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What can be defined as wearable tech?

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We're slowly moving into the wearable generation, and the number of people bringing wearables into the workplace is steadily increasing.

The battle of wearable technology is in full swing, with Microsoft launching its first wearable device just months after Apple announced plans for its Apple Watch. 

When many people think of wearables, fitness trackers and smartwatches are what spring to mind.

But wearable technology can be anything from a health monitor to mobile controlled garments.

Or can it? Designer Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen, has roots in Chemistry and has developed a range of clothing that reacts to biological and chemical stimulus as opposed to just electrical.

Her garments, which she recently showcased at the Innovate UK event in London, are "human focussed" and include pieces that change colour depending "environmental fluctuations" or stimulation from the brain.

The first piece is made of leather and changes colour in reaction to the wind and air. Originally Bowker thought this type of technology could be used for F1 in order to assess the aerodynamics of vehicles, but began developing clothes designed to reflect the way wind and air passes over the human body.

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Another piece reacts to heat in the brain and therefore changes colour depending on your thoughts. It could be used in healthcare to communicate feelings that are hidden.

She says in the future, she hopes materials will be created for purpose, and there will be no need for disposable fashion, as one garment can be adapted to be suitable for all situations, moods and weather.  

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But she doesn't believe this is wearable tech, to her it's just material.

"Everyone is calling The Unseen wearable tech whereas we really don't want to be called wearable tech. There's wearable computing, which I see more as the smartwatches," Bowker says. "That to me is just another gadget."

Bowker points out that other fabrics such as polyester could been deemed wearable tech if the way it is used it taken into consideration, so people should be careful to address specific categories garments fall under.

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"Treat this as a design-led project rather than a recent trend." Bowker says.

A recent survey by Beecham Research found technology companies do not have the right approach to wearable technology and devices are not what consumers want to wear.

Not for profit organisation the London College of Fashion's 'Innovation Agency' works with technology companies to make technology driven clothing.

Matthew Drinkwater, head of the agency, describes working with Nokia on a digital skirt made of smartphones, and collaborating with Microsoft to create trousers that charge your phone in your pocket as just some of the projects the agency has worked on.

At Innovate UK Drinkwater showcased the Innovation Agency's Tinkerbell inspired dress, created during a collaboration with Disney using fibre optics and LEDs.

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But again, he claims wearables should centre on fashion instead of simply being another branch of technology.

Drinkwater says: "Everything before had been functionality focus and device focus, we just want to try and use tech to make something really beautiful."


iPhone 6: The specs we're all hoping for

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Rumour has it images of the iPhone 6 were leaked last week, with pictures alluding to a potential release date of September 9th for the much coveted next generation device.

A number of other speculations have also been flying around, including NFC potential, heart rate monitors and wireless charging.

But what does everyone really want from their iPhone? We've reported before on how it can be very difficult to incorporate Apple products in the enterprise due to the high cost of support. This might not be solved with a new handset, but a number of SDKs were released at the WWDC 2014 to give developers a better in to the device, and enhanced device features such as NFC could bridge this gap even further.

Here's a roundup of what could be coming up in Apple's big announcement if everything we've been hearing is true:

Touch ID

Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the previous iPhone 5S have toyed with fingerprint ID to safely unlock the phone, so it would make sense it the iPhone 6 had an improved version of this technology.

NFC

A lot of other phones already have NFC capabilities built in, and with contactless-everything on the rise this is a feature that will come in extremely handy and is widely expected.

iOS 8

With a new phone comes a new mobile operating system, and the new iOS 8 promises features such as easy-to-develop applications for developers due to the new API kits available, improved messaging and smart keyboard. As far as being included in the iPhone 6 package, this one is pretty much a given.

iWatch

The wearable trend is rapidly increasing, and a number of premium vendors are now jumping on the band wagon with their own bond-style watches and wristbands. If you're like me, you're waiting to see what Apple has to offer before deciding on which wearable to invest in - and if an iWatch is on the cards as a supplementary device to the new iPhone, it looks like we'll all have a little less money by Christmas.

