We often consider how we interact with our technology, but recent advances in biometric data collect and feedback will change how our devices interact with us.

One of the hottest form factors for wearable computing is the watch. Surely packing enough power to launch the space shuttle, our wrists are gaining superpowers and will be able to snap photos and manage our calendars. Even though there are obstacles to overcome, such as bulkiness and interoperability, they are well suited for health and fitness. Apple even one hired a shoe designer, which hinted at even more form factors to come. Wearable computing might represent a paradigm shift in how we use the web. According to Kyle Ellicott, co-founder of GLAZED, a conference dedicated to the business of wearable technology:

Let me be clear, we watched the web be consumed by mobile. Now we think mobile will be consumed by wearables. Just as there were key players who couldn’t make the transition from web to mobile, the same fall off will occur with mobile players who are unable to adapt their thinking to take advantage of this next evolution of technology.

Beyond the form factor, I find it a bit more interesting to consider how wearable technologies will improve people’s lives. There are a myriad of neat ideas surfacing. One that caught my eye is designed to monitor body movements while rock climbing. The data is then transferred to computer and analyzed by algorithms. Another measures an assortment of baby’s vitals, including heart rate, temperature, and rollovers. Information is sent wirelessly to data-obsessed parents. The precision with which these devices can detect slight variations in our biometric data is astounding. One promising tool is Nymi, a wristband sensor that not only detects the wearer’s heart rate, but it also can identify the person based on their unique heart rate patterns. According to the company that developed it:

Bionym claims it has initial performance data, which it will release later this year, showing that its [electrocardiogram] system outperformed face recognition technologies, but that [electrocardiogram] was still not as accurate as the very top-of-the-line fingerprint systems.

Various developments might also us to more tightly integrate technology with our bodies. Researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed an “electronic circuit [that] bends, wrinkles and stretches, mimicking the mechanical properties of skin” and is applied like a temporary tattoo. Researchers at Florida State University are working on spider silk that is sensitive enough to detect a heart beat. By combining wearable sensing technology with integrated, real-time feedback, we can immerse ourselves in interactive learning environments. Although it might not save a baby’s life, this sleeve device from Vibrado sets the bar for tightly interwoven sensing and feedback.

The sleeve is equipped with accelerometers that sit over the player’s biceps, forearm and back of the hand. As they practise, the sleeve keeps track of every arm movement and compares it with an ideal model of arm motion for a basketball shot. It can either provide feedback through a series of light and sound cues from the sleeve’s sensors, or run in silent mode so the player can focus on practising. Afterwards, they can check their performance on a laptop.

The role of this tightly interwoven feedback is just now being understood. There is great potential for haptic feedback in motor learning, but much more research needs to be done. Regardless, the fact that technology is becoming wearable makes the human-system interface even more transparent.


Photo credit: GizMag

(This article first appeared in 2013; updated in 2018.)