“If only they could talk.” How many times has an animal lover, or a farmer, lamented over this lack of communication?
What if there were technology available that didn’t quite let animals talk, but it did allow for information—lots of it—to be shared? Today’s wearable and ingestible technology for animals is doing just that, in ways large and small.
On the home front, one study showed that microchipping a pet meant that it was more than twice as likely for that pet to be reunited with its owner, if found and turned over to a shelter.
But microchips, which are simple, implanted, identification devices, are the tip of the animal tech iceberg.
GPS tracking is doing wonders for preservation and conservation efforts. Since 2013, scientists have been using GPS, combined with satellite weather and terrain information (the Environmental-Data Automated Track Annotation, or Env-DATA, system) to track the migratory patterns of the Galapagos Albatross, a threatened species.
Scientists from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, put tiny GPS trackers on thousands of bees in Tasmania. The goal is to gather data about their habits (where and how far they travel) and to monitor disruptions that could indicate a problem with the swarm.
According to their website, “If we can model their movements, we’ll be able to recognize very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause.
This will allow farmers and fruit growers to increase the benefit received from this free pollination service, and will also allow us to monitor for any biosecurity risks such as Varroa mite.”
Health is key not just in migratory or at-risk animal populations, but also in farm animals where illness can spread rapidly and cause huge losses quickly.
iNOVOTEC Animal Care has created a stomach sensor (as in, it’s in the cow’s stomach) that enables farmers to catch illnesses earlier, making for healthier lives for the livestock, and saving money.
The system is able to track pH, temperature, estrus—essentially most of the information needed to proactively deal with any health problem or concern.
RFIDs (Radio-Frequency Identification), the small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna, are being used to huge advantage in India’s dairy industry.
From the home front of pet identification, to the migratory world of the birds and the bees, to the huge industry of dairy farming, it’s clear that the better the technology and data, the better the problem-solving.
Among the most intriguing innovations in wearable technology is high-tech clothing. Will we all be decked out in smart clothes from head-to-toe in the future? Will our shirts and sneakers be collecting data and making suggestions? Some people think so, and it could be athletes that are the first to roll up their sensored sleeves and getting down to business.
Companies are already designing high-tech clothing for athletes. For example, take “e-skin” by the wearable tech company Xenoma. This smart shirt tracks gestures and makes suggestions on form to athletes.
How does it work? E-skin is made with Printed Circuit Fabric, which has stretchable sensors and wires embedded into the textile during manufacturing. A centralized “hub” sits in the middle of the shirt, able to transmit data to a smartphone, tablet, or other devices.
Xenoma offers an e-skin software development kit so that developers can create apps that take advantage of e-skin’s innovative capabilities. The kit starts at $5000.
One use of e-skin that you can witness on video? E-skin for golfers. The shirt succeeds in analyzing the wearer’s swing, form and stance. Then it provides feedback to help the athlete improve. It could do much the same for any sport.
Xenoma also showed off e-skin this January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), this time for its gaming capability. Able to record data at 60-frames a second, e-skin can translate your movements into digital form, animating game characters on screen.
What more do you need from e-skin? Try machine washable (check), rechargeable (check), and long-lasting (it has a four-hour battery life). Xenoma is expected to release a consumer version for around $600 by mid-2017.
For gamers, especially of the VR variety, it could be an amazing way to get an immersive and active experience out of gaming. I expect it will be even better for athletes, acting as a very personal trainer that knows your body better than you do. For the rest of us, it can remind us to breathe and relax, let us know if our posture is poor, and encourage us to live a more active lifestyle.
Thanks to the Internet of Things, we’re awash in more data than we know what to do with. Data from our cars, our watches, our toothbrushes — collecting information is the easy part, but handling it can be complicated. Machine learning can make sense of data, and the implications could help IoT — and wearables specifically — really take off.
When machines are designed to recognize patterns and update their algorithms accordingly, they can make wearable technology more useful for consumers. An article on Warable.com explains some of the opportunities machine learning already presents for technology companies and their wearable products.
Take Google as one example. Android Wear’s “Google Now” app is getting a new feature called “Now On Tap” that uses machine learning to provide contextual suggestions without any prompting. Between search, email, text, location, calendar, and apps, the amount of data that can be mined is huge, and the software can learn a lot about you and what you need at any given moment. It might suggest movie times and trailers when a friend texts you about seeing a film, or quick lunch spots based on your physical location and schedule.
Apple is working on similar technology through which the Apple Watch will recommend more and more relevant apps based on user data. Machine learning could also empower Siri to make informed, proactive suggestions.
Since fitness is the most popular form of wearable, machine learning is influencing the efficacy of health software as well. The Microsoft Band will use the company’s Intelligence Engine to learn how your daily activities influences your exercise routine. The system could, for example, determine whether a high amount of meetings correlates with a slower run, or less sleep.
On the healthcare end, wearables with sensors can inform medical professionals of patient data such as air quality, humidity, steps, times opening the fridge, or using the bathroom. This provides a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s wellness.
Wearables can also track and learn about wearer’s emotions, body movements, fertility, and medication compliance.
All of this together may seem amazing and terrifying at the same time. I see it as an inevitability of technology; we have the data, so it follows that we’ll program the technology to take advantage of it. As long as it’s being used with consent of the user to the user’s advantage, it has the possibility to benefit all of mankind.
Fitbits and Apple watches found early adopters with the fitness crowd, but employers have since caught on to their effectiveness as productivity tools in the office. Wearable tech is in incredibly useful tools for employers looking to make informed health insurance decisions, and also to foster wellness, job safety, and productivity.
Employees making use of wearable tech devices has become the new norm. According to research firm Gartner, worldwide sales of wearable tech will rise 18.4 percent in 2016, generating more than $28 BN in revenue annually. Now that wearable tech has gone mainstream, a new issue has arisen for companies to contend with—how should employers handle the inevitable privacy issues that arise along with so much personal data?
Should employees be required to wear technology that tracks personal info that is made public to their employers? On the one hand, you could argue that the goal of such technology is to foster a healthy work-life balance, and help avoid chronic injuries and health conditions brought on by job-related stress. This is less of a “Big Brother” scenario and more like having a health coach on your HR team. The flipside of the coin is that some consider requiring employees to share personal health data to be a violation of privacy. Still others argue that employees who work in fields where their health may be directly at risk—due to radiation, toxins in the environment, etc.—have nothing to lose and everything to gain from being required to wear devices that track such factors. Clearly, this is not a black or white issue, and one that should be treated on a case by case basis.
One risk of employees having access to workers’ wearable tech data is discrimination. Should an employee be able to access an employee’s sleep and exercise patterns and make business decisions based on those figures, potentially comparing multiple employees in the process? It’s an interesting conundrum that will require new oversight and regulations to ensure that wearable tech data is being used to help everyone at the workplace.
The baby boomer generation will likely face more challenges adapting to this new workplace trend than Millennials, who grew up in an age of oversharing. Regardless of our personal health, the debate on wearable tech and privacy issues is one we’ll likely see hashed out in companies around the world in the coming years. For more insight and an interesting debate on the issue, be sure to read this Wall Street Journal article.