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Wearable Technologies Conference 2013 Europe – Notes and Roundup


I had the pleasure of attending the Wearable Technologies Europe 2013 conference on Monday, Feb. 4 in Munich, Germany. The WT conferences are showcases for the cutting edge in self-tracking technologies of today and tomorrow. Topics range from new tracking devices to R&D breakthroughs that will pave the way for future technologies. In this post, I’ll give a rundown of some of the highlights.

John Mix of Finis - SwimSense

John Mix of Finis – SwimSense

Finis Data Tracking your Swim. Finis has been making devices geared towards professional swimmers for some years, but with the explosion of the Quantified Self (QS) market, they are expanding into products for more typical swimmers. They gave some details on their swimsense product, which can measure and record: distance, calories, type of stroke, and stroke rate. Finis’ philosophy is to motivate people to exercise through measurement, feedback, self-challenges, and social support networks. You can find more of their gadgets here.

 

beMeister Metrics

beMeister Metrics

Impire – Sensor Technology in Football [Soccer]. They have developed performance measurement systems for professional soccer players and teams. Now they are branching into products targeted at the much larger amateur market. In their presentation they talked about their beMeister quantification system. It consists of a network of trackers: in the inserts of your shoes, in the soccer ball, and a watch-like wristband. It gives you info on your movement data, total distance covered, and speed of your shots. The data uploads from the watch via a usb connection, and can be analyzed on the beMeister web platform. All in all it seems like a powerful system for those wanting detailed feedback on their soccer game. You can see the product videos here.
 
Fitbit – How creative products and online services can motivate people to live healthier, more active lives. Fitbit is the most recognizable name in activity trackers. They didn’t introduce any new products here (their latest was the Flex introduced at CES 2013, now on presale). They stressed the difficulty in getting people to be more active: neither the 2012 Olympics nor Wimbledon in London resulted in greater activity levels and health in the UK. However, consumers who become interested in tracking and get feedback with an activity monitor do tend to significantly increase their activity levels. Fitbit is targeting the everyday person, who wants the technology to “just work” and to fit into their lifestyle. Key to Fitbit’s strategy is to sync seamlessly on all devices in common use. Fitbit is marketing to companies by proving to them how their products increase activity and how that consequently improves worker productivity and reduces health costs.

Emotional Scentsory Fashion: Introducing Smell, Our Most Evocative Sense. Dr. Jenny Tillotson has some big ideas for the role that scents can play in future smart devices and clothing. She’s not interested merely in the fashion potential, but in using scent to improve the performance and well-being of average people doing typical things. Scent connects directly to the limbic system, a part of our brain strongly involved in emotions and memory formation. Some smells help calm us when stressed. So why not use monitors that pickup on stress signals, such as heart rate variability, sweat output, etc, to queue release of calming scents when we need them? Scents can even be ergogenic: peppermint has been shown to increase the performance of runners. So why not have their clothing emit this scent during a race? Jenny is currently working on these ideas and some bigger ones to come. You can find out more about her work in her TED talk and research clip.
 
ShoeSense – A new Perspective on Hand Gestures in Wearable Applications. Gilles Bailey presented a cool new way to give instructions to e.g. your smart phone without ever touching it: with hand gestures. They put a sensor on your shoe, a logical choice for a good combination of discreetness and lack of obstruction to your hands. They trained it to recognize various gestures so that in situations, such as a fancy dinner, you can communicate with your devices and give instructions without it being obvious or disturbing to those around you. It can also be a more efficient way to give instructions for typical usage.
 
IMEC – Body Sensor Networks for the future of medicine: will you still need your doctor? Imec is working on many projects that will help move us towards personalized always-on health ecosystems that not only passively and continuously measure basic health data about ourselves, but will take appropriate actions when parameters are out of optimality. This talk focused specifically on a system they are working on to measure stress accurately, and incorporate biofeedback to ameliorate it. They say: ‘The patient of the future will be healthy, not sick, and doctors will become data scientists. We will go from treating disease to treating health.’ I couldn’t agree more.
 
Wearable systems for movement and activity recording in care support. Lorenzo D’Angelo is working on technologies to allow the elderly to live on their own at home more safely and independently. This is an important issue not just for the elderly, but for everyone in developed countries. The demographic shifts taking place and spiralling costs of medical care for the elderly are threatening to bankrupt many countries in the near future. Big cost-saving innovations in this area are sorely needed.
 
Continua Health Alliance – Your Health. Connected. The focus of this talk was on achieving the holy grail of a QS, and more generally of an Internet of Things ecosystem: Interoperability. They predict that any monitoring device that is an island will become irrelevant soon in the future. For years many countries’ medical systems have resisted integration and interoperability of their care systems. Continua is looking to break that trend. They want to help companies achieve better interoperability of their devices with existing ecosystems. They can provide tools for implementation, support, product validation and testing. Denmark has already adopted Continua’s standards for personalized health.
 
