By: Jonah McLeod, Kilopass Technology Inc.
A good number of press releases coming out of the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show the week of January 6th deal with the topic of “wearables,” the wrist bands, belt clips, and other appendages that monitor a person’s physical activity. Chip giant Intel spent time talking up the market segment in their sessions at CES. And health insurance giants contributed to joint announcements with software companies promoting wearables as a solution to the rising cost of medical care.
Wearables provide a potent new growth market for chip vendors, and it has created a whole new category of products for consumers to purchase. They will add to the collection of gadgets a person carries around rather than displacing a gadget every consumer already has—mobile phone, tablet, etc. Unlike the poor MP3 player that got gobbled up, the new wearable devices will not suffer the same fate. In fact, the number of wearables will multiply contributing to the proliferation of devices on the Internet of Things (IoT).
Neura Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif. start-up that offers a software platform for apps development and cloud services to enhance the value of these apps, came to CES to engage with developers. Gilad Meiri, CEO of Neura declares IoT proliferation will occur in waves, beginning with wearables, following by myriad devices installed into every home, and finally filling the car with heretofore unavailable functions.
Neura is hoping to win a share of an IoT market worth $8.9 trillion by 2020, growing at a compound annual rate of 7.9 percent, according to market research firm IDC. IDC’s prediction encompasses the entire IoT ecosystem, including the intelligent systems, connectivity services, platforms, analytics and vertical applications in addition to the security and professional services required to make the entire system work.
Wearable is where the action is at CES. In his keynote at CES Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showed off his own wearable wristband, which provides the runner with steps taken, distance run, active minutes—upright and moving versus sedentary in front of a screen—and calories consumed. If you’re really engaged, you will accurately enter your weight, the amount of calories you consume and the amount of fluid you take in daily into the app on your phone or PC, which will record this data and provide you with feedback on your health.
These devices are rudimentary in that they consists of an ARM CPU core and the accelerometer and gyro that goes into most every mobile phone. The wearable detects steps taken and from this computes everything else. The shortcomings of this is that the distance covered is typically less than the physical distance as measured by Google and the device doesn’t measure other vital signs—temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure. But, the next generation will most likely address this shortcoming.
Start-up Scanadu of Moffett Field, Calif. is taking the concept of measuring vital signs to the limit. Its prototype device called Scout aspires to emulate the Tricoder on Star Trek. Place the Scout on a patient’s forehead and it reads all his vital signs that can be transferred to a smartphone for analysis and processing. The ambition is to help distinguish minor illnesses treatable at home with bed rest and over the counter medications from major problems that demand emergency room treatment. The device is a contender for the Tricorder X prize that Qualcomm has established for the invention that provides Tricoder functionality.
During his keynote the Intel CEO demonstrated a means of measuring heart rate using ear buds plugged into a smart phone. The ear buds contained the same sensor as the wristband thus providing all the same information in addition to heart rate. Detecting and recording the other vital signs will soon follow suit. What’s missing is a dashboard to view these vital signs in real time. But that’s coming when the guys making Google Glass and its imitators take the data from sensors monitoring vital signs and display them for the runner to view in real time.
The wristbands and other wearables are targeting millinials, coveted consumers in the 18 to 31 year old age group. Yet another group is the aging baby boomers, 50 years and older that health insurance view as the target market for wearables. Great Call, the mobile phone service provider for seniors has expanded its service offering to include health monitoring. It introduced GreatCall Link, a smartphone app that seamlessly allows family caregivers to remotely monitor the wearables on seniors’ in their care.
What provides these wearables their value is the “Big Data” behind them. At CES, United Healthcare showed off their health tools, which collects information on patients and provides feedback. In advance of CES, IBM and Technicolor teamed up to demonstrate a cloud-based monitoring and management service to handle the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine services at the 2014 CES. The large computing platforms analyzing the endless amount of data being collected by wearables and the proliferating numbers of IoT devices is what will provide the value to the individual user.