Beginner's Guide to Wearable Tech 2014-2015
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Smart watches and Google Glass are two kinds of wearable technology that are making a big splash right now. But these are not the only high tech devices that are designed to be worn.
They may not even be the most successful, in the long term.
Smart clothing, health and fitness monitors, gaming gear and that old favorite, virtual reality systems are all developing fast.
Then, of course there are all the developments in military tech which every sane citizen should stay abreast of.
So here is an overview of where wearable tech is going in 2015. It covers:
- Wearable computers
- Smart watches
- Sports watches
- Fitness bands
- Spy Gear
- Military applications
- Ocular Gaming
- Smart gloves
- Full body gaming suits
Intel's Make it Wearable Competition
A good place to check out where wearable tech is going in 2015 is last year's 'Make It Wearable' competition from Intel. The first prize of half a million dollars went to Nixie, a wearable camera drone.
Many of the devices pictured below were shown at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2015 and will be available this year,
Artificial Reality Headsets
Facebook has spent two billion dollars on Oculus Rift, an AR headset which allows you to 'see' images or movies in 3D. Microsoft announced its rival HoloLens in January this year.
Oculus Rift immerses you completely in an artificial reality world and is much loved by gamers. Hololens will work with Windows 10 and project holographic images in front of you while leaving the real world viewable at the sides. This makes it easy to get around while interacting with an augmented reality interface. There is cursor controlled by your eyes and you 'click' by voice control.
These kinds of headsets could become the 'browsers' of the future which we use to access the internet for information, social activity and entertainment.
You can wear the Glyph like a pair of headphones and get high quality audible, or you can rotate it so that an array of micro-mirrors project images directly onto your retina. Reports suggest very high quality results.
At present the Glyph can only be used for watching movies or games (in 3D, if formatted). You need to be plugged into a PC, smartphone or other video source for visuals.
The technology is expected to be developed for virtual reality devices going forward.
It is available for pre-order at just under five hundred dollars.
Google Glass Gone Forever?
No piece of tech created as much controversy last year.
Personally, I was conflicted. It is almost impossible to talk to anyone wearing a computer on their face. The first time I met an early adopter, I started thinking stuff like: are those eyes focused on me or a Facebook page? Is this all being recorded? Did I clip my nose hairs this month? Am I usually this paranoid?
At the same time I wanted a pair. I'm an internet addict and I love gadgets: why wouldn't I want a pair?
It was pulled in January but will it make a come back later in 2015? Google reckons it will, and, lets face it, they have the money to make a lot more mistakes before they sink under the waves.
Smart watches have yet to come of age. The continuing absence of an Apple product tells you everything. Apple are too concerned with their rep to put out a product that is not absolutely ready.
First gen smart watches from Samsung were poor, with short battery life and few apps. The latest Gear 2 watches, do better but are not much more than smartphone companions.
Probably the best received smart watch to be launched to-date has been the Pebble E-Paper.
It is chic, lightweight and connects with Android or Apple OS.
It is unlikely to replace your smartphone, though.
And that is the issue... How can a smart watch compete with proven tech and offer something unique?
Apple is clearly hoping that health and fitness monitoring of a genuinely useful kind will make be an irresistible draw.
Meanwhile, tech newcomer, Blocks (see below) is banking on versatility.
This is one of my favorite new tech of 2015 so far. It is the most versatile watch you can imagine.
You can configure it by swapping which blocks on the band you wear, such as:
- heart rate monitor,
- motion tracking,
- NFC for contact-less payment,
- 3G broadband,
- an open platform for third party modules.
Theater for One
This is an illustration of how no-name makers will move into wearables. I honestly cannot find any kind of name for this device, despite the fact that it is on sale at Amazon.
These are described as virtual reality glasses for enjoying movies, music, games, photos and books while you are on the move.
The one pictured gives you a display that mimics a 72 inch HD display and boasts of zero radiation.
Buyers say the video quality is not great but many reckon they work well enough to justify the two hundred dollar price tag.
Full-Body Gaming Suits
The holy grail for hardcore gamers is total immersion in the game world. Full body suits can get you deep into the action.
The tech being developed by Priovr (shown in the video below, with diagram above) is one of the most advanced systems at present but is still at the stage of seeking kickstarter funds.
It might also have an image problem. I reckon they need a model with fashion sense. Or maybe just long pants. Or a suntan.
That could finally lay the rumor that he is a zombie.
Peregrine Gaming Glove
Down-scaling the full body suit gets you a glove. The huge advantage of the glove is that it is available right now. And it works (most of the time).
