Posted By Simon Montford on Feb 1, 2016
As a species we are becoming more and more connected. Today fitness trackers are pretty basic, but tomorrow they will become embedded precision instruments capable of monitoring our health 24/7. Our cars will be self-driving, our homes will be operated by powerful artificial intelligence, and one leading academic recently predicted that robots will be able to read our minds by 2030 - welcome to the future!
In addition to the IoT, there are of course many other fields of technology that will also make us fitter, healthier and longer-living. Examples include augmentation of our genetic codes, and other advancements in bio technology, as well as advancements in nutrition, medical procedures and health care. This post, however, and a talk I gave on 28 January at an event I co-hosted called "The Connected Human", relates only to trends in the consumer IoT sector; specifically connected health and wellness products that were exhibited at CES. My talk is available to view on Youtube, in addition to talks by two other speakers.
The first major trend I noticed was that medical grade fitness trackers, that have obtained FDA approval, are starting to enter the mainstream consumer market. The current generation of consumer fitness trackers are pretty inaccurate, which is why medical professionals have been reluctant to use the data generated by them. In fact FitBit was recently hit with a class action lawsuit by disgruntled customers from California, Colorado, and Wisconsin. They allege that the heart rate tracking in the Charge HR and the Surge are inaccurate by a "significant margin", particularly during intense exercise. Fitbit doesn't believe the case has merit, and it stands by its heart rate technology.
There is no doubt that the accuracy of data generated by such devices will continue to improve, as will the industry's ability to process the ever-increasing volumes of data generated by them. This ability to harvest, process and make sense of the data, coupled with artificial intelligence, will totally transform the healthcare sector. One of the greatest benefits will be far earlier detection of illness, and much more accurate diagnosis and prognosis, which will not only increase longevity but also offer a better quality of life during old age.
In terms of health and wellness products that were exhibited at CES this year, here are some of the best out there, starting with tech that's aimed at babies and kids, and ending with tech designed specifically for seniors.
TECH FOR BABIES
Designed to look and fit like a baby sock, Owlet monitors the baby's oxygen and heart rates. It sounds an alarm if something's amiss, and parents can also monitor their baby via a smartphone app. It costs $249.99.
Mimo gives parents insight about their baby's sleep quality, sleep activity, respiration, body position, and skin temperature. When they’re not looking at the app, it’ll notify them of changes in their baby’s activity - including irregular breathing, wake-ups, and roll-overs.
Over the past three decades, researchers from top universities like Stanford have been documenting how verbal engagement affects brain development, and it turns out that the number of words a child hears before the age of four can predict their future success. This is a smart little device that tracks the number of words your baby interacts with each day. It can be pre-ordered for $169.
TECH FOR KIDS
The Playbrush fits onto any regular toothbrush, and comes with a gaming app ($49) to optimise oral hygiene.
There are an increasing number of smartwatches entering the market that are designed for kids. The DokiWatch, like the VTech Kidizoom, is aimed at kids aged six to twelve years. I predict it won't be long before we see kid-friendly smartwatches feature fitness trackers that are linked to games that encourages kids to exercise.
It's a fact that many children don't get enough exercise, which has led to the current child obesity epidemic. Rox is an interactive game that aims to get kids active. It encourages them to exercise by making it fun to run around while they play. It uses movement sensors, RFID, lights and sounds, and it comes with pre-programmed games like “Zombie Tag”.
TECH FOR ADULTS & ATHLETES
The $450 Digitsole Smartshoes allow the wearer to track their activity as well as control the temperature of their feet.
Skulpt Chisel is a $100 product that scans muscle composition and body fat using Electrical Impedance Myography ("EIM"). It can measure 24 different muscles on your body, providing the fat percentage and a rating of the muscle’s fitness for each muscle. You do this by viewing a ‘heat map’ on the app to track your strongest muscles and those that need improvement
Levl is a fat monitor that can measure your body fat from your breath. All you do is blow into the gadget and the app will display how much fat you have burned over time. It does this by analysing compounds in the breath.
One of the biggest announcements came from FitBit. After much speculation, the company finally decided to launch a smartwatch. It's called the Blaze and will cost around $200 (£160). It wasn't well-received by shareholders; the company's stock nosedived in response to the announcement and I can understand why. It's a basic smartwatch that's also a fitness tracker, which makes it poor value compared to the likes of the Withings Go ($70), the Huawei Z1 ($80), and the MisFit Ray ($100).