Check back to the Inspect-a-Gadget for further coverage on new Apple announcements. 

FIRST LOOK: Motorola's Moto 360 smartwatch

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With Apple's big announcement approaching, there has been much speculation about whether the technology giant will be releasing its own smartwatch.

In the meantime, other innovators are speeding ahead with their version of the latest wearable trend, and Motorola is no exception.

The telecoms company, which was recently bought from Google by Chinese tech firm Lenovo, announced several new products last week, including its flagship Moto G and Moto X smartphone devices and of course, the Moto 360 smartwatch.

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I had a chance to try out the gadget, and apart from the fact it was a little big, I have no complaints. The watch face is touchscreen, and responds to similar swiping commands to smartphone - up for unlocking, left and right for opening and dismissing.

The watch has a choice of several available watch-faces to mirror your mood and is powered by Google. This means the device is Google Now enabled, so you can ask it anything you want, from when historical events took place, to reminding you to pick up some flowers for your parrot.  

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With a built in heart-rate monitor and pedometer for step counting, it also appeals to the health-conscious among us.

Although the device is quite chunky, the large face does make it more usable and easy to read. It comes in two models, with a starting price of £199 and is usable with Android operating systems 4.3 and up.

Specs at a glance:

Moto 306

  • OS: Android Wear
  • Dimensions: 46mm diameter by 11mm high, 49g
  • Battery: Full day use
  • Processor: TI OMAP™ 3
  • Memory: 4GB, 512MB RAM

 

The Moto 360 will be available from October this year, from O2, Tesco, Amazon and John Lewis. Check back to the Inspect-a-gadget soon for a full review.

Cognitive enhancement devices - can accessories really make you smarter?

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We're being launched into the days of smart technology, where our phones are better than computers, we're wearing devices that can monitor our every move and even our fridges are connected to the internet. 

It isn't surprising that manufacturers have been toying with devices designed to make you smarter, and we managed to get hold of a Foc.us gaming headset. This uses an electrical current to stimulate particular parts of your brain to 'improve' your thinking power. 

However, a recent policy paper by researchers at Oxford University's Oxford  Martin School has urged for greater regulation for devices such as this.

In this video, Computer Weekly interviews Adrian David Cheok, professor of pervasive computing at City University. Cheok tries out a cognitive enhancement device (CED) to see how it makes him feel, and whether it does indeed make him 'smarter'.


During the testing process, Cheok stated that the device made him feel as though his brain was more stimulated, and he did perform better with the headset on. But he also said that it left him with a strange sensation in the area the headset was touching, as well as sensitive skin.

These devices are currently used by consumers in gaming and education in order to enhance their performance.

But according to Hannah Maslen, lead author of the Oxford Martin paper entitled "Mind Machines: The Regulation of Cognitive Enhancement Devices", this device by Foc.us is the first commercially branded cognitive enhancement device, and people have previously attempted to make these devices themselves. 

Maslen emphasised that consumers should be provided with "evidence based information so that users will be able to decide for themselves if the risks are worth taking."

Currently though, there is a distinct lack of regulation around devices such as this, which according to Maslen and other authors of the report could be dangerous, as these devices change the electrical activity of the brain. 

In Europe, these devices are only required to pass product safety requirements, even though the electrical signals used by these devices have the potential to alter the brain's electrical activity. 

Similar devices are under trial in the medical industry to attempt to treat illnesses such as depression and Parkinson's.

But because CEDs do not provide any kind of medical diagnosis or therapy, they do not come under the Medical Devices Directive, and can therefore not be governed by the same rules.

In the paper, Maslen and fellow authors Thomas Douglas, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Neil Levy and Julian Savulescu, outline a pathway to designing a regulatory model for the use of CEDs.

