Give a Little Bit of Heart and Soul

Send your own heartbeat to a loved one with the “Digital Touch” feature of the new Apple Watch, due out next month.
Photo courtesy of Apple.

“A machine can be computerized, not a man” - Spock, Star Trek

Rebecca Carnes
Design-2-Part Magazine

The designers and engineers of the new Apple Watch would beg to differ with Spock. Not to mention the designers and engineers of countless other new “wearables” on the market that can monitor your heart rate, track your sleep patterns, alleviate lower back pain, alert you when you have an important new text, and even send a love “tap.”

Wearables have crossed over from techy fitness trackers into intimate devices that are sleek, attractive, and essentially an extension of ourselves.

The Apple Watch — due out next month — claims to be the “most personal device ever,” acting as an electronic expression of what you like, who you are, and even who you love. It will not only play music, work like a credit card, manage apps, check the weather, and transcribe dictated messages, but also send someone else your own heartbeat as an endearment.

The “Digital Touch” feature allows you to emotionally connect with other Apple Watch wearers “wrist to wrist” by sketching a quick picture for a friend, forwarding a short voice memo, and sending a loving heartbeat. You can even “tap” someone via a vibrating sensor to get their attention — think Facebook’s “poke” or a “Yo” from the Pebble smartwatch.

But the Apple Watch debut has been delayed since last September and its lack of presence at January’s 2015 International CES (consumer electronics show) in Las Vegas last month has opened the door for other wearables on the market to move into the spotlight, and not just the ones for your wrist.

Where Does My Wearable Go?

At the 2015 CES, wearables seemed to be migrating from the wrist to other target points on the body, such as the stomach. The new Belty, by French company Emiota, is billed as the world’s first “smart belt.” The chunky, metallic belt connects wirelessly to your smartphone to loosen and tighten as you sit or stand and make you look slimmer at all times.

Another French company, Rollkers, debuted the world’s first electronic “under shoe” at CES. Similar to an inline skate in appearance, the battery-powered device allows you to walk faster — up to seven miles per hour. Half wearable, half personal transportation device, Rollkers, requires little balancing with motorized wheels that attach to the bottom of the soles of your shoes.

The Apple Watch was noticeably absent from the 2015 International CES (consumer electronics show), allowing other wearables to push into the spotlight.
Photo courtesy of Apple.

Worn on a person’s calf is the new Quell — also debuted at CES 2015 — which releases a low level of electrical current to the surface of your skin in order to relieve pain due to conditions like diabetes and lower back problems. For consumers looking for non-pharmaceutical pain control, the Quell™ by NeuroMetrix, Inc., might be the answer. The wearable is lightweight and can be worn during the day while active, or at night while sleeping. It has been cleared by the FDA for treatment of chronic pain without prescription and should be available to consumers by mid-2015.

Also claiming to alleviate lower back pain as a wearable device, the CES-debuted Valedo involves attaching a pair of Bluetooth sensors to your chest and lower back and completing game-like exercises to restore motion to vertebral joints and redevelop deep muscles in your back.

It’s All in the Wrist — or is it?

While most people think of fitness trackers (smart wristbands) when they hear the term “wearables,” the new “smart watches” flooding the market will be more popular than the fitness bands in 2015.

In the upcoming year, 50 percent of people considering buying a smart wristband will choose to buy a smart watch instead, according to tech analyst, Gartner. The capability of a smart watch far exceeds the capability of a smart wristband, which essentially only tracks fitness and wellness.

But stealing the spotlight during the next two years will be “smart garments,” according to Gartner. Also called “smart clothing,” these sensor-embedded clothing and accessories (like headbands) will go from nearly non-existent sales in 2014, to about $10 million in 2015 and about $26 million in 2016, according to Gartner.

An example is a new line of “smart shirts” for men that feature sensors knitted into the fabric over the chest in order to capture heart and respiratory readings. The Biometric Smartwear shirts by OMSignal measure the body’s data in real-time and then relay the information via Bluetooth to an OMsignal app on a personal device.