There is also the advantage that no one expects you to run through forests, or leap from rock to rock, with just the glove.
As with all new tech, reaction to this glove has been mixed.
Some quotes from users:
'Works with a lot of practice'
'Defeats carpal tunnel'
'Can replace mouse and keyboard'
And the most popular: 'Not quite there'.
If you want to record everything as you walk down the street on vacation, a hands-free camera will leave you free to eat the local street food, at the same time.
These can be
- Clip on, in plain sight, as in the pic (the Looxcie 3).
- Or helmet mounted if you decide to cycle instead.
- Or hidden, spy-gear type stuff.
Probably the most successful action video camera of the last couple of years has been GoPro. Get a headband and you can wear some of the best (up to 4K resolution) video equipment on the planet.
HD Video Sunglasses for Spies
You do not need a carnation for spying on folk.
A pair of dark glasses with a video camera will perform just as well. The pair pictured above is on sale for a mere $55 and has a max storage of 32 GB's. That is a lot of beach babes or bronzed hunks, if you lose interest in classified material.
They are useless in winter, of course, anywhere North of the tropics, at least. Unless you don't care about people throwing stones at you for outstanding creepiness.
Fitness Bands and Sports Watches
Sports watches have been popular for several years giving data on such things as location, distance traversed and lap times in all kinds of sporting activity.
The ultra thin Nike pictured, right, stands out, and Garmin have some capable products.
At CES 2014, though, it was the fitness monitors that caught the eye.
Movea-G series wrist bands record how far you walk, how long you sit or stand or lie down. It will work out the number of calories that you burn and let you know if your lifestyle is healthy or couch potato (in case you have not noticed already).
The one that I tried declared that I was dead and recommended less internet.
Most medical applications are about monitoring the vital signs of people who might be at risk of a medical emergency.
This will certainly be big business in coming years. Remote monitoring frees human resources whilst adding a sense of security for users.
Sensors of all king are being developed and include:
- Patches like the one pictured above from Toshiba, below.
- Stretch sensors that can be incorporated into clothing
- Vests that measure heart rate
- Wearable, super accurate blood pressure monitors
One of the most high tech devices to emerge recently is a portable, wearable electroencephalogram (pictured).
Motion Capture to Create Virtual or Cartoon Characters
This is the technology that gives you movie creations like Golom in Lord of the Rings and many of the latest Disney characters from movies like Frozen.
Real actors have their movements digitally recorded and the virtual character then moves in the same way. Facial expressions can also be mimicked in this way.
There are several ways of achieving this kind of character creation but all involve placing markers on the body of the actor then recording the markers movements in space. One technique is shown in the video below.
Markers may soon be a thing of the past if research at Stanford and the Max Plank Institute works out.
Military Wearable Tech
Helmet-mounted displays were one of the earliest wearable technologies developed, and an inspiration for Google Glass. Pilots can see info of all kinds in displays projected into their field of view without needing to look down.
The F-35 helmet above is one of the most advanced.
The 'Aviation Warrior' system from Raytheon, also pictured has been developed to help helicopter pilots perform in non-traditional conflicts.
If she (or he) needs to jump out the helicopter to help pick someone up, lay a mine, or assassinate a bad guy, he/she can keep in touch with what is happening via the computer on her wrist.
It is not as cute as a Nike Sports Watch and it uses, oddly enough, Windows 7 (but probably a version that does something badass).
The helmet also has displays, of course, but can only be used with wired connections. The US military are wary of too much radio connectivity on the battlefield. This is not surprising. The Evil Empire might be eavesdropping. Or jamming.
The developers hope to get round this with very low frequency connectivity in the near future.
Military Tech That Could Wear You
We are moving closer to the day that robotic beasts carry weapons or even soldiers into battle.
Above is the Legged Squad Support System from DARPA.
It runs, it climbs, it carries huge weights for soldiers over rough terrain.
Luckily, it does not roar, drop metallic dung on your foot or try to mate with you.
A serious drawback is that you cannot it eat it in an emergency.
Jason Barnes lost his arm in an accident and thought his drumming career was finished.
Then, scientists at Georgia Tech made him a prosthesis which has actually improved his drumming ability.
The prosthesis has two sticks. One responds to nerve impulses in Jason's arm. The other improvises using a specially designed algorithm. It weaves something new around the rhythms that Jason chooses.
Apple's Fitness Monitoring Earphones
Some of Apple's latest patent applications show earphones capable of monitoring a users heart rate, temperature, perspiration and movements.
Given the incredible popularity of wearable fitness tech, these will probably be with us soon.
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