Wearable Technology 2015

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Contents

Introduction

Wearable technology offers businesses and consumers alike a new way to interact with the world. These sensor-enabled devices have the capability to collect and share meaningful information and act as an integral part in the shift to the Internet of Things. The term “wearables” has been used since the 19th century, however, it was only recently that consumers became aware of wearable devices and the market for wearable technology experienced a significant growth. Currently, the global revenue from wearable devices is estimated to be at $9.2 billion and projected to reach $30.2 billion by 2018. The amount of additional data generated by these wearable devices will allow for both industries and consumers to be more productive in their life.

While the majority of current wearable devices are targeted towards a general consumer, wearable computing has the potential to change the way businesses interact with their employees and customers. Wearables will have a large influence on many businesses, especially in industries that are typically hands-on or currently lagging in technology adoption, such as in construction, the health sector, and warehouse operations. However, there is a wide range of concerns that businesses would have to address in order to achieve mass market adoption of this technology. They include privacy, security, and social implications.

Definition

Wearables are defined as “miniaturized computing devices that can be comfortably worn or carried to automate or augment daily work or personal activities”. By leveraging its sensor-enabled capabilities, a wearable device can detect, measure, and communicate information to the user.[1] This technology has the potential to transform several market segments including gaming and entertainment, fitness, healthcare, enterprise, education, and fashion. Global revenue from wearable devices is estimated to grow from $9.2 billion to $30.2 billion by 2018 with consumer applications accounting for 73% of the market.[2]

History

  • Gambling shoe
    1961 - The Gambling Shoe: The origins of wearable technology can be traced back to 1961, when the first wearable computer was designed to cheat at roulette. Mathematicians Edward O. Thorpe and Claude Shannon invented a small timing device which could be concealed in a shoe. This gambling shoe would tell the gambler where the ball was going to land on a roulette table through radio waves, generating a 44% increase of winning bets.[3]
  • Calculator wristwatch
    1975 - Calculator Wristwatch: The Pulsar “calculator” wristwatch, the world’s first wrist calculator, was released to the public in 1975. Immediately after its release, the wristwatch became widely popular among scientists and mathematicians. Several watch brands including Casio, Timex, and Hewlett Packard mass produced the calculator wristwatch during 1980s-1990’s.[4]
  • 1980s to 2000s - “ Digital Eye Glass”: Steve Mann, a researcher and inventor, is renowned as the world’s first cyborg.[5] In 1981, Steve Mann invented a backpack-mounted computer used to control photographic equipment. Using a camera that was attached to his helmet Mann was able to record what he was seeing through the right eye. [6] Since then, the device has gone through four generations and has become more sleeker, more slender, and simpler.[7]
  • 2000 - Bluetooth Headset: In 2000 the first Bluetooth headset became available to the general public. This headset incorporated bluetooth wireless technology and provided hands-free solutions for mobile communication.[8]
  • 2009 - Fitbit: Fitbit Inc. was founded by James Park and Eric Fridman in May 2007. With advanced sensors and wireless technology, Fitbit aims to create amazing experiences that inspire people to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Their first product was the Fitbit tracker, which used an ultra-compact wireless wearable sensor. Fitbit automatically measures and collects the user's activities while being worn. Apart from tracking and measuring their daily activities, users can also interact with other Fitbit users in the online community.[9]
    Nike FuelBand
  • 2012 - Nike FuelBand: The Nike fuel band was officially released in the U.S. at select Nike Stores as part of the Quantified Self movement. This wristwear is designed to measure user’s rate of activity during the day and transmit the data through Bluetooth technology to the Nike Online Community. In addition to tracking their progress, wearers can also check their peers’ status through Facebook and Twitter.[10]
  • 2013 - The Pebble Watch: Pebble is a customizable watch that conveniently delivers information that benefits users. It connects to iOS and Android smartphones via Bluetooth and displays information such as phone call and message notifications.[11]
Apple Watch
  • 2013 - Google Glass: In 2013, Google Glass became available to the qualified “Glass Explorers” in the U.S. The device allowed users to check emails, receive phone calls, and use Google Maps navigation. Soon after the launch the company faced concerns regarding privacy and safety implications, which resulted in some bars and restaurants banning use of Google Glass. Although Google ended the sales of Google Glass, the company made an announcement in 2015 that it remains committed to the development of the product.[12]
  • 2013 - Smartwatch: Avi Greengart, analyst on Consumer Devices, suggested that with the advanced technology and mass ownership of smartphones, 2013 would be the ripe time for smartwatches to enter the wearables market.[13] Smartwatches are designed to connect to smartphones wirelessly to provide users with limited phone capabilities. Companies involved in the development of smartwatches include Acer, Apple, BlackBerry, Foxconn, Google, LG, Microsoft, and Samsung.[14]

