Last week we talked about how wearable technology and trackers have evolved in recent years, to enable us all to count and measure every aspect of our lives from steps taken to heartbeats or how often we roll over in our sleep.

But whilst refining and improving most of the basic ideas behind these devices have been in existence for a couple of years now.  The sensors get smaller and smarter, but what else can be done with the data they receive, about your body and what is going on around it..?  What’s going to be the next big thing, in wearable technology?

One interesting idea emerging at the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was  the Nymi, from the startup Bionym – a wristband that is doing something new with your biodata.  Did you know your heartbeat was unique? Yes, apparently the exact rhythm of our own pulse is distinct and identifiable, and importantly also impossible to fake or replicate.

This means it can be used as a password, to authenticate your identity.  New apps will enable the Nymi to unlock everything from your Bitcoin wallet to your car, as well as the usual device applications, all you have to do is touch the sensors for a few seconds and it transmits your confirmed identity via Bluetooth to the appropriate receptor. Neat!  This will be one to watch over the next few years because right now it’s in the chicken and egg catch 22 – to be useful requires the wide availability of enabled services, and their task now is to interest developers in creating partner applications.

They report a lot of interest from coders though, and unlike the controversy surrounding fingerprint recognition security, this sounds pretty bulletproof – you don’t leave copies of your unique pulse trace lying around every time you touch something shiny.  Remember, you read it in Costa Connected first!

The Nymi isn’t currently a fitness tracker, although they have been talking about incorporating this functionality in future as well as exploiting motion sensor technology to allow for gesture-based actions – wave at your car to unlock it?  Definitely one to watch.

Samsung Gear

Samsung Gear – image courtesy of CNET

Most of the devices currently on the market haven’t quite combined all the functionality that various wrist things can offer separately, but the Samsung Gear, also unveiled at last month’s MWC, is getting close:  Combining a heart rate monitor, message notifications as well as music controls, in a relatively low profile (if disturbingly orange) wristband, it’s a good balance between the idea of a smartwatch and a fitness tracker, and rocks a rather sexy-geek full-colour curved screen to boot.  Watch out for more attractive wristband alternatives soon, as that seems to be something you can swap around and change as well.

Of course wearable tech isn’t all about things you strap onto your wrist, and Google Glass has naturally been getting a lot of attention online (after all, which global corporation decides where our online attention will be placed?)  The Big G are not the only ones speculating in this direction however, and as they get go further down speculative and expensive routes of additional processing power, other companies are stepping into the consumer market to take up the slack

Vuzix Smart Glasses M100, unveiled at CES, are effectively a second screen device for your Android phone or tablet.  Somewhat clunkier than Google Glass admittedly, but opens up new avenues and ideas for device usage and control.  Users report it is comfortable and easy to get used to.  Pre-installed apps let you record and playback still photos and video, manage your diary, surf online, and of course track your location and distances.

The whole trend is about making our digital world possible to access in a completely integrated and hands-free way.  Vuzix intend their smart glasses to have wide ranging professional uses, specialised to different workflows – so you would have apps developed to support the factory floor that you manage, enabling you to monitor and track and troubleshoot or whatever, as you go about your daily work.

We are less likely, I would have thought, to see these devices in consumer use in the next few years, because of privacy concerns as well as practicality and aesthetics.  But for specialist professional use, it makes complete sense, especially when somebody in a specific location and seeing and hearing particular things, needs to transmit that data to someone monitoring or watching remotely.

Remember Alien and Terminator both taught us to expect this decades ago!  And MI5 have been doing this for years I am sure, with tiny devices in buttonholes and jewellery.  Which for me still begs the question as to why even the Google devices still resemble huge clunky NHS specs from Arnie’s glory days.  Perhaps reflecting that the world maybe isn’t ready for too discreet a surveillance technology to be in everyday use.

After all, if this is the way wearable technology is going, people will react.  Google Glass isn’t commercially available yet but it’s beta testers in the US have been subject to exclusion from bars, and even assaults from strangers – it seems we are not yet ready to accept being filmed by random spectacle wearers in the street, and perhaps that’s a good thing!

It’s always great to keep an eye on what the developers are coming up with for the future, but what will catch on and be used everywhere by everyone few years time remains anyone’s guess – which keeps things interesting for all of us.

Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, March 14th 2013 ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL

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