Flextronics SmartPatch –  eMonitoring of cardiac patients. Post-surgery cardiac patients are often instructed to wear ECG monitors for some period of time. Flextronics challenged themselves to develop a wireless wearable patch ECG that performs at the highest levels. They are currently testing out their solution. It promises to make compliance easier for these patients, and potentially anyone desiring continuous ECG data.
 
Withings – Smarter Devices, Healthier Lifestyle. Withings CEO Cédric Hutchings discussed Withings’ philosophy of focusing on health from four important dimensions: sleep, heart health, exercise, and weight. Rapid feedback is key, including to your doctor when appropriate, as Withings’ blood pressure monitor is capable of.
 
Limex – The Swiss Emergency Watch that can save your life: This watch allows you to trigger an alarm to dial any prespecified phone number that you want. It’s able to do this because it’s equipped with an integrated mobile phone module, including a microphone and loudspeaker. There’s a compelling use case for the elderly for rescue from falls.
 
Vuzix – View the Future – Bridging the reality gap. Vuzix is a leading manufacturer of head-mounted displays. They have built many devices for military appliation. Now they are interested in expanding towards affordable, user-friendly, mass market, computer eyeware. They presented their upcoming M100 model.
Woman wearing Vuzix M100

Vuzix M100

I’m rather skeptical about the use case of a screen partially obstructing your field of vision. I suppose that in any situation that you could be looking at your smart phone you might prefer instead to look at the M100 screen. Whether this is actually more convenient or not will depend on how smoothly the hands-free control mechanisms, such as voice and gesture recognition, function. Staring at this screen as you e.g. cross a street is probably better than staring at a smart phone at least!
 
Recon's HUD goggles

Recon’s HUD

ReconHeads-up Displays: Today and Tomorrow. Recon’s heads-up display (HUD) is a pair of winter sports goggles with a screen towards the bottom of the field of vision. It was initially developed for mountain sports in possibly bad conditions. They presented their 3rd iteration on the initial model from 2010. In contrast with the Vuzix 100m model above, the screen does not block your field of vision, which is important for safety while doing mountain sports. It’s equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, and bluetooth. These gadgets allow it to assist you in navigation, give you stats on your speed, max air (on a jump), and display information from your smart phone. The controller is hand-held, large and simple, so that it can be easily used with gloves on. It seems like a pretty solid use case to me for those who are into mountain sports.

 

Innovation World Cup

The final part of the conference consisted of three minute presentations from startups in competition for awards in four categories. The winners:

 
Recon Innovation World Cup Prize

Tom Fowler of Recon takes an Innovation World Cup Prize

 
Healthcare & Wellness – Opto-care by Opto-Phone: This is a wrist-band device that doesn’t rely on direct contact (lasers instead) to continuously monitor a lot of relevant health data: heart rate and beat-shape, breathing rate, blood pulse pressure, blood glucose levels, intra-ocular eye pressure, and blood alcohol. This sounds pretty incredible, but we didn’t get to learn much about the details behind the technology due to the shortness of the presentation.
 
Sports & Fitness – Recon took the prize here, with their HUD as discussed above in more detail.
 
Security & Prevention – Fire Rescue Helmet by Behnam Molavi & Babak Shadgan. The product is a smart fire-helmet that monitors tissue oxygenation, heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. It’s designed to give early warning for carbon monoxide poisoning, heart failure, extreme stress, and physical exhaustion. It’s also GPS-equipped, so those who monitor the data feed can locate an endangered fire fighter. It’s a fine example of technology recruited in the service of life and health.
 
Gaming & Lifestyle – CEO Vision by Keytree – They have developed a glasses-based augmented-reality interaction system offering broad possibilities for interaction via hand gestures. Their video looked pretty incredible. This video is pretty similar to what they presented, and there’s more information in this one. Brings to mind visions of the UI from Minority Report.
 

Some honorable mentions that caught my eye

The Thimble TENS Concept

The Thimble TENS Concept

 
Thimble Bioelectronics – Digital Pain Relief. I had a long chat with Thimble’s CEO and founder Shaun Rahimi. There is no better motivation than suffering through a severe life problem for creating the passion to solve that problem for oneself and others. Shaun Rahimi knows this well. He suffered with chronic pain for years, as do 1.5 billion people around the world. His eventual solution was not painkillers nor surgery, but TENS therapy. The only hitch was that TENS units tend to be bulky and have annoying wires attaching the pads to the current generator. This makes them problematic for integration into one’s lifestyle when and where pain treatment is needed. Thimble’s innovation on TENS is to condense the whole unit into an adhesive patch. No wires and no bulk. It will go beyond the immediate relief of the symptoms – pain – by TENS, towards helping the patients resolve the underyling cause of the pain via biofeedback based on how their activity patterns correlate with painful symptoms. This seems to me to be a strong business case with a huge potential market. The device is expected to launch via a crowd-funding platform in about 9-12 months.
 
