown opening a door and brushing his teeth both with and without the invention, to present a striking contrast.
In 2016, when Apple debuted its wireless AirPods to much derision, it actually signalled the arrival of something that would be a lot more common in coming years, “hearables”. While the AirPods act only as simple headphones, the Hear Ones regulate what we hear in real time. Using an app, filters can be deployed to cancel out a particular sound, such as aircraft noise. The volume can be adjusted to a point where there appears to be dead silence even in busy traffic.
While the announcements and advancements in wearable technology has been coming in a steady stream, it is as yet unclear whether they are a fad or a future. One of the primary criticisms aimed at this and other recent Silicon Valley innovations in tech is that it fails to help the people most in need of the innovations.
An article in Wired described this dichotomy: “It’s a shame because the people who could most benefit from this technology – the old, the chronically ill, the poor – are being ignored. Indeed, companies seem more interested in helping the affluent and tech-savvy sculpt their abs and run 5Ks than navigating the labyrinthine world of the FDA, HIPAA, and the other alphabet soup bureaucracies. This may be their own undoing, as there is a very real – and potentially lucrative – potential to shake up the healthcare system and frack the $2 trillion annual cost of chronic disease.”
Wearable technology also comes with concerns about privacy, and could open a new avenue for cyber criminals. Moreover, the devices have a history of not being used long-term. A 2013 study found that 50% of users abandoned them in six months. In 2014, this number dropped to about 33%.