What comes to mind when you hear the word "wearable?" Fitbit? Google Glass? Pebble? What about ingestible "password pills"? Temporary tattoos that read your body chemistry? Smart contact lenses that monitor glaucoma-related eye pressure?
There are two kinds of wearables: devices with sensors that measure and track stats about your habits, location, and physical health, and those with displays that augment how you see and interact with the world around you.
Consumers might not be ready for mass adoption of display-based augmented reality tech like Google Glass… yet. (See my blog "6 (fixable) reasons Google Glass will flop with consumers.") But devices with sensors, especially those related to fitness or healthcare, or technologies that are low-profile (e.g. Kiwi Move), are poised for rapid growth.
Here are ten technologies announced at SXSW and other recent tech conferences that are weird... and that you need to know about.
1. Password pills
This swallowable password/computer pill created by Proteus Digital Health turns a human being into an authentication token. Once you swallow the pill, it reacts with acids in the stomach to make an 18-bit code which the company tags as vitamin authentication. Once the code is generated, the signal is transmitted to the authentication device. The pills are approved by the FDA.
2. Smart Contact Lenses
Think Nike FuelBand for your eyes. ETH Zurich has developed lenses with built-in ultra-thin circuitry that track eye health factors such as intraocular pressure for glaucoma disease. We still have a while to wait, though, scientists are still working on long-last batteries and sensors that will take these beta devices out of the lab into the commercial world.
Google is also working on smart lenses. The company announced earlier this year that it's testing a lens that will measure glucose levels for diabetics.
3. Heartbeat-based security authentication
Unlock your email, car, computer, or hotel room, personalize your digital experiences, and make payments… all through a wristband that reads your unique heartbeat.
4. An app that lets you discover fashion through Google Glass
You see a jacket you love, and just have to have. This app, developed by "Fashion Discovery Labs," uses Google Glass to capture and shop for looks. Take a pic of the garment, and the app will use image recognition to find similar items and show you the top three matches. You can then purchase the item directly, or save it for future reference.
5. 314: the purse that charges your devices
We're seeing more on-the-go device charging options. The most recent example is an invention by creator Jon Lou: a bag he describes as "MIT engineering meets Italian design." The handbag lets you charge your devices throughout the day, and lights up when opened. The bag is named 314 (a pi reference), and can charge a device 14 times before the battery needs to be replaced. Though it isn't cheap: the purse currently rings in at $1,592.
6. Kiwi Move: one device, many apps
If you already like the idea of wearables, chances are you'll love Kiwi Move. The "all purpose tracking device" contains motion sensors, temperature and air pressure sensors, a microphone and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities that let you interact with apps in various ways. For example, you can program the device to recognize when you wake up and trigger your digital coffee maker to turn on. Or the device will know when you enter the gym and will activate your fitness app, lead you through a personalized workout, and track your progress. Or you can make a unique gesture (e.g. a spiral motion) and it will trigger a specific song to play. Or when you leave a store, it will update your budget. Check the site for additional possibilities. Kiwi Move is $125, and will be available in July, 2014.
7. Skully Helmet: the augmented reality motorcycle helmet
The Skully Helmet won this year's SXSW wearables innovation competition. The helmet uses a Synapse-integrated HUD (Heads-Up Display) to give riders an advanced situational awareness system, navigation and blind spot data, and more. The helmet features an 180 degree multi view camera that uses rear and side view cameras to feed video to the HUD, as well as GPS mapping, and smartphone integration.
8. Temporary Tattoo Fitness Sensors:
This digital stick-on tattoo can be designed and screen printed to look like almost anything, and tracks body levels to help measure and predict things like muscular exertion and fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, hydration, amino acid breakdown, and more.
9. Ping: a social networking garment
Ping clothing connects wirelessly to your social media accounts, e.g. Facebook, and lets you interact by performing gestures. For example lifting the hood, bending or swinging your arms, and moving the zipper will let you ping back friends when the send you a comment, like, or message. The wearer can use an app on their device to customize the messages sent by the garment's sensors.
10. Sensory Fiction - the book you wear
Ready to experience fiction in a whole new way? Sensory Fiction brings a story to life in a way that your grandmother or nanny could never do. You wear a vest, and Sensory Fiction evokes what is on the page using physical sensations. For example, if the character is in love, the vest might vibrate subtlety to increase the readers's heart rate, or if a character is cold, the vest might produce a similar sensation with the reader (using either temperature or a shiver simulator). Sensory Fiction is an innovation from the MIT Media Lab. (It could also make bedtime reading interesting for your significant other.)