“We’ve been wearing clothing all our lives. It’s the most natural and therefore the ultimate ‘wearable’ medium,” said OMsignal CEO and co-founder, Stephane Marceau, in a press release. “Clothing has always been about protection and fashion, but it will now help motivate us to better ourselves every day.”

Another signal that smart clothing might be taking the consumer spotlight away from smart technology on the wrist, is Cityzen Sciences’ ‘D-Shirt’ for runners. With sensors woven into the fabric and transmitted to a smartphone with Bluetooth, the ‘D-Shirt’ not only records heart rate, speed, and altitude, but even uses GPS technology to track your jogging route. Available in both male and female versions, the athletic smart shirt features “smart sensing” fabric with interwoven micro-sensors.

Technology developments are also paving the way for the tiniest of wearables, such as a “smart button.” Intel revealed a new tiny module — about the size of a U.S. dime — at CES. The ‘Curie,’ an incredibly miniscule chip, tinier than Intel’s Edison, is a complete low-power solution with memory, motion sensor, Bluetooth, and battery charging capabilities.

“It’s now up to the ecosystem to innovate with this technology: rings, bracelets, pendants, and yes, buttons, will all be possible,” said vice president and general manager of Intel’s New Devices Group, Mike Bell, in a press release. The Curie is scheduled to ship in the second half of this year.

Intel Makes Inroads

The chip giant Intel has made the burgeoning market of wearable technology a driving force within the company, even partnering to produce high-end wearables with companies like Fossil and Luxottica. And having missed out on the smartphone tech train, Intel is intent on capitalizing on wearables, launching the first ‘Make it Wearable’ challenge last year to encourage innovation using Intel technology.

“The rise of new personal computing experiences, intelligent and connected devices, and the wearables revolution are redefining the relationship between consumers and technology,” said Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO, during a recent CES press conference.

Intel’s new button-sized module, the Curie™, debuted at last month’s 2015 International CES (consumer electronics show) and will power the smallest of wearables.
Photo courtesy of Intel.

The grand-prize winner of $500,000 was the ‘Nixie,’ a small drone-like device that wraps around your wrist. The product’s tagline reads: “Set your camera free, set yourself free.” It unfolds on cue to take flight and record photos and videos as an ultimate ‘selfie.’

Lifted and propelled by four rotors, the helicopter-style ‘Nixie’ flies off the wrist to take an aerial action shot, and then returns to the owner via a “boomerang” mode. The Nixie prototype finds and returns to its owner via an internal navigation system, which it can do “blind,” although the development team is working on object or facial recognition technology.

Still in its design and development phase (see “‘Nixie’ Takes Flight with Help of IPS.”), the ‘Nixie’ is being targeted at adventure athletes like rock climbers and mountain bikers, similar to the target market of the GoPro.

Let’s Get Personal

Perhaps one of the most personal wearables on the horizon is Embr Labs’ ‘Wristify,’ whose motto is “Thermal is Personal.”

That’s because this thermoelectric bracelet — currently modeled in a silver, futuristic design — changes the temperature on your wrist locally to make you feel warmer or cooler.

“We’re the first wearable that does something your body craves,” said recent MIT grad and co-founder of Embr Labs, Sam Shames, in a phone interview. “If you’re uncomfortable, you can’t focus on anything else and your world stops.”

While most wearables on the market — fitness trackers and smart watches — can tell you how many steps you’ve taken in one day or alert you to a text message, they don’t give you something immediate that your body needs.

“They want instant gratification,” Sam Shames said of wearables on the market now. His company’s (Embr Labs’) ‘Wristify’ offers an immediate, full-body cooling or warming sensation.
Photo courtesy of Embr Labs.

Dissatisfaction with current wearables on the market has caused 33 percent of consumers who have purchased a wearable technology device more than a year ago to no longer use the device or barely use it at all. And consumers desire more “actionable” wearables that actually do something right away, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, “The Wearable Future.”

