Wearable technology is for more than just your wrist

There is a crowded category of gear meant to be worn on users’ wrists. From Fitbit, Garmin and Jawbone, the competition is steep – we only have two wrists after all.

Moore’s Law contends that as components get smaller, products gain efficiency and become more powerful. The law is part of a continuum of exponential expansion of computational power that extends back hundreds and hundreds of years. This means, as technology shrinks in size and comes down in price, wearables will increasingly go beyond your wrist. The future will be more about sensing all around the body.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets you can buy today

As hard as it is to believe, ultimately wearables will go much further, even going into ingestible technology. By 2020, it is likely that we will start to rely on embedded devices – technology that is physically implanted into our bodies.

Computers are no longer just for our desks and pockets. They are now displayed on our bodies and will one day be merged with them. The innovations that will enable this are inevitable. And in fact, they are already well underway.

The best technology is invisible. This the road we’re going down.


Hearables

Ever wonder what your heart rate is when you’re running while listening to music? The ear provides a great platform for doing this kind of biometric measurement. Earbuds, rather than watches, tend to be the most accurate heart-rate monitors on the market, outperformed only by traditional chest straps.

Essential reading: Smart earbuds – top biometric headphones

Headphones are also great for people who work out and want to check their steps, distance traveled, and calories burned, on the fly. Some smart earbuds even claim to be able to track brain waves through EEG and provide real-time feedback about focus, stress, sleep patterns, and relaxation.


Connected footware

There are over 36 million active runners in the US and over 60% get some sort of injury each year. The advantage of purchasing trackers that are located on your feet are that these devices improve not just how far and how fast you run, but also how well you run.

They do this through parameters related to your running form such as foot landing, cadence and time on the ground – metrics which you cannot get from wrist based trackers. After all, the feet are the most logical place from which to monitor steps, distance and other associated metrics.

Essential reading: Smart shoes – tracking fitness through your feet

While this market is still in its infancy, there are a few players such as Sensoria, Under Armour and Adidas, that have already come out with intelligent trackers for your feet.


Smart rings

Smart rings are making a strong showing this year. Indistinguishable from regular jewelry in looks, these are gadgets that house some serious smarts.

Research suggests that we check our phone every six and a half minutes and many of these result from notifications that least interest us or can wait for us to attend to them later. With your cellular device tucked away in your pocket or bag, you can now use a smart ring to attend to only those notifications that deserve your attention. The rest can wait.

Essential reading: Smart rings: jewelry that keeps you connected

Because your fingers have easy-to-sense arteries, some of these devices are also able to gather precise data of your body’s vital signals. Then there are others that can be used to unlock your doors or smartphones or even send SOS messages.

We saw a number of new products launched at last week’s Wearable Technology Show. This included: the Kerv Ring, which you can use to make payments anywhere in the world that displays the contactless MasterCard payment symbol; the Helios smart ring which wants to help you monitor the amount of sunlight you’re getting; and Numb, a ring that puts personal security right into your hands.


Heart rate chest straps

Many fitness trackers claim to be able to monitor your heart rate without the chest strap. They operate by shining a light into your wrist, which is then reflected by blood vessels passing through your veins. When your heart pumps, the blood moves through your veins at a quicker rate, causing less light to be reflected back. The tracker will then calculate your heart rate using an algorithm.

Essential reading: Best heart rate chest straps

The current trend may be to move heart-rate monitoring away from the chest and over to the wrist but accuracy at these new locations is still questionable. Particularly for high intensity workouts. If you are very serious about heart rate training, a chest rate heart rate monitor is the way to go.


Smart clothes

Sensors embedded into your every day wear are in a perfect position to understand the minute workings of your body. From monitoring your heat rate to analyzing your sweat and keeping tabs on your breathing – the possibilities are endless. Best of all, some of these are items you would have worn anyway, but smarter. Which means no extra effort or adjustments to your routine.

Essential reading: Moving away from the wrist – the best smart clothing

First generation sensors are attached to apparel and this is the approach currently taken by major sportswear brands such as Adidas and Under Armour. Second generation products embed the sensor in the garment itself as demonstrated by products from Ralph Lauren. In third generation the garment will be the sensor.


Connected jewellery

If wearable tech is really going to take off it needs some fashion sense. It is clear that at the moment, such devices are still more popular with men than women. Around 70% of Fitbit’s profits are accounted for by men. Furthermore, even though 95% of women are aware of wearable technology, only a third of them have followed through with a purchase.

Essential reading: Best activity trackers for women

This is changing, however, and there is a growing number of gadgets designed specifically for women. Smart jewellery is an emerging category which ranges from devices that alert you to important calls and messages to those that are meant to serve as protection. With technological advancements squeezing more power into smaller spaces, the era of smart jewelry is now upon us.

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