Is wearable technology worth the hype? - 02/21/14

Is wearable technology worth the hype?

It is anticipated that by 2017, 64 million Wearable technology devices will have been sold. Current versions of wearable devices on the market include watches, glasses and fitness trackers, which often share information with other smart devices. Whilst excitement surrounding wearable devices has been steadily growing in the technology industry, one study suggests that only about 5% of adults in the United States would be willing to wear smart devices. 

Wearable devices certainly seem to be viewed with suspicion, with some models already being pre-emptively banned from a number of businesses before even coming to market.  Steve Mann, dubbed the ‘father of wearable computing’ believes that the banning of such devices in some establishments should be considered a breach of human rights. This may have something to do with an incident in the summer of 2012, when he alleges that his Digital Eye Glasses were forcibly removed from him by a member of staff at a Parisian branch of a fast-food restaurant. He argues that the hostility the technology faces will hamper its progress and have a negative effect on those that wear them. Certainly, the technology has great scope to help those with visual impairments or memory loss, but the ability to film people without their knowledge or consent raises a number of ethical issues.

However, if it fails to gain traction in the consumer market, the technology really comes into its own in places like the operating theatre. At Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, surgeons have been using them to assist during operations, whilst researchers at Washington University are developing glasses that enable surgeons to better see cancer cells, by using a molecular imaging agent that makes them glow blue. As the population gets older, wearable devices will likely be used to provide assistance and monitor health, allowing people more autonomy, especially when combined with smart home technology. Devices already available on the market, such as fall alarms, will become more advanced, scaled down and intuitive. 

One of the main barriers to the uptake of wearable devices is their appearance. If clunky smart watches are being balked at by consumers, would people want to wear a necklace that doubles as a projector? A Brazilian PhD student has developed something which she calls ‘beauty technology’, disguising tags in fake nails and turning false eyelashes into microcontrollers. 

Image: Katia Vega
Image: Katia Vega

Research suggests that due to the reliance on other devices, such as smart phones, wearable technology only appeals to a niche market of technology early adapters, as in eye of the average consumer; they do not yet fulfil a need. The Sci-fi appeal of wearable technology may as yet to capture the public’s imagination, but champions of the technology believe that it will become ubiquitous within five years and have as big an impact as smart phones. As awareness grows and the devices become more sophisticated and less conspicuous, wearable technology may well take the personal computer from our pockets to our wrists. 

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