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Wearables Blog Part 7: Future of wearables for health monitoring

Friday, December 18, 2015
Chaloner Chute - Digital Health & Care Institute

The next two blog posts in this series will consider the future of wearables for health monitoring.

To date much of the activity in this space is focused on relatively cosmetic lifestyle wearables, almost all of which are wrist worn and track a typical range of activity metrics.

There seem to be two emerging trends in this area – both focused on making the technology tracking our lifestyles less obvious to the naked eye and less effort to maintain.

  1. ‘Invisible Tech’ – sees wearables getting smarter, smaller and less visible, but not necessarily any less intrusive.
  1. ‘Smart Environments’ – paradoxically a lot of the desired benefits associated with wearable technology may be delivered by smart environments, not worn technology, now that the technology frontier has moved beyond analogue telecare systems.

This post will primarily discuss ‘invisible tech’, with next month’s handling the ‘Smart Environment’ concept.

Three recently emerging innovations catch the eye (or don’t, as the case may be!):

  1. A relatively small leap forward exists in the form of smart fabrics and flexible circuitry. The Hexoskin is effectively one big sensor in a machine washable shirt form, aimed at monitoring vitals and activity for the fitness crowd. While this initial offering is pricey and focused on the ‘fitness fanatic’, it seems we are growing closer to a time when mainstream clothing may have digital capabilities, turbocharging the ‘internet of things’.

2. Moving a little further off the beaten track, we see people experimenting with digital tattoos. That is – temporary micro-circuitry that can be painted directly onto your skin. This steps across a line. One group will eagerly anticipate activity tracking and shopping without any kind of device necessary, while a probably larger group will immediately feel the looming threat - that humans are finally about to be ‘chipped’. Nevertheless, the health and care applications could be enormous – picture your doctor being able to effortlessly and cheaply monitor your child’s wellbeing post-surgery.

3.Not exactly a wearable as most would regard them, but MIT are developing an ingestible vital signs monitor. It accurately measures breathing and heart rate through sound capture from within the gut – though note it isn’t yet a regulated medical device by any stretch. The advantages are obvious – you don’t need to wear anything or remember anything (beyond perhaps to swallow a new pill every few weeks). For those people wanting truly invisible tracking of vital signs, this is completely ‘hands free’. However….you do have to eat a piece of technology and then….well….pass it. I would love to see some user experience feedback during early stage development of this thing! Will people use it or is it to ‘weird’?

So based on this small sample the trend seems to be a trade-off: more subtle, invisible technology, providing you aren’t squeamish about the intrusiveness of it all!

Comments welcome!