We’re in the midst of flu season, and if you’re a germ-phobe like me you’re probably considering going to work wearing a surgical mask because there’s always one die hard work colleague who thinks they’re earning brownie points by dragging their flu addled bodies to work when conventional wisdom points to staying at home, not spreading the flu virus to even more people, and getting the proper rest which allows you to recover much faster, and therefore return to work sooner. However, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who catch the bug, your next visit to the doctor might just turn out to be a completely new, high tech, virtual experience: that is if you’re wearing a piece of wearable tech.
Wearable tech is undoubtedly the biggest tech trend of 2014. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas all the big electronics companies were showing off their versions and variations. The gadgets themselves, at this stage aimed primarily at the fitness industry, are mostly worn on the wrist as a bracelet. If you’re a gym goer you might have seen people sporting a FitBiT: a rubber band worn on the wrist that helps the wearer track anything from the food they consume throughout the day, to the number of glasses of water they drink, and even the amount of calorie-burning activities their bodies are engaging in.
These wearable tech gadgets are part of an overarching trend called, The Quantified Self: a trend where people have started measuring (somewhat obsessively) every aspect of their lives, just as the FitBit does. One of the most interesting products to emerge at CES was a bracelet called JUNE: an innovative collaboration between tech company Netatmo, Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston jewelry. When luxury brands get onto the tech bandwagon, you know something big is brewing. It signals the beginning of a fashion trajectory for wearable tech. JUNE is designed to not only look stylish, but to also surreptitiously monitor the sun or UV exposure you are getting throughout the day, and then provide skin protection advice for the wearer via a Smartphone app. The app will recommend suitable products like, sunglasses, a hat, or a specific sunscreen. It’s clever, but still relatively basic when compared to what other tech companies have come up with.
LIFE TILES takes the Quantified Self trend and pushes it even further. These jewel-like “tiles” would not look out of place in a fashion boutique, but each “tile” has a different function and they measure anything from your vital signs to your physical activity, your nutritional intake, and even environmental indicators, like pollen count in the air. The idea behind LIFE TILES is that each day you would be able to measure a different combination of factors affecting your wellbeing, so you would choose a selection of “tiles” depending on what your outcome objective is. All the “tiles” interlock like a jewelled mosaic, so depending on what you want measured, your jewellery for the day would change. Once you’ve settled on a combination, the information the “tiles” track throughout the day is then processed using a series of algorithms. This information is then fed to your Smartphone, but it can also be uploaded into the cloud, and this is where it gets interesting.
If you need medical advice, instead of having to make an appointment to see your doctor at his or her consulting rooms, you would simply give your doctor access to this cloud based information and have a consultation via webcam. The doctor would be able to access all your vital signs (and whatever you are measuring on the day) in real time and be able to make a diagnosis, and if you need medication, the prescription would then just be emailed to your nearest pharmacist. In a couple of year’s time, you’d probably be able to request that a drone deliver the medication – but that’s a topic for another column.
This new concept is called Remote Patient Monitoring, and is a trend that is poised to revolutionise both the healthcare and medical aid industries. Already this method of accessing healthcare is not only cutting the time it takes to make an appointment and see a doctor (initial trials show that it takes an average of 20 minutes to book a slot with a doctor in cyberspace), but wearable tech is also making people more aware of their bodies, so the shift from remedial healthcare to preventative healthcare becomes more pronounced.
But technology is already moving ahead of this steep curve. Very soon this type of wearable tech will be embedded into our clothing using nano fibers and nanotechnology. Scientists are already working on textiles that function the same way LIFE TILES do. So in the near future you’ll be able to simply put on an item of clothing that can measure and track your vital signs. This would be most beneficial with elderly patients or patients recovering from surgery who need constant monitoring, rather than a gym bunny obsessed with his or her quantified self.
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