Current Wearables

In 2015, wearables are still in its infancy. They have yet to become fully adopted by the mainstream and they still face numerous issues in regards to functionality, usability, and social acceptability.

Currently, there are two primary types of wearables: general purpose and specialized. General purpose wearables contain a variety of features and functionalities that appeal to most users. These wearables tend to blend-in with a user’s daily activities and are unintrusive and unnoticeable. They often replace an existing device such as a watch, bracelet, or glasses. Specialized wearables are focused on performing a specific task and are often one-faceted in their design. They prioritize functionality over form and are designed accordingly. Although specialized wearable tends to serve a specific purpose, there have been efforts to generalize more specialized wearable to create mass appeal.

General Purpose Wearables

Smartwatch

Smartwatches are a common form of wearables. Smartwatches are about glanceable information. They perform all the functions of a traditional watch, such as timekeeping, but also act as an extension to one’s smartphone. A smartwatch allows a user to receive notifications from his or her smartphone on their wrist and reply to them through simple emoji or voice dictation. It also keeps track of basic health information such as blood pressure and heart rate. Most smartwatches can tell its user whether or not they are being active enough during the day and can notify them when they need to stand or move around.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch was released on April 25, 2015. There are three different versions of the watch: Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition. Although all versions of the watch support the same functionality, the material of the watch and band varies. Currently, they only work with the iPhone and have limited functionality without being paired with the phone.[15]

Android Wear

Android Wear is Google’s smartwatch OS. Although Google currently does not manufacture their own hardware, they collaborate with other electronics manufacturer such as Samsung, LG, and Motorola. The first Android Wear Watches, the Samsung Galaxy Gear Live and LG G Watch, launched on March 18, 2014.[16]

Smartglasses

Google Glass started as a research project from Google X, an advanced research division within Google. It became available to developers on April 15, 2013 and the public through the "Glass Explorer's Program" in 2014.[17] Although tremendously lauded for its breakthrough form factor and potential, Google ceased sales of Google Glass in January, 2015 as it faced a myriad of backlash from the public in regards to the privacy implications of Google Glass.[18] Although Google Glass is no longer available for sale to the general public, Google has been working on prototypes versions of Glass for the enterprise by making it more rugged.[19]
Google Glass

Specialized Wearables

Fitness Wearables

Fitness is one of the first applications for wearables as it needs to be small, durable, and long-lasting. Fitness wearables provide important information for its users regarding their workout and provide metrics for comparison between each workout. Although smartwatches offer many similar functionalities, the data provided tends to be less precise and updated less frequently compared to dedicated fitness wearables. Many fitness wearables also contain a social aspect so users can compare their workout with friends and family.

Fitbit Charge HR

The Fitbit Charge HR is a wrist wearable that can track its wearer's heart rate, steps taken, calories burned, and other health metrics. Although it is fitness focused, it does offer some functionality that smartwatches have, such as caller ID. However, compared with a smartwatch, the Fitbit Charge HR has about 5 days of battery life, as opposed to the 2 to 3 days that a smartwatch has.[20]

Hexoskin

Hexoskin is smart clothing that tracks heart rate, heart rate variability, breathing rate, breathing volume, and other fitness statistics. One advantage of integrating fitness tracking capabilities into clothing is that users would no longer need to carry unnecessary bulk or wear an uncomfortable wristband when exercising. Hexoskin is also capable of tracking health information when the user is asleep, which would provide information that one does not need to actively monitor.[21]

RunScribe

The runScribe is designed to track information specific to runners, such as pace, impact Gs, breaking Gs, pronation excursion. It is a small, lightweight device that the user clips-on to the back of their shoes. Most interestingly, it can aggregate the information gather and summarize it into a “runScore”, which allows users to easily compare between each iteration of their runs.[22]

Gaming Wearables

For gaming wearables, the quality of experience greatly outweighs the portability of the device. In order to improve gaming experience, gaming wearables must provide immersion and change the user’s perception of reality. There are two primary ways of influencing the perception of reality: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Virtual reality refers to situations in which the user experiences the game as if he or she is actually in the world of the game. Augmented reality can utilize the environment that the user is located in and can meld the game with the real world.