Mio Alpha Wrist Strap

Mio Alpha

 

Mio Alpha – QS enthusiasts will likely be familiar with this one. It is a wristwatch-style heart rate (HR) monitor notable for being the first to solve the problem of accurate continuous HR monitoring at exertion running speeds up to 12mph. In fact, it may still be the only such solution. The newly released Basis Band purports to track heart rate during exercise as well, but anecdotal reports from those that I have spoken with, as well as this blogger, suggest that it doesn’t perform this task very well. Whereas independent reviews (e.g. from GizmodoTech Crunch, and PC Mag) seem to be favorable regarding the Alpha’s HR accuracy during exercise. However, the Alpha only measures HR, wheareas Basis measures a number of other metrics, and its battery life with the HR monitor on blows Mio out of the water. So it’s by no means an obvious choice if you are deciding between the two. 

StormFly – A more secure and flexible alternative to cloud storage, solving the potential cloud problems of security, slowness, clumsy interaction, and downtime. It’s a bootable USB 3.0 drive with a secure Linux (Ubuntu) OS preloaded that can be used like a portable computer minus the hardware (persistent files, the OS can be updated, etc). It can be booted on nearly any modern 64bit PC or Mac whose hardware is Linux-compatible (almost all modern computers). When booting from StormFly, the host machine’s OS will not be accessed whatsoever, nor will any trace be left on the host after use.

 
StormFly Bracelet Worn

StormFly: The USB drive/bracelet

 

StormFly uses 128-bit encryption and has a total size of 16gb: 8gb for the OS and programs, 4GB for user files, and 4GB for a shared folder (traditional USB drive data-storage functionality). It’s also a “wearable technology,” as the drive itself can be worn as a wristband, so that you don’t lose it and always have it easily accessible. If you desire, StromFly will automatically keep a backup of its image synced on their secure cloud for a fee of $19.99/yr. They say that this optional cloud functionality is more secure than typical cloud-computing since their cloud is not accessible in any other way than via the encrypted and automated backup mechanism (I’m not a security expert, so I can’t evaluate that claim). You can order a StormFly for $59 (includes 3 months of backup service) via their kickstarter campaign until March 3rd. I’m pretty excited to get my hands on one of these.

 
Sensoria by Heapsylon. Sensoria is a family of e-textile sensor-enabled devices for the human foot. Their current prototype product is a pair of smart fabric socks with an accompanying anklet monitor. This system allows for detailed tracking and analysis of the way that you stand, walk and run. I would have found this useful when I was relearning how to run in Vibrams after heel-striking my whole life in standard running shoes.

 

We wrapped up the day with some socialization and networking over fine Bavarian beers at the Wearable Technologies booth in the humongous ISPO event in Munich. The next WT conference will take place in San Francisco on July 23, 2013.

Wearable Technologies 2013 Europe

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Ken Blakeslee 2013/02/18, 13:25

    Great write up! I had to abort my trip to this at the last minute, but can see it was a real winner and thanks for the excellent summary.
    I am researching wearable tech, mHealth and Augmented Reality to name only a few sectors, but amazing how these are all coming together as technologies to serve very valuable functionality for human beings!
    Your assessment of the AR entrants is a good one in that the info snacking approach Vuzix and Recon is taking now is a real entry point for proper consumer friendly see-through augmentation (possibly without others knowing). The next innovation in the Vuzix AR product rollout – see-through Smart Glasses technologies (as shown at CES) – will take us closest to this goal than ever before (later this year?) an area worth watching and I will be doing so!
    I fully subscribe to your “Biohack Yourself” initiative, and would welcome further direct discussion.
    (Disclosure: I have a small personal holding in VUZID)

  • Winslow Strong 2013/02/19, 12:46

    Hi Ken,

    I’m glad this was useful to you, and thanks for the info on what’s coming up. While these technologies seem oriented towards tech enthusiasts and various fun-and-games applications at the moment, I’m suspect that they will prove to be quite useful and powerful in the near future.

    I’d certainly be interested in hearing about any future developments, either on the blog, it’s companion FB page: https://www.facebook.com/BiohackYourself
    at my email (winslow dot strong at gmail dot com), or twitter: @winslow_strong

  • Tonny 2013/04/05, 21:40

    This is very interesting post. There are plenty useful gadget that bring great benefit for human life. I really like the thimble bioelectronics and Recons HUD.

  • EoB 2013/04/08, 19:32

    I tried to find out more about the opto-phone wrist-band device without luck. Have you heard more about this technology?

    Good work on the biohack site. We share a similar background, mathematics, computer science and an interest in biotech.

    • Winslow Strong 2013/04/08, 21:34

      Indeed, the claims they made about the opto-phone were by far the most incredible things presented there. It was a very short talk tho, so not many details were disclosed. I couldn’t find much on the web either.

      Glad you like the site. It will be fleshed out quite a bit more in the coming months, stay tuned!

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