“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.
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.
I’ve been excited about Google’s secretive Project Jacquard since it announced a collaboration with Levi’s last year. Now the collaboration has come to fruition in an innovative jacket featuring technology woven in, and specifically designed for urban bikers. This is just the start for Project Jacquard, which promises the ability to weave touch and gesture interactivity into a wide array of textiles, from clothing to furniture.
Scheduled to start shipping in spring 2017, the Levi’s Commuting Trucker Jacket will allow cyclists to play music, listen to directions, accept phone calls and more with the simple swipe on the sleeve of the jacket. This is a much safer alternative than trying to maneuver a bike and smartphone at the same time. Check out the jacket in action here.
So how does it work? It all starts with innovative jacquard yarn, which combines metallic alloys with natural and synthetic yarns like cotton and silk. When combined with traditional thread materials, the alloys are then strong enough to be woven on industrial looms. For the commuter jacket, gesture sensitive areas were woven directly into the fabric near the wrist, for easy access while biking. With a rechargeable tag on the cuff, the jacket then connects via Bluetooth to the user’s smartphone. The tag, inspired by classic trench coat designs, can be removed and the jacket can be washed like regular clothing.
This is a great example of wearable tech moving in a new direction, where form and function truly align without one being sacrificed by the other. In the future we can expect to see more exciting Jacquard partnerships that reimagine what can be done with technology woven directly into textiles. The commuter jacket is just the tip of the iceberg.
With the Apple watch already outselling all of its competitors in less than a year on the market, smartwatches are here to stay, in part because as consumers, we’ve grown accustomed to accessing a range of personal health metrics on our wrists. While tracking daily steps or sleep cycles can lead to improved individual health, fitness trackers are only the first wave of wearable tech devices aimed at transforming healthcare. The wearables market is expected to swell to more than 160 million units shipped in 2020, and among the rising tide we can expect to see wearables aimed at aiding healthcare professionals as much as the individuals who wear them. Here are five exciting wearables poised to revolutionize healthcare:
1. Wearable Health Patches
Ultra thin wearables that adhere to the skin like tattoos to monitor vital signs might sound like science fiction, but they’ve been around for a few years now. Until recently, the trackers were prohibitively expensive and time consuming to make. But researchers at the University of Texas have developed a “cut and paste” method for affordably producing these trackers in just 20 minutes. The process involves cutting pieces of metal on polymer adhesives and printing electronics onto the adhesives. While these patches aren’t yet widespread in healthcare settings, this latest breakthrough could make them more readily available as a way for doctors to track patient vital signs, heart rate, muscle movement, and more.
2. Google Glass
While the consumer version of Google Glass was an epic fail, its reincarnation as a potentially life-saving tool in the emergency room is exploring exciting new territory for the computerized lenses. Hospitals across the country are adopting the technology in myriad ways, from livestreaming operations for teaching and training purposes, to using voice commands to aid surgery. Having a virtual pair of eyes in the OR allows doctors to collaborate, remotely monitor residents, and access patient data more readily. Glass also offers a pay-it-forward benefit for healthcare. For instance, last year Dr. Selene Parekh at Duke Medical Center livestreamed an ankle replacement surgery to thousands of doctors in India, where medical practices lag years behind the United States. Once the hardware and software is tailored specifically for medical applications—privacy issues are still a roadblock—we can expect to see Glass as often as the stethoscope.
3. UNICEF Kid Power
The recent partnership between UNICEF and Target aims to get American children moving more, while simultaneously saving the lives of malnourished children around the world. Every purchase of the $39.99 fitness band from Target will initiate a $10 donation to UNICEF. The fitness tracker and accompanying app is structured like a game, encouraging kids to reach fitness goals while learning about other cultures. Users can “unlock” therapeutic food packets that UNICEF then delivers to malnourished children in developing countries.
4. Smart Contact Lenses
Google’s passion for bringing tech to eyes doesn’t stop with Glass. Google X is partnering with swiss drugmaker Novartis on an ambitious project that aims to restore the eye’s autofocus abilities through a smart contact lens. Sensors in the lens could track health metrics through the user’s glucose levels in their tears. In addition to correcting age-related long sightedness, a version of these smart lenses could be a breakthrough tool for diabetics to track their blood sugar levels. Prototypes are on track for human testing by 2016.
5. Empatica Embrace
Developed by scientist and MIT professor Rosalind Pickard, the Embrace is a wearable health tracker designed specifically for people who suffer epileptic seizures. In addition to tracking physiological stress, sleep and activity, the sensors can detect oncoming seizures and automatically inform a caregiver. This is a game changer for treating epilepsy, and potentially other diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, where data collection is key to finding new treatments.
A Healthier Future
From smart “tattoos” to contact lenses to wristbands that track potentially lifesaving data, the healthcare industry is undergoing a digital Renaissance thanks to nanotechnology and wearables. It’s exciting to live in a world where technology and healthcare are merging to provide care solutions and potentially even cures to illnesses that have plagued humans for millennia.
* This article was originally published on The Next Web. Check out my author page here.