Hololens Demo
Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality heads-up display that uses a small screen for each eye to simulate a virtual, 3D environment. It started a Kickstarter campaign and the company behind the product was eventually acquired by Facebook. Although the consumer version of the Oculus Rift will ship with an Xbox One controllers, Oculus has developed specialized controllers that would better reflect what a player would be experiencing in the game.[1]

Hololens

Microsoft Hololens is an augmented reality wearables that has a clear display, which allows the user to see through to the real world. Ideally, games would interact with objects within the user’s field of view and should give users more freedom to move around their surroundings. However, what’s more intriguing is the Hololens’ application beyond gaming. Microsoft has demoed design, engineering, and medical applications for Hololens by giving users a real-time, holographic display of an object of interest.[2]

Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus is Sony’s virtual reality headset. It is similar to the Oculus Rift in many regards, but there is not much information that is currently available. It will also be compatible with Sony’s PlayStation 4 game console as opposed to being only compatible with the PC, as with the case of the Oculus Rift.[3]

Business Implications

The introduction of wearable technologies will not only heavily influence consumers, but businesses as well. Though all businesses will be impacted by the technology, the businesses most influenced will be those where technology was not readily available, such as businesses in hands-on environments. Some industries explored in this section include marketing, warehouse operations, construction, and healthcare.

Marketing

Development of Communication

Traditionally, an advertisement is a medium which sends a one way message from the company to the user. With wearable technologies this may soon change as companies will be able to monitor how their consumers behave towards their ads; allowing companies to react accordingly. Real estate website Trulia, for example, collaborated with Google Glass to provide their clients with a new way of searching for real estate. By leveraging augmented reality and geolocation technology, the real estate app notified the user when there were close to an open house that matched their criteria. [4]. What this two-way interaction enables essentially is highly informative feedback. With access to consumer emotions, their feedback, and understanding that emotions play a large role in how consumers behaviors, companies using wearable technologies will be able to provide more targeted, engaging, and overall appealing advertisements.

Emotional Appeal

With the advent of wearable technologies that detect heart rate, stress levels, and other emotions, advertisements are slowly becoming more effective. This is because emotions largely influence how consumers shop as outlined below[5]:

  • MRI scans show that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions rather than brand attributes such as features, and facts.
  • Advertising research reveals that emotional response has far greater influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content – by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.
  • Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation concluded that the emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales.
  • Studies show that positive emotions toward a brand have far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgments which are based on a brand’s attributes.

Alone, the fact that emotions influence consumer behavior may not be significant, but paired with System 1 and System 2 thinking it amounts to significant changes in marketing. The principle of System 1 and System 2 thinking is that our brains are separated in such a way that we do more intuitive, reactive, and emotional thinking than we do slow analytical thinking.[6] System 1, the intuitive side of the brain, has approximately 11,000,000 bits of computer power when compared with System 2’s, the analytical one, which has 50 bits of computing power. The combination of System 1 and our buying behavior being linked to emotions suggests that emotional advertisement could be very effective.

System 1 and System 2

Dangers

Pervasiveness

One of the major concerns revolving around wearables is privacy. Emotions being at the core of the argument for improving marketing means that companies will know how you feel. Of course, sometimes these feelings are personal and a degree of privacy is warranted. This is definitely significant given that society generates close to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day[1] , growing more each day with the more devices and sensors we use. Attention Span The average person is exposed to more than 5,000 brands, and 360 ads a day, overburdened with information, people are starting to pay less and less attention. [2] “A study from Microsoft[3] involving more than 2,000 people has found that the average attention span has dipped to a low 8 seconds – down from 12 seconds in 2000.” To put things in perspective, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. A large part of our loss in attention span correlated with our inseparable relationship with the web. With wearables being internet enabled almost every hour of the day, this may become an even greater issue.