Microsoft Band 2
Microsoft claims that their new Band 2 is the most sophisticated fitness tracker on the market. It costs £170 on Amazon, and is packed with all kinds of sensors. I think it looks a little bit like one of those court-enforced electronic tagging devices, which is not a great look! It is, however, one of the very best fitness trackers currently on the market.
The company claim to have created the world’s first biometric smart shirt. Data collected by this wearable device can be synched with a variety of apps, including MapMyRun and RunKeeeper. It can be pre-ordered for $299. Another similar product worth checking out are a pair of smart running short by Lumo. They can track speed, distance, monitor running technique, and can be purchased for $150.
Another item of apparel with health tracking capabilities is a product by Samsung that monitors waist size, steps, and sitting time. It is currently at prototype stage, and Samsung plans to license the WELT to fashion brands.
MyUV patch by L'Oreal
L'Oreal have created a UV sensor that sticks onto skin. It is designed to be worn for around five days before disposal. According to the company's press release "the patch is a transparent adhesive that, unlike the rigid wearables currently on the market, stretches and adheres directly to any area of skin that consumers want to monitor. Measuring approximately one square inch in area and 50 micrometers thick - half the thickness of an average strand of hair - the patch contains photosensitive dyes that factor in the baseline skin tone and change colors when exposed to UV rays to indicate varying levels of sun exposure. Consumers will be able to take a photo of the patch and upload it to the La Roche-Posay My UV Patch mobile app, which analyzes the varying photosensitive dye squares to determine the amount of UV exposure the wearer has received".
Dedicated Sport Trackers
Another trend I've noticed is there are an increasing number of dedicated devices such as for swimming (Swimmo), golf (Golf Buddy), weight lifting (GymWatch, Atlas, Beast) and tennis (PulsePlay) to name but a few. I think companies who make general-purpose trackers like FitBit are going to struggle, as people will either want one of the aforementioned dedicated devices and/or a fully-featured smartwatch. Also see "Elite Athletes are increasingly turning to wearable tech".
Stress and Mood Trackers
Another interesting area of the fitness and wellness sector are devices that monitor and track mental wellness. There are currently many products that focus on physiology, but of course maintaining a healthy mind is just as important.
MeloMind is a relaxation system based on a headset, an application, and a brain training program that claims to help reduce stress. Another wearable is MoodMetric, a ring aimed at women which tracks mood and stress. Feel is a prototype leather bracelet that measures emotions throughout the day, and Being is a wearable that looks like a smartwatch, but the makers refer to it as a "Mindfulness Tracker". Sadly it looks like the highly desirable Olive won't go into production as its creators have thrown in the towel after a successful crowdfunding campaign back in October 2014.
TECH FOR SENIORS
My final category comprises of products that have been developed specifically to help senior citizens. This segment of the health and wellness market, often referred to as "ElderCare", is a sector that's growing rapidly, especially in the States where it’s estimated that baby boomers will control about 70% of all disposable income by 2017. A sub-sector of the ElderCare market is "Ambient Assisted Living" or AAL, where technology is used to support active ageing by offering safety, general assistance, companionship and entertainment. Wearables, smartphones, and sensors built into smart domestic appliances are used within the ambient intelligent environment to communicate with the user and carers. Here are some examples of products that have been recently developed to care for the needs of ageing consumers.
Silver Mother by Sense is a remote monitoring system for seniors that claims to seamlessly blend into the everyday activities of seniors. They continuously monitor the safety and health of family members so that caregivers can remotely make sure their loved ones are enjoying a secure and healthy life.
It's estimated that around 40% of Japan's population will be over 65 by 2055, which is why they are so keen to develop companion robots for seniors. PARO is an advanced interactive robot developed in Japan, which looks like a soft cuddly seal pup. It uses animal therapy to help comfort and entertain patients in extended care facilities.
Hasbro Robot Cat
The American toy maker Hasbro launched the "Joy for All" range of companion robot pets. At this point it is exclusively made up of robotic cats, available in three different colours (orange, white and silver).
CHiP the robot dog
Still under development, CHiP is a robot dog that is very similar to Sony's ill fated Aibo which was way ahead of its time (launched in 1991 and discontinued in 2006). CHiP's Canadian creators are located in Montreal, and are currently crowdfunding via Indiegogo. They have so far exceeded their funding goal with another week or so to go. Hopefully they will successfully take CHiP to market as it looks like being a fun product.
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