When it comes to wearables, the headlines often seem dominated by smart watches and fitness-tracking bracelets. However, as the Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up in Las Vegas on Friday one thing is clear -- there's a lot more to wearables than just bangles and timepieces.
Among the wearable Innovation Award winners at this year's CES were a heart-rate-monitoring strip that sticks to a user's torso; a sensor-embedded "digital shirt" for athletes; and a wireless smart insole for tracking steps, gait and balance. Some exhibitors at the show even debuted wearables for pets . . . yes, pets.
While it's early days for smart wearables, such accessories could prove to be more than just clever and trendy devices worn for a while and then quickly forgotten once the next innovation comes along. One area where they show great promise, for example, is not with the fit and aerobically minded but with the elderly and disabled.
From Smart Shirts to Pet Trackers
Wearables had their own marketplace category at CES this year, and nearly two dozen were singled out for Innovation Awards based on engineering, design, uniqueness and potential user value.
They included FitLinxx's AmpStrip, a system with a set of 30 stick-on monitoring strips to track heart-rate and activity 24/7; the Digital Shirt Smoozi (D-Shirt S for short) from Cityzen Sciences, which is a "revolutionary textile embedded with smart sensors and adaptive algorithms"; the Footlogger insole, which provides an in-shoe sensor system for tracking activity, monitoring the balance of people with diabetes, and even offering predictive capabilities for early signs of dementia or spinal disease; and Qardio's QardioCore personal ECG monitor.
Pets were included in the wearables action as well, with the introduction of products like WonderWoof, an app-integrated bow-tie device you can attach to a pet's collar to see where he's at or if he's sleeping while you're away. Then, there's Tagg's GPS Pet Tracker, which -- among other things -- can notify you by text or email when your pet steps out of a defined safe zone.
For people who want to monitor their health beyond fitness alone, there was Healbe's GoBe, a wristband that monitors hyration levels and calorie intake, as well as blood pressure and stress level; the helmet-like Melomind, which uses electrodes to measure brain activity and can then play just the right musical tones to put wearers into a more relaxed state; and NeuroMetrix's Quell, a wearable band that uses electrodes to stimulate nerves for pain relief.
Further Evolution of Data Needed
Such devices are still in the early stages in the marketplace, as PwC noted in an October report on health wearables. However, digital health has already gained huge traction in terms of investment, with some $2.3 billion going to startups in that area by mid-2014. Of that, around $200 million was invested in wearables.
We reached out to Paul D'Alessandro, principal and customer experience leader with PwC's Health Industries practice, at the time. He told us, "Right now, the primary audience may not be the folks that need them the most -- they tend to be people who are already active on a daily basis. The devices also appeal to the sandwich generation that are busy holding down their own jobs while having to take care of their elderly parents."
D'Alessandro added, "The potential is there for wider use by those who need the technology the most -- patients with multiple chronic conditions. For large-scale adoption to happen, we need further evolution of data through analytics to help understand beyond just the activity level to facilitate new forms of clinical engagement."