Deskilling

One of the dangers of wearables is deskilling. With wearables, some of the tasks and jobs that were previously difficult or required particular skills may now be easily done with the help of technology. Inevitably, this may lead to a loss of jobs as the people displaced will have to look for new work. On the other hand, it also frees up these workers to pursue other jobs where their skills might be more needed. Examples of deprofessionalization can be found across many professions, and include: [4]

  • Assembly line workers replacing artisans and craftsmen
  • CNC machine tools replacing machinists
  • Super-automatic espresso machines replacing skilled baristas
  • Doctors; the M.D. is being replaced by "Health Care Providers"
  • Librarians being replaced by the online libraries and books
  • Teachers being replaced by pre-recorded lectures or online classes

Operational Efficiency

London Study

A study from Goldsmiths, University of London, involving 300 IT decision makers in both the US and the UK, outlines many of the operational benefits users felt from using wearables in the workplace. Key findings include that wearable technologies boost employee productivity by 8.5% and similarly, their job satisfaction by 3.5%.[5]

Some additional benefits from those surveyed that used wearable technologies in their work include: [6]

Perceived Benefits US UK
Improved their Health and Fitness 71% 63%
Helped in Career Development 33% 33%
Felt more Intelligent 53% 39%
Boosted Self-Confidence 54% 46%
More Control Over Life 60% 53%

Potential Applications

Tesco has implemented wearable armbands in one of their warehouses in Ireland. The armbands allow employees to track items, assign tasks, estimate completion times, and provide analytical feedback, eliminating many of the tasks previously performed using clipboards and hand-held scanners. This project has reduced the number of employee by 18% and improved operational efficiency.[7]

At Cirque du Soleil, professional trainers who had to previously rely on their intuitiveness can now gain insight into their athlete’s body using wearable technology. Through technology such as Hexoskin, Cirque du Soleil can run tests including heart rate variability, vertical jump height, hand grip dynamometer, sleep duration and quality, and subjective measures of perceived exertion and performance.[8] This knowledge will then enhance their coaches’ ability to make objective decisions about a performer’s readiness as well as possibly predict times when a performer may not be at full strength, saving Cirque du Soleil money in insurance, rehabilitation fees, and downtime.

Worker Safety

In addition to advertising and operations management, wearable technology has the potential to improve workplace safety in accident-prone industries, such as construction. According to the US Department of Labor, there were 828 deaths recorded on construction sites in 2013. Over half of those deaths were due to the following four major causes that are also known as the Fatal Four: fall, being struck by an object, electrocution, being caught-in/between. Wearable technology has the capability to target the Fatal Four and potentially reduce the number of deaths by 58%, saving 478 lives every year in United States.[9]

Application Of Wearable Devices In Construction Industry

Wearable technology has a wide range of applications targeted towards improvement of working conditions. Firstly, wearable devices can help to ensure that workers are using proper safety equipment. This targets a particularly problematic area as, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 84% of all workers who reportedly suffered a head injury were not wearing proper head protection. Reduction in the number of head injuries would directly translate into major cost savings for construction companies, as a single concussion injury can cost up to $143,000 in direct and indirect costs.[10] Secondly, construction supervisors and managers can use wearables to evaluate effectiveness of the current safety training and identify areas of operations that require additional training. Maintaining relevant training requirements can further reduce the risk of work-related injuries. Lastly, workers can greatly benefit from wearable devices providing them with precautions for known hazardous areas and notifications about emergencies and hazardous working conditions.

Issues and Concerns

Although wearable devices have the potential to improve employee safety and productivity, there has been a number of privacy concerns that need to be considered before adopting this technology in the workplace. Ponemon Institute conducted a survey with 567 executives in the United States, which concluded that 43% of the respondents experienced at least one data breach in 2014.[11] Such a high prevalence of data breaches has resulted in the growing concern regarding data security among employees. In addition, organizations need to address the risk of wearable devices capturing sensitive information in the workplace. USAA, a provider of financial and insurance services to military families, has banned its employees from wearing Google Glass due to potential infringement on other employees’ privacy.[12] Lastly, employers need to clarify whether the information collected by wearable devices may be used to assess employee performance and potentially lead to disciplinary measures or dismissal.

