I confess. I love to play with new technology. In my roles over the years as an entrepreneur, CTO and innovator, I have had the opportunity to explore new things on a regular basis. Whenever I look at new technology, I always ask myself whether this is a “tool or a toy”. However, with something new, it is not always readily apparent until you play with the technology for a while. Sometimes it takes one small feature or new use case to drive the crossover from toy to tool. For example back in the late ‘90’s, when I had to manually login remotely to the server on my phone, to download an email; it was a toy. But when the email automatically began to push to my phone, it immediately became a tool.
“Wearable technology today is enabling a number of industries to re-think how customers can actually experience brands”
In my travels over the past year, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of people and companies who are innovating around wearables. In fact, wearable technology is one of the most exciting new areas of innovation. A host of new technologies are coming together, that create an opportunity for innovation. Fitness bands like Fitbit and Up, Android Wear and the upcoming Apple Watch are all moving us in the direction of being a part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Earlier, fitness bands counted our steps or determined how restless our sleep is. Some would argue that this information isn’t useful on an ongoing basis. On the other hand, my wife and our extended family all jumped on the fitbit bandwagon and started competing for the most steps. My daughter’s mother-in-law lost 30 pounds, just by paying attention. My wife walked 500 miles in the first two months. Awareness of self and community drove a change in behavior.
Moving beyond a personal community and into big data insights, Jawbone did some analysis following the recent Napa Valley earthquake and was able to share a map of sleepers that were disturbed by the earthquake and show us how far from the epicenter sleepers were disturbed. I am not quite sure what to do with that information yet, but I think it is fascinating. Imagine the possibilities as we start measuring things like pulse, respiration, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, GPS and the amplitude, direction and frequency of your movement via accelerometer.
Joe Burton at Plantronics has prototyped an application that can measure the heart rate of a contact center agent through a headset. When paired with integration platforms like Avaya’s Collaboration Environment, this could be used to automatically notify a supervisor and bring them into a stressful customer call.
Wearable technology today is enabling a number of industries to re-think how customers can actually experience brands. At 28 years old, Rana June is the CEO of her third startup. Lightwave.io is developing applications at the intersection of biometrics, big data, entertainment and big events. The technology she is after isn’t yet available for the time being, as she is developing her own wrist bands which pair with your smart phone to measure your pulse, galvanic skin response, voice volume and movement via the accelerometer. Lightwave is using the information to enable concert attendees to be part of the live performance by projecting their activity into the big screen graphics and awarding them points that might lead to awards like back stage tours. In trade shows, this technology might be used to show which keynotes were the most interesting or which slides the CEO showed, got people the most excited.
I was recently giving a keynote at the IT Leaders Circle event in Chicago on the digital transformation of the enterprise. At the end of the speech, Mohan Putcha, the CTO for the University of Chicago Medical Center, told me about a predictive analytics study they had done, and wanted to do some brainstorming. In the study, they brought real time sensor data from patients in the hospital into a big data analytics process. Their data scientists had discovered that they could predict a heart attack three days ahead of time. He was thinking about how the algorithm could be used for patients that were not in a hospital.
We brainstormed about the potential to insert their algorithms into communication applications in smart phones that would connect to wearable and implantable sensors. I then reached out to a friend at Medtronic and he said he had much of the telemetry needed since they were plugged into both cardio/pulmonary and nervous system data. Imagine the potential to change the quality and cost of healthcare by bringing these kinds of efforts together with communication technology like Avaya’s to route information to connect patients, families and healthcare specialists together.
Let’s take a look at another wearable category that has been all over the news – glasses. Heads up displays, first caught the world’s attention in fighter aircraft but they have now found their way into technology platforms like Google Glass, Oceanic’s Dive Computer enabled scuba mask and Epson’s Moverio augmented reality Smart Glasses. All of these could easily be misunderstood as toys but it is the use cases that make them tools.
I have spent a fair amount of time wearing Google Glass and experimenting with different use cases. While I don’t think we will have the general public wearing Glass in its current form and price point, you do start to imagine the broader value as the technology disappears into our glasses or sunglasses. For example, navigation, communication and the ability to quickly Google information, are all very useful.
Imagine technicians in the field using Glass, to access information in manuals, or consult an expert on video. Police broadcasting what they are seeing through their Glass to command centers. Airplane mechanics following a step-by-step repair process as they are guided through a manual with their Epson Smart Glasses while servicing an engine and have the process recorded for compliance purposes. All of these are real use cases and more use cases are being tested every day.
It is hard to generalize, but when I come back to my original question as to whether wearables are a tool or a toy, I don’t think there is much question as to the trajectory. The ability for others to see what we see, and for us to perform highly skilled tasks and share with others, will allow us to collaborate in new ways that, we are only just beginning to understand.
All of us are slipping into the Internet of Things… and will live a longer, healthier and more productive life as a result.