“People want something that will help them now,” Shames explained. “They want instant gratification. And comfort is something that is instant. That’s the big value we’re able to add.”

The ‘Wristify’ works instantaneously, making you feel warm or cool, like “splashing cold water on your face or wrapping your hands around a cup of hot tea,” Shames said.

“From what experience has shown us and from what the science of comfort has shown, changing your skin temperature, even in an area as small and localized as the wrist, really can affect how we feel overall,” he said.

Embr Labs, made up of a group of former and current MIT students, was a finalist in Intel’s wearables competition and received $50,000 to invest in the development of the product. Receiving the Intel finalist award was a “tremendous validation,” Shames said. The group of MIT engineering students that formed Embr Labs also won a $10,000 MIT MADMEC competition for materials science engineers.

Embr Labs hopes to crowdfund the final version of the device this year. ‘Wristify,’ which currently runs on battery, uses as much power as a camera flash. The prototype has a dial that lets users adjust their target temperature, and the final version will likely let you set the temperature from an app on your smartphone.

Getting personal just warmed up for wearables.

‘Nixie’ Takes Flight with Help of IPS

The ‘Nixie’ won first prize in Intel’s first wearables competition for innovators. Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS) is in charge of developing the product for the consumer market.
Photo courtesy of IPS.

The ‘Nixie’ — a small drone that flies off from your wrist and takes the ultimate selfie —just won Intel’s big wearables competition. And IPS — Intelligent Product Solutions — is helping ‘Nixie’ fly to success.

By using a “productization plan” to avoid pitfalls in design and manufacturing, IPS is guiding the Nixie team beyond a prototype and into an actual product to hit the consumer market soon.

The plan means understanding the exact requirements of the product from all users and designing the product for manufacturability, according to Dana DeMeo, chief technical officer for IPS.

“One of the biggest ‘bad surprises’ (in product development) is that when you go to actually manufacture what you design, either you can’t because it ends up being much more complicated and costly than you thought, or it ends up being unreliable,” DeMeo said in a phone interview.

The other ‘bad surprise’ is missing the mark from what customers want. The product might work slow, feel uncomfortable, and be hard to use.

“A lot of times people will build this great product, but it doesn’t quite do what the customer wants,” he said. “It’s like pointing the cannon and not hitting the target.”

But the inventors of Nixie — Jelena Jovanovic, Christoph Kohstall, and Michael Niedermayr — are working with IPS early on to create a productization plan that will turn the prototype into a consumer-pleasing, manufacturable reality.

The biggest blow-up of a project is getting to the end phase and realizing it can’t be manufactured, DeMeo explained.

IPS, a New York-based product design and engineering company, offers clients product development consulting that spans early stage ideation to productization, with senior-level industrial designers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers, optical engineers, and program managers all working together in-house.

“If the buck stops with us and we’re all inside the same building, that’s a very big asset,” Demeo said.

With extensive experience in consumer/enterprise hardware and software application development, IPS introduces emerging technologies into the marketplace, including wearable technology, interactive display, biometrics, augmented reality, voice driven technology, and advanced energy storage.

The Nixie is a prize wearable on IPS’s plate, and they are working through iterations of the wrist-mounted drone that is signaled to leave your wrist with a gesture, fly to a fixed distance to take an aerial picture or video, and then return to the owner with a “boomerang mode.” The selfie-drone also is planned to feature panoramic modes for 360-degree arcs, as well as maneuver in “hover” and “follow-me” modes. The high-quality images can instantly be shared by syncing with the user’s smartphone.

“The product is very unique and anybody who sees its (website) video says they want one. It’s a very cool concept,” DeMeo said.

Design challenges with the Nixie have been coming up with hypoallergenic straps that are lightweight but also strong enough to keep flexing and unflexing without fatigue to the material, DeMeo said.

IPS is tackling the Nixie project with a level of careful expertise and planning that it applies to all of its projects.

“What we promise you is that it (the project) really does come together in a way that gives you a manufacturable product that meets all of the requirements,” DeMeo said.

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