Healthcare

Wearable Intelligence in Healthcare

The world health expenditure per capita has more than doubled in the last 20 years with Norway, Switzerland, and United States being the top 3 countries in terms of spending.[1] Global health spending is projected to increase 5.3% per year , reaching $9.3 trillion in 2018.[2] World’s ageing population, combined with increasing life expectancy, have become a significant driver of healthcare costs, as seniors suffering from chronic diseases require more expensive long-term care. Wearable computing has the potential to transform healthcare industry by improving the quality of healthcare service, reducing costs, and improving hospitals’ efficiency.

Application Of Wearable Devices in Healthcare

There is a wide range of opportunities arising from leveraging wearable computing in healthcare. Stakeholders that could benefit from wearable technology include health providers, health payers, and patients.

Health Providers
Wearable Intelligence in Healthcare

Wearable devices designed to collect biometric data, such as blood pressure and blood sugar, could allow for more accurate diagnosis. An example of such wearable devices are smart diapers, which is designed to detect urinary tract infections, dehydration, and type 1 diabetes in infants.[1] Wearable devices could also facilitate more effective monitoring of the patient’s condition by notifying a health professional or their caregiver of any detected abnormalities. [2] Treatments could also become more specific to a patient's needs as a result of leveraging patient data collected by wearable devices. In addition, wearables can help improve efficiency in surgical procedures. By using a wearable device designed by Philips Healthcare, surgeons were able to monitor patients’ vital signs without having to turn away to look at a screen. Surgeons can also use wearable devices to collaborate with other medical professionals and provide real-time demonstration to trainees.[3]

Health Payers

Health insurance companies could also benefit from their clients adopting wearable devices. By leveraging collected information, companies can identify low-risk individuals with healthy lifestyles and reward them with lower premiums.[4] A health insurance start-up called Oscar, for example, incentivizes their clients to take proactive measures in improving their health by letting them earn up to $240 annually in exchange for physical activity.[5]

Patients

According to a survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association, 52% of users of wearable devices agreed that monitoring their physical activity levels helped them stay motivated.[6] Devices like Fitbit and Hexoskin adjust to existing behaviours and imitate products that are familiar to consumer. This results in a shift in consumers mindset to preventative care and individual responsibility in maintaining their own well-being. In addition, wearable devices facilitate the process of data collection in a way that does not disrupt user’s daily routine.[7]

Issues and Concerns

There have been a few concerns raised regarding the use of wearables in healthcare, one of them being poor data quality. Nike+ FuelBand received negative feedback from its users because the device undercounted and overcounted certain types of activity. In fact, Nike, along with Apple, has settled a class action lawsuit in regards to misleading the consumers regarding the capability of the FuelBand.[8] Although performance of an activity tracker may not have serious implications today, it has critical importance for wearables classified as medical devices. Poor quality of data carries the risk of turning potential benefits of wearable devices, such as improved diagnosis and treatment, into a liability. In addition, individuals who choose not to participate in wellness programs involving employer-provided wearable devices may face monetary penalties. For example, Honeywell, an American conglomerate, implemented a workplace wellness program that penalized workers who chose not to participate with fines up to $4,000 a year.[9]

Issues with Wearable Technology

The increasing ubiquitousness of wearables leads to several concerns. As business push for greater access to data and develop more sophisticated data mining techniques, detailed profiles of consumers are created and shared. Despite the benefits of personalized service, the business of gathering data leads to multiple issues relating to privacy, security and misuse.

Sharing of data with third parties

Data collected from users of wearables is often sold or shared with third parties.[10] Many times, this sharing is done without the awareness of the user. A reason for this lack of awareness is the default settings on most devices. When prompted to accept the terms and conditions before using the device, the agreement is usually set by default to the share their information. To elaborate, only the users who are concerned and aware enough will change the level of accessibility of their collected data. Furthermore, many privacy policies for fitness tracking devices contain vague and ambiguous terminology such as “we may share information with third parties”, and there appears to be a trend where the privacy agreements are slowly widening.

