As personal health technologies such as wearable fitness and sleep trackers increase in popularity, we continue to see advancements in the convenient modern tech that allows us to monitor our health in increasingly complex and accurate ways. These steps forward leave us asking ourselves about the other ways we can use technology to improve our health. Recently, science has discovered that our intestines are much more important to our overall health than we previously thought, and as a result, we may just see gut trackers become the next big thing.
The importance of the gut stems from the enteric nervous system within our gastrointestinal tract. It is a lining made up of over 100 million nerve cells that span from the esophagus to the rectum that covers the entire gastrointestinal tract, and is commonly called our “second brain.” The gut has a direct relationship with the actual brain, and after sensing food or bacteria it will inform the nervous system, which relays this information to the brain and can affect behavior. Because of this connection, we are beginning to realize how we might treat particular disorders and conditions that may have links to the brain and to stress, such as obesity, anorexia, autism, and PTSD.
While our deeper understanding of the gut’s importance is still relatively fresh, the development of gut tracking technology has already begun to make headway, though most deal primarily with digestion. FoodMarble, a digestive health tech startup, is one of the first to produce a digestive tracker: a pocket-sized breath analysis device for users to track their digestion in real time.
When food isn’t quite fully digested, it ferments in the gut and produces hydrogen, most of which is exhaled naturally. FoodMarble users manually input what they’ve eaten and what relevant symptoms they are experiencing into an app, and the breath test is able to discern if the food has been fully digested. As you use the tracker more, the app will give you greater insights into how different types of foods, sleep quality, and stress levels affect their digestive health.
Other advancements in gut tracking are slightly trickier than a breath test. It’s hard to say what a “wearable” gut tracker would look like, but the closest thing to it is an ingestible tech pill developed by researchers at RMIT University in Australia. The pill closely tracks digestion through measuring the gases commonly found in the digestive system, such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Testing has already revealed new information to researchers. One such discovery is that the stomach releases oxidizing chemicals to break down foreign compounds that stay in the stomach longer than normal. The pill is a much less invasive option for monitoring gut health and human trials have been successful, so it may not be long before doctors are regularly using ingestible pills to help patients with gut problems.
Gut tracking options these days tend to have a purely digestive slant, but there remains great potential for gut trackers to dive into the gut-brain connection that is relevant to a multitude of issues. What if we had a gut tracker that could monitor the enteric nervous system and recognize when the synapses are being relayed from the brain and affecting the way the gut behaves? We are not quite there, but FoodMarble’s digestion tracker and the newly developed ingestible pill to track gut-gases are significant steps forward. Trackers that can monitor the gut-brain connection could very well be just around the corner.
2017 Agreement Between Players and NBA Says Practice Games Only
From Fitbit Trackers for the average consumer to the Zephyr Bioharness, which is allowed by Major League Baseball for players during actual games, wearable sports technology is hitting fields, tracks and gyms right and left. But not the basketball courts of the NBA, according to a recent decision between the organization and the Players Association.
The collective bargaining agreement released earlier this year states explicitly (and more than 250 pages into the document) that, “No Team may request a player to use any Wearable unless such device is one of the devices currently in use as set forth in Section 13(f)below or the device and the Team’s cybersecurity standards have been approved by the Committee.”
Section F makes it clear that players will only wear the device on a voluntary basis. The agreement further states that devices can be worn during practice— but not games.
Wearable devices for professional athletes measure everything from movement information (such as distance, velocity, acceleration, deceleration, jumps, and changes of direction), to biometric information (heart rate, heart rate variability, skin temperature, blood oxygen, hydration). Depending on the device, other health, fitness and performance information is gathered.
The technology is not, by today’s standard, new. The Adidas miCoach Elite Team System (one of approved devices for practice) hit the market in 2013. It’s touted, by Adidas, as the first of its kind “that uses physiological data in real time sending it straight to a coach’s tablet on the sideline. The system not only provides real-time insights during training, but tracks total training impact, collects and manages data and is highly portable.”
The goal of the system was to “offer insights into player performance and work rate, helping teams achieve and maintain peak physical performance.”
Apparently unconvinced about the need for wearable devices—but well aware that there’s no turning back from the wearable tech trend—the 2017 agreement sets up a committee to continue to explore the issue.
Wearable technology is far from limited to watches and glasses. Though smart clothing is admittedly taking longer to catch on, the possibilities are really endless when apparel is ascribed that “smart” quality that makes IoT products unique.
What if, for example, your pants were embedded with sensors that could tell you about your body, movements, and need throughout the day? Smart trousers are far from just a pipe dream. With various different visions in mind, several technology/apparel companies are developing pants that do more than just fit.
Sweetflexx, for example, sells leggings with “resistance band technology” to help wearers burn up to 255 extra calories a day, when worn. Their unique fabric technology is designed with comfort in mind, with crushed jade stone infused to lower body temperature by 10 degrees, and harness everyday movement to challenge muscles and tone your body.
Another type of smart athletic pants, developed by Athos, measures your muscular effort and maps it on a smartphone app. The app can tell you whether or not you are reaching your maximum muscle potential, if you are favoring one side of your body of another, or if some muscles are working harder than others.
There are also “smart tights” available for yoga enthusiasts. Sydney-based Nadi X comes with an app, and areas of the tights vibrate where posture and form need to be adjusted.
But as we’re discovering more and more, wearables have application outside of just sports. As one example, wearable tech trousers for tradesmen have been designed to keep workers safe. Developed by Snickers — the workwear company, not the candy — the pants house a device that collects data to alert wearers about knee protection and loud noise levels. The idea is to improve the health and safety of the employees wearing them, who may not realize when their health or safety is threatened. The data collection element of these wearables can help employers make adjustments that ensure safer, healthier conditions for workers.
Does wearing smart pants, necessarily, make you a smarty-pants? Maybe! The whole point of wearable technology is to add value and function, and it follows that the more value an item of clothing has, the smarter an investment it is. Though the examples listed probably aren’t for everybody, they do a great job of demonstrating that wearable technology has potential beyond wristwear.
“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.