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Wearable computers could act like a sixth sense

Sensors adhered to skin or in t-shirts will monitor what people cant detect themselves

February 25, 2014 01:12 PM ET

Computerworld - People will one day depend on wearable computers to monitor not just their activities but a myriad of data about their health, making the devices basically like a sixth sense.

That's the vision that was laid out during the MIT Tech Conference on disruptive technologies in Cambridge, Mass. this past weekend. The wearable computer market will see the kind of dramatic growth that the smartphone market has over the last decade and wearables will morph from Fitbit-like bracelets to patches that stick to users' skin and sensors embedded in t-shirts and sneakers.

"Humans interact with everything with our five senses,but I think our sixth sense is going to be digital," said Stanley Yang, CEO of NeuroSky Inc., a biosensor maker based in San Jose, Calif. "There's so much information out there that we don't have the natural ability to detect. There's information you need, whether it's health, fitness, learning or just playing. All of these will be digital."

While that might sound like a bold prediction, Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner, Inc., said it's not far-fetched at all.

"Having the ability to track very personal information down to a level that we don't and can't perceive naturally is certainly going to benefit us if these technology companies can take that data and tell us something really useful," said Blau. "Simply tracking our steps is not enough. Our personal health data combined with smart algorithms are what's needed for these devices to become really useful."

The wearable computer market has been getting a lot of attention.

Everything from Google Glass, which enables users to send emails, shoot video and see maps, to smartwatches that can run apps or even act as a mobile phone, and smart wristbands that track a user's heart rate and number of steps taken.

However, the market is just in its infancy and could be on the cusp of major changes.

Wearables are going to morph from wristbands to thin patches that adhere to the user's skin. And smart sensors will become more widespread when they're embedded in clothes, footwear and even our own bodies.

"This market is going through a state of convergence and divergence," said Carlos Rodarte, a business development advisor at PatientsLikeMe, a health data-sharing platform based in Cambridge. "I predict that 90% of all wearables on the market right now won't exist in five years."

Wearable computers, if they're going to become ubiquitous, need to be comfortable to wear and seamless to use. If users have to take them on and off, plug them in and keep them charged, they're less likely to use them to track their health information.



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