Moves, a fitness app that was acquired by Facebook, had a stringent privacy agreement before being acquired. Moves promised that they would not “disclose an individual user’s data to third parties” without consent. Several weeks after the acquisition, however, their privacy agreement changed to “we may share information, including personally identifying information, with our Affiliates”.[11] In a short time, Moves privacy policy changed drastically from protecting customer data, even if it was anonymous, to sharing personally identifying information.

Consumers are generally not aware of the privacy terms they agree to, which brings to discussion whether a company should be permitted to compel users to agree to their terms before using the devices, especially if consumers are not educated on what they are agreeing to.

Security Issues

With an increasing amount of data being transmitted wirelessly everyday, there are even greater potential for data breaches. Although privacy policies exist, they are unclear as to how a customer’s user information is being protected. The type of security safeguards or encryptions in place to protect the data may be poor or non-existent. An example of potential data breach already exists in wireless embedded health devices. Pacemakers and insulin pumps for instance can be hacked into and potentially deliver a fatal voltage shock to a patient.[12] Alternatively, insulin pump could be hacked to deliver a fatal overdose of insulin to a patient.

Another instance of potential data breach exists in smart clothing, usually used by athletes. Although proven to provide great benefits for certain demographics such as patients or soldiers on the battlefield, the biometric and physiological data collected from the clothing is often transported via bluetooth. Being a wireless form of communication, bluetooth is also susceptible to hacking. In the future, smart clothing may also be used to monitor elderly or high-risk patients potentially making a data breach even more consequential.

Data Ownership

When users willingly provide data to organizations, it is unclear who gains ownership of the information. If it is still the user’s information, then it is impermissible for the organization to use that data beyond what was agreed upon by the user. If, however, ownership transfer to the one who collects the data, then they have free reign to do with it as they choose. The rules for ownership are ambiguous and currently, the ones collecting data maintain the greatest control over how, where, and with whom the data is shared.

The rules of ownership are not always clear and must be considered on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in light of recent, high-profile police incidents, there has been a greater push for police officers to be equipped with body cameras. Although the cameras were meant to assist in the investigation of these incidents and improve accountability, they may also have the opposite effect as who the data belongs to makes a huge difference. California recently ruled that the public does not have the right to view the footage recorded on these devices; this raises suspicion and doubt as to whether or not the videos provided have been manipulated or compromised. On the contrary, data available to the general public could help improve accountability and trust within the community.

On the other side, other forms of data collected have a stronger reason to remain private. Fitness trackers record highly personal information such as activity levels and sleeping patterns. In this case, there may be a greater need to push for greater privacy, whereas in the case of copcams there may be a need to push for greater openness.

Privacy of others

There are many discrete, small wearables with photographic capabilities. Some users wear these devices to record and virtually share their lives. However, this can infringe upon the privacy of those around the user as they are recorded without consent. FacialNetwork.com created an app (NameTag) embedded with facial recognition software that allows wearers of smart glasses to detect someone’s identity and access their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts, all in real time. Such technology can also be embedded in prescription glasses, or into styles of clothing that cannot be distinguished from regular clothing. Without the ability to determine whether an article of clothing contains privacy infringing technology or not, individuals in the wearer’s surroundings become even more unaware. In addition to creating serious security problems, such as stalking or identity theft, these wearables also challenge our current comfort levels and expectations of privacy.

Responsibility and accountability

There is a lack of responsibility surrounding the protection of the data. It is unclear whether the user parts with their data at their own risk, or whether organizations should be held accountable for data breaches. An example of the blurring lines between personal use and organizational responsibility is with BYOD (Bring your own device). As smart devices become pervasive, more employees are bringing their smart watches and other devices to work. It is unclear whether the employer or employee should take responsibility for it. Since the employee uses it at work, it is likely that it contains company sensitive data, as the device is also likely used at home, it presents a security risk. Organizations are unsure of how to deal with employees bringing their own devices to work.

Malicious use

A lack of clear ownership and proper regulation puts users at risk of:

  • Identity theft: Identity thieves could take an individual’s information, create fake official documents, set up fake bank accounts and more.
  • Profiling: With enough aggregate data, minority groups could be discriminated against.
  • Stalking: Some wearables provide real time information. Left unencrypted, this data could be accessed by criminals such as burglars.
  • Extortion: Health information collected by wearables is not protected under any regulations.

