Wearable Tech LA: The Future Is Bigger Than Your Smartwatch - KMSP-TV

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Wearable Tech LA: The Future Is Bigger Than Your Smartwatch

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Recently, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel on wearable technology here in Los Angeles at the first annual Wearable Tech LA conference. This is an exciting area of technology for me because we're talking about something so personal, something I may put on my body or that could conceivably become a part of my body. Wearable technology has the potential to be as mundane as making life's minutiae more tolerable or allowing children whose bodies have been mutilated by conflict in Sudan, to have a piece of their normal lives back- to whatever extent that's possible. The various panelists and conversations at Wearable Tech LA showed audiences that and more! A wolf even got in on the action and was probably one of the most talked about panelists of the day.



Free Your Mind, Breath Easy

Right now, when we think of wearable tech, most people probably think of smart watches, fitness trackers like the Fitbit or Google Glass but products at this conference went far beyond just counting steps, tracking sleep or casting images in the periphery of your field of vision. I can't say that their use case is always broader than that of the products I just mentioned but their narrow focus brings unique ways of telling us about ourselves and helping us improve some area of our lives. One such product which hopes to help be the muse that leads you to achieving greater focus in your life is, well, Muse. The brainchild of Ariel Garten, Muse is an EEG headband which reads your brainwaves and uses bone conduction speakers to provide feedback on your mind state. In this case, the focus is on your ability to focus. Place the headband across your forehead and calibrate it using the iPad app, then Muse takes you to the beach. What could be more relaxing, right?

What Muse does is use sounds from the shore to let you know that at that moment you are focused; they help you focus by asking you to count your breaths as you attempt to shut out the world and calm your busy brain. The better your focus the more beach-like the sounds in your ear become by adding the sound of seagulls as a sort of pat on the back to let you know that you're really "in the zone." What happens if you lose focus and start thinking about that bill that needs to be paid, or what you're going to cook for dinner tonight? Appropriately, the sounds of a storm will harsh your mellow, giving you audible feedback that you need to calm that storm in your dome and focus- cue that Bruce Lee, Enter: The Dragon scene. You know you were thinking that!




Another product I found very compelling was Spire. I had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Palley, Spire's co-founder/CEO at length as he was one of the participants on the panel I moderated. Allow me to provide a little context before getting into what exactly Spire does by talking about what most conventional wearables don't do. They don't provide a lot of context. Sure, they provide a lot of data and when mated with a service, may provide some exercise tips but they don't yet provide contextually relevant, actionable feedback. That's where Spire comes in. Jonathan showed me some early software that was mated to the Spire wearable which is a small clip on device, the size of small pagers from days gone by (but a lot more stylish), that has a patented sensor which reads your “respiration” by tracking the “respiratory movement” of your body.