In my last post, I looked at the new heart health and activity tracking tools we can expect in 2014. In this post, I'll look at the new (and arguably more useful and interesting) types of tools that we can look forward to this year.
Multi-Sensors and Continuous Tracking
While the Basis Band has been available since late 2012, this year will, among others, see the introduction of Wellograph's "Wellness Watch" and the open source Angel sensor. Like the Basis Band, both of these continuously measure heart rate, activity and other parameters such as skin temperature. Because it's open - that is, it's designed to make it easy for developers to write apps that interact with it - the Angel sensor has the greatest potential to foster an ecosystem of (software) innovation among these devices.
While most of the devices we've seen so far are the evolution and/or convergence of existing technologies, some new devices will apply existing technologies to new use cases and others will introduce consumers to entirely new technologies. An interesting example of the former are Sensoria's Fitness Socks. These use the time-tested 3-axis accelerometer, a pressure-sensing sock and a processing unit that's worn on your ankle (which communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth) to measure things like number of steps, speed, calories, altitude and distance as well as cadence and foot landing technique/pressure "hot spots". The last two features are of particular interest to runners who want to learn and maintain good form since it’s an important part of what will keep them injury free.
In the "entirely new" category, the TellSpec promises to tell us how many calories and what nutrients, ingredients, and allergens our food contains just by pointing a keychain-sized device at it. The device is basically a spectrometer - an instrument that measures the properties of light - that sends what it measures to your smartphone (which then sends the information to the company's system in the cloud). Once the food you point it at has been analyzed, the companion app displays the results in an easy-to-understand format.
The Holy Grail - The Medical "Tricorder"
One of the holy grails of wearable (or rather portable and affordable) technology is the idea of the medical tricorder (of Star Trek fame). Doctors and hospitals are already tracking patients who need to be monitored continuously (and possibly remotely), but the ultimate goal is to allow consumers to continuously gather useful data about themselves before they're sick. To this end, Qualcom has created the Tricorder XPRIZE, a 10 million dollar competition that aims to "bring healthcare to the palm of your hand". In the meantime, Scanadu will release their Scout and Scanaflo products - which promise to "send your smartphone to med school" by measuring things like temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, oximetry, ECG information, heart rate variability, stress and health indicators in your urine; in short, it'll let you measure and track your vital signs every day - this year.
Conclusions and Recommendations*
While many of the tools I've talked about are geared more towards quantified self geeks and/or athletes, continuous measurement multi-sensors should be our tools of choice when it comes to being healthier and more active. The more open these are, the more potential they have to be successful by fostering innovation and as-yet-unimagined uses.
Some new tools will only provide specific groups of people (such as runners) with much more useful information, but some of the ones I mentioned - Such as the TellSpec - will be useful to everyone.
Once we have and are using all these tools, the challenges we'll face will be aggregating the information that they provide and presenting it in ways that are simple to understand, useful and actionable. I for one am glad that I live in such interesting times!
* The opinions expressed herein are solely my own; they are based on my knowledge about and experiences with wearable technology.