Convenience and privacy: A blurred pay-off

One of the biggest issues facing brands and marketers is how data and privacy are treated in an age when everyone’s personal information will be available via “the internet of things”. Sean Moffit from Wikibrands, argues that up to 70% of users will gladly give their data for a reciprocal benefit.[13] A major American health insurer, Harvard Pilgrim, pays its employees $20/month to eat healthy. Employees must agree to have their grocery purchases tracked and stored electronically. Harvard Pilgrim would like to roll out this program to its 1.2 million customers. Employees at some organizations such as BP and Autodesk receive lower insurance premiums if they are more active, as measured by their fitness trackers.

If employers have access to this information, this means they also have access to how their employees got to work (calculated by distance travelled and calories burned), sleeping habits, blood pressure, heart rate and other medical information. This large pool of data that can be collected by employers has several implications. First, it is questionable whether employers even need this much information on their employees. There is potential for misuse of data, such as monitoring worker productivity to determine pay raises and promotions. Finally, there are currently no legal regulations on how to manage this data, as they are not considered prescribed health devices. How this data is used is completely up to those who have access to it, who may decide to use it for their own benefits at the expense of those they collect from.[14]

Future of Wearable Technology

Biohacking

Biohacking is making use of an individual’s biological functions, such as mood, brainwave activity, eating habits, and cardiac rhythms to manage and improve quality of life. Current uses of biohacking in wearables are seen in devices such as fitness bands, which track an individual’s exercise and activity patterns. Biohacking turns the individual into a miniature corporation, allowing them to gather, store and analyze their own data [15]. With smaller, less obtrusive wearables in the future, biohacking could become a pervasive part of daily life. In the future, individuals will have greater control of their health as data collected from wearables would inform them when irregularities are detected [16]. Aggregated data from groups of individuals also presents significant opportunities. Some possibilities includes the DIY biology movement, that advocates for open source access to genetic material, allowing for independent groups to conduct their own research. Data collected from the wearables worn by individuals could forward this movement considerably. In the future, wearables can be used for early detection of health issues, to assist individuals in achieving their goals, and to forward research through the aggregation of a wealth of rich and informative data.

Bi-Directional Communication Using Computer Chips

With advancements in cybernetics, there are now technologies that enable bidirectional interfacing and communication between humans and machines. In a research experiment conducted in 2003[17], a team of scientists performed a two hour neurosurgery in which they implanted a microelectrode array into a human individual to test bidirectional functionalities. The patient gained abilities such as perceiving ultrasonic sound waves, which are at a frequency too high for human ears to detect, or control a wheelchair remotely using nerve signals. The test subject could also control interfaces over the internet with feedback being sent back as a neural stimulation providing a sense of force. While the aforementioned procedures are very invasive and risky, non-invasive brain-computer interfaces are also being developed. With overall great success from the experiments, brain augmentations, telepathy, and a host of other functions provided by bi-directional communication may be the next step in human-machine evolution.

Human Augmentation

Implanted Magnets

Although human augmentation seems to be a part of science fiction, it is becoming closer to reality every day. Currently, human augmentation can range from superfluous, such as implanting magnets in your fingers, as shown, or life changing such as prosthetics and hearing aids. For example, there have been efforts in developing retinal implants that would give its users better than 20/20 vision. [18] A significant application of human augmentation would be military, as Western nations are facing increasing difficulty in recruitment and the performance of each individual soldier becomes more important. This would raise ethical issues as some of these augmentations are permanent and cannot be removed after discharge. [19]

Wearables in Education and Banking

More industries are now starting to explore the potential benefits of wearable technology. The education sector, for example, is planning to use wearable devices to improve learning experiences for students with visual, auditory, and physical disabilities. Northeastern University is currently working with students affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sensor-equipped clothing and accessories are used to collect information about the students’ physical activity and physiological states throughout the day, allowing the researchers to gain a deeper understanding of ASD and develop more effective treatments. [20] The Banking industry is also starting to experiment with wearable devices. Bionym, the creator of Nymi wristband, offers its users a way to perform secure contactless transactions through cardiac-rhythm recognition. Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) announced its plans to begin the project pilot in 2014. [21]


References

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