Wearable technology can be dated back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who was presented with the first wristwatch by court favourite Robert Dudley in 1571. The first wrist watches were reportedly so large they were called arm watches.
Since the late 20th century, the ever-decreasing size of technology combined with the increasing power of data processing has allowed us to collect more data than ever before and process it in new ways.
The first wrist watches were reportedly so large they were called arm watches
A major milestone in this development came in September 2009 – the launch of the FitBit – resulting in a new age of technology, the wearable device. Since then many millions of people have been collating and analysing personal data to lose weight, increase productivity, quit smoking and a myriad of other uses, all with varying degrees of success.
So where is this trend headed?
The wearable device
The most common forms of wearables currently measure external data – heartrate, steps taken, sleep patterns – or rely on manually inputted data – moods, diet, exercise. The data collected is then presented back in progress charts or other quantitative ways; used correctly and routinely and this can be an extremely positive influence on daily life.
Yet the technology is still lacking the immersion needed to truly entrench itself into daily life in the way smartphones have. This is likely due to the effort needed to maintain upkeep; you don’t need to actively monitor your phone for it to receive messages. Several wearable technologies allow for social media integration but research shows as many as 70 per cent of users stop using their FitBits – the most popular wearable – within one year1.
People have been ignoring diets for as long as there have been diets; a push notification has not changed that
So why is this? What is the data that we are radiating telling us that we are ignoring and what research is being done to change this?
World’s most connected person
Chris Dancy, somewhat reluctant holder of the title of world’s most connected person, has been collecting as much data about himself as possible since 2008. With over 20 devices on his person at any given time, he is able to record and analyse every facet of his daily life from the quality of his sleep to the difference the ambient room temperature has on his mood.
By processing data with algorithms capable of not making qualitative recommendations, wearables will become an intrinsic part of daily life
By collecting and analysing the data, Dancy managed to lose over 50kg simply by noticing his calorific intake increased when meeting certain friends in restaurants that happened to have dark lighting. Using this data, the system he has created encourages healthier habits by increasing factors he has correlated with healthier days, such as automating the background music or dimming the lights when he gets home.
While the system Dancy has created seems exceptionally complex, technological development has shown again and again how fast different technologies are incorporated into single seamless devices. It may not be to the same extent as Dancy, but similar magnitudes of data will be available for anyone to use however they like.
From Dancy’s story, he lost weight not by fastidious dieting but by correlating his social life with his eating habits. Wearable devices need to improve the ability to associate different aspects of life together in more sophisticated ways than just calories in and calories burned.
Wearable devices need to improve the ability to associate different aspects of life together in more sophisticated ways than just calories in and calories burned
For this to happen, more data processing is required; the innovation profile of patents containing the words “biometric monitoring” and “Big data”, shows the focus of interest:
The largest section of the graphic is in “diagnosis, surgery, identification” suggesting wearables are moving further towards medical uses rather than lifestyle.
Similarly, the patent landscape:
Shows an intent to monitor biometrics which usually would require a hospital appointment to obtain.
Yet this is no bad thing, Chris Dancy says home and health “will merge” as the ability to gauge and react to changes in our health become more possible. Technology is quietly ushering in what Lauren Constantini calls the “Age of the Quantified Self” where the health and condition of individuals is collated and analysed not only by the individual but also by doctors. This shift will allow medical professionals to request appointments with patients, essentially rebalancing the entire medical industry from push to pull.
Wearables have the potential to fundamentally change the medical industry from push to pull
Wearable devices are maturing from the external, traditionally observable data such as pulse rate or calorific intake based upon the manual insertion of data into holistic, automated personal management assistants. With monitoring devices collecting data from various sources being processed by sophisticated algorithms capable of not just collating data but making qualitative recommendations, wearables will become an intrinsic part of daily life. In the very near future, drastic improvements in health as well as lifestyle will be easier than ever before.