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EETE JULAUG 2013

LAST WORD Wearable computing: let’s get it on By Rick Merritt I am convinced ultra-mobile wearable computers will be the next big thing, but it could take a decade before the iPhone of this product class arrives. With Project Glass, Google is intentionally trying to leap ahead, creating a very public prototyping process that is fascinating but by no means guarantees success. Gordon Bell, an industry veteran investigating the field at Microsoft Research, helped me crystalize my belief in wearables when I chatted with him informally at a recent event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ethernet. He told me facial recognition and medical sensing are two killer apps for these products. Bell wore a mobile camera everywhere he went as part of his research program. “What I concluded is that wearable computers are a memory assistant,” and facial recognition plays a key role in that job, he told a group of us over lunch. Ironically, the Glass project manager at Google recently said the company currently has no plans to use facial recognition. I suspect that statement was motivated at least in part by privacy concerns and in part by the still nascent state of the technology. I believe tomorrow’s wearables will need to tap into highly accurate facial recognition services and find ways to overcome privacy concerns about them. There’s hard technical work ahead making facial recognition of unconstrained populations really accurate - especially when the data is gathered in the normal course of life using consumer-grade cameras. Making the challenge even tougher, facial recognition systems must handle data sent over mainstream wireless networks, and these systems must respond in time to be useful to the average users as they casually encounter other people. I can’t even begin to untangle the marketing and policy issues around facial recognition. I know they are significant. Like Bell, I believe the app is killer for the product category. Wearables could also revolutionize healthcare. Researchers at Belgium’s IMEC and elsewhere have been working on body area networks for many years, making stepwise advances. Today, Bell wears a Fitbit heart rate monitor. He also has invested in multiple startups specializing in wearable health devices, including Bobo Analytics, which makes a heart sensor worn like a wristwatch. “I feel strongly you have to get healthcare out of the hands of people like cardiologists,” he told me. He and others see a future where people are continuously monitored. Cloud services analyze and track the data, reporting and hopefully anticipating problems. Here again, there are technical and market/ policy issues. For example, so-called dry sensors casually worn in clothes and accessories have to get much better in collecting accurate data in the midst of the noise in and around the body. And I don’t even want to open the Pandora’s box of policy issues around liability and reimbursement. They make the debate around Obamacare sound like chamber music. It’s fascinating to watch the growing number of people involved with Google tinker more or less in the public eye with a prototype of the next big thing. But let’s get some perspective here - they are far from the first pioneers in this field. I covered DARPA programs on wearables more than a decade ago. Many small, less visible companies are doing all sorts of wearables today, mainly for fitness enthusiasts - a sector that doesn’t have to tackle the healthcare policy issues. Google is clearly getting mindshare with Project Glass, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into marketshare. The hurdles ahead are still huge, including the limits on battery power given what the average person wants to carry. Some day, Apple or some other company could just surprise us with an iWatch or iBelt or iShirt - or, yes, iGlasses - designed to capture the sort of thing the market wants but hasn’t been able to articulate. I see great potential here for a set of wearable products that work in concert. For many years researchers at Philips and elsewhere (especially in Europe) have been working on conductive yarns. Their goal has been to sew wearable sensors directly into clothes. This is really cool stuff, but it likely represents a generation of wearables well beyond the first crop of watches, glasses, and belts. When we get to the stage of woven electronic computers, the technology and fashion worlds will collide in a way that makes smartphone cases look like Hello Kitty dolls. I’m guessing really useful ultra-mobile wearables won’t come for years, given the many challenges ahead. What fun it will be watching this next big thing emerge. Rick Merritt is Editor at large for E Times - www.eetimes.com Publisher André Rousselot +32 27400053 andre.rousselot@eetimes.be Editor-in-Chief Julien Happich +33 153907865 julien.happich@eetimes.be EDITORS Nick Flaherty +44 7710236368 nick.flaherty@eetimes.be Christoph Hammerschmidt +49 8944450209 chammerschmidt@gmx.net CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Paul Buckley +44 1962866460 paul@activewords.co.uk Jean-Pierre Joosting +44 7800548133 jean-pierre.joosting@eetimes.be Circulation & Finance Luc Desimpel luc.desimpel@eetimes.be Advertising Production & Reprints Lydia Gijsegom lydia.gijsegom@eetimes.be Art Manager Jean-Paul Speliers Acounting Ricardo Pinto Ferreira Regional Advertising Representatives Contact information at: http://www.electronics-eetimes.com/en/ about/sales-contacts.html european business press European Business Press SA 7 Avenue Reine Astrid 1310 La Hulpe Tel: +32 (0)2 740 00 50 Fax: +32 (0)2 740 00 59 www.electronics-eetimes.com VAT Registration: BE 461.357.437 RPM: Brussels Company Number: 0461357437 © 2013 E.B.P. SA ELECTRONIC ENGINERING TIMES EUROPE is published 11 times in 2013 by European Business Press SA, 7 Avenue Reine Astrid, 1310 La Hulpe, Belgium Tel: +32-2-740 00 50 Fax: +32-2-740 00 59 email: info@eetimes.be. VAT Registration: BE 461.357.437. RPM: Nivelles. Volume 15, Issue 7 E Times P 304128 It is is free to qualified engineers and managers involved in engineering decisions – see: http://www.electronics-eetimes.com/subscribe Copyright 2013 by European Business Press SA. All rights reserved. P 304128 50 Electronic Engineering Times Europe March 2012 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JULAUG 2013
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