They recommend that devices such as this should come under the EU Medical Devices Directive as they provide some of the same medical risks as similar devices used for medicine. 

When it comes down to it, it's all about consumer safety. Maslen says: "It's about making sure that devices that we're sold are as safe as they can be."

Lenovo's answer to Google Glass - function over fashion?

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I wrote a story a little while ago about Beecham Research's survey on wearable tech. The study found consumers will not partake in wearable technology if it does not match their fashion needs as well as their functional requirements.

So when I saw these pictures of the Lenovo smartglasses prototype, my eye went straight to the necklace battery.

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Photo: Lenovo

I couldn't help but wonder whether this addition would end up hindering the sales of the product in the future. This is a classic case of function - increased battery life - over fashion. And besides, wouldn't it get hot during use? If the PC maker is hoping to compete with Google Glass, it might have to try a little harder aesthetically.

Although Lenovo has been doing well in the PC market, it has recently been looking into ways to collaborate with other organisations to extend its market reach.

The glasses have been developed as part of Lenovo's New Business Development (NBD) initiative aiming to accelerate internet of things based Chinese startups. The smartglasses are one of three smart devices developed, including a router and an air purifier.

These products are aimed at the Chinese market, and run Chinese operating systems optimised for use with the internet in that particular region. 

Apple announces iOS 8 at WWDC 2014

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At this week's WWDC 2014 - the conference that tells developers everything they need to know about what Apple has planned for the future - Apple introduced its next mobile operating system iOS 8.

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The new OS brings with it over 4000 new APIs in order to allow developers more opportunity to make applications for Apple's flagship iPad and iPhone devices.

There was a focus on the new HealthKit API, which will allow developers to build apps directed towards fitness and health services. With speculation of an Apple wearable on the horizon, enabling applications such as this could be a step in the smartwatch direction.

Apple also took a leap towards the internet-of-things trend with its new HomeKit API, designed to allow developers to make apps that will allow communication with other devices around the home.

Finally, Apple lightened the restrictions on its touch ID technology, meaning that users will now not only be allowed to access their iPhone lockscreens with the touchpad, but also log into apps. This is of course only on the 5S at the moment, but may also be used with future iPhones.

Although this announcement isn't quite as exciting as the eagerly speculated iWatch, it still encourages the use of smartbands/watches with Apple devices in the future, and brings us one step closer to using our phones to control all things household.

Developers have access to iOS 8 now, but the rest of us will just have to wait.


Samsung Simband - The future of health technology?

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All this week we've been hearing reports on how the health crisis in the UK is growing ever more serious and although there have been positive initiatives launched to help the sector, such as the health tech competition, progress in the industry still seems slow. 

Not to worry, because Samsung has come to the rescue with its "Digital Health Initiative", a project that uses open hardware and software platforms that will increase innovation and speed up development of technology in the personal healthcare technology industry.

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The initiative will look into developing advanced sensors, algorithms and data analysis in order to allow consumers to better keep track of and understand their own health.

The firm has developed an open hardware design called Samsung Simband - the Samsung concept of how a smartband should be. The suggestion is that smartbands such as this could be used with the Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions (SAMI) concept, which will be a cloud-based open software platform capable of collecting data from various sources for analysis which can then be delivered to any other device.

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Earlier this week Samsung's team from its Strategy and Innovation Centre demonstrated that the Samsung open platform can be used with wearable wristband hardware in order to track heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. Data collected from these various sources can then be displayed in a format that will help users to better understand their health and how these measurements are affecting them.

There have already been a number of advancements in the wearable technology space including smart watches and smartbands that help to measure physical activity, and the Samsung Galaxy S5 is able to measure the user's heart rate, but no one device yet measures all of these at the same time,  which is exactly what Samsung hopes the combination of SAMI and designs such as the Simband will be able to do, all so that you can know what your body is trying to tell you about your health. 

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