Fitbit this week launched a smartwatch that will track your run and pay for your coffee afterwards. And we all lurched a little closer to the digital vortex that is the future.
Specifically, a future that looks a little like a sci-fi film where we talk to our watches, listen to our shoes, watch films in our sunglasses and gain high-security clearance through the microchip implanted in our temple. Well, maybe not the last one, but the other wearable technology is in the pipeline.
Australians are among the most eager adopters of wearable technology in the world. One in two of us are said to own at least one device already. In keeping with our never-ending obsession with ourselves, the devices we are most likely to own in 2017 are fitness trackers.
But as technology advances, the gear and the things it can do will become increasingly sophisticated. Mood shirts were a thing in the ’80s, the fabric designed to change colour as our body heat increased (the link with heat was real, but the link with mood was flimsy at best). But now the science behind smart fabrics is lining up with commercial appetite for products that monitor and help manage emotional states like anxiety and stress. Imagine that: Apparel that helps control your nerves before a job interview.
And the closer we get to this reality of a hyper-managed self, the more invisible these aids will become. Already fitness trackers have evolved from rubber wristbands to more sophisticated jewellery. The pace of progress is a bit slower with virtual reality technology, but VR will increasingly come into its own. And some scientists are touting the benefits of computer chips implanted under the skin.
Dr Patrick Kramer, founder of Digiwell, a company focused on perfecting the personal, sees implants as inevitable. “The thing about digital implants is that they make it possible to store information and data permanently in our own body and to interact with the environment in a direct way – technologically and socially,” Dr Kramer said ahead of the Wear conference in San Francisco earlier this year. “In 5, 10 even 25 years from now, we will have various microchip implants making our lives more secure, and connecting us directly with the internet.”
Ouch. In the meantime, here’s how we’re likely to be wearing our tech in the not-too-distant future.
Maxwell Smart saved the world from the evil forces of Chaos with his shoe phone in Get Smart, proving shoes and technology are the perfect marriage. Digitsole, with the help of a Kickstarter fundraising bid, is bringing smart shoes to life. Its “world-first intelligent sneaker” is auto-tightening, interactive, and heat and shock-absorbing. Digitsole also produces insoles that can warm the shoe for skiers or analyse your running or cycling performance. It connects with a smartphone to detect injury risk and fatigue and to coach you through your training.
Whoever thought you’d be hiding your valuables in your jewellery? It seems farfetched but a host of companies are making jewellery that records your most intimate functions. Ringly, for example, makes bracelets and rings that link to your smartphone and let you know when important notifications come in. You’ll never miss a call from your boss again.
Another company, Bellabeat, produces trackers in distinctive bracelets and pendants crafted in delicate leaf designs. The jewellery syncs with an app to measure sleep quality and set alarms. As an interesting aside, Bellabeat’s Shell product clips to the bottom of your smartphone to monitor the heartbeat of your unborn baby. And they produce a water bottle that monitors and advises on hydration based on your activity levels and what stage of your menstrual cycle you are in.
Vinci claims to have created the first headphones that use artificial intelligence to change music tracks, adjust the volume and answer questions at your command, just like Siri. Rival headphones, like Under Armour's Sport Wireless Heart Rate headphones are Bluetooth enabled and designed to monitor exercise performance. Bose and Jabra have similar products on the market and Fitbit is readying their Flyer wireless headphones for launch in October 2017.
Now don't get too excited because this one's still a while off, but Aussie researchers at the Melbourne Institute of Technology are working on smart tattoos.
Specifically, the kind of temporary gold-leaf tattoos you see at music festivals.
The MIT Media Lab teamed with Microsoft Research and DuoSkin to play around with the possibilities, coming up with temporary tattoos that change colour according to body heat or illuminate with LED lighting. The potential is there for tattoos to act as touchpads for connected devices and for the technology to work on permanent tattoos as well.
While MasterCard has been putting the juice into Fitbit's Ionic smart watch, Visa is working on other wearables that could function as credit cards, including a pair of sunglasses with Australian designers Local Supply.
Snapchat, meanwhile has produced sunnies capable of recording 10-second video clips with a lens that mimics human vision. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel tested them on holiday in the Big Sur with then-fiancée, Australian model Miranda Kerr. "We were walking through the woods, stepping over logs, looking up at the beautiful trees," he told The Wall Street Journal. "And when I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes. It was unbelievable."
It's all starting to sound like an episode of Black Mirror. You know, the one where dinner party arguments with your significant other can be recorded and played back later to prove who was in the right (you, of course). Except Evan and Miranda probably never argue.
As well as sunglasses, Visa has partnered with Queensland’s Heritage Bank to create a blazer they call the ‘Heritage Power Suit’. It works by swiping the sleeve against any Visa eftpos terminal. Made in Japan from the wool of Australian merino sheep, and able to withstand drycleaning, the first suit available for sale to the public was auctioned on eBay. It fetched a modest $510. No word on whether this line is going to expand.
In the meantime, Supa has created a smart bra to track your workout, measure your sun exposure, correct your diet, treat your asthma and generally make you look good. The company markets itself as “biolmetrics + extreme sports + fashion + artificial intelligence in a onesie at a dance party”. Now that’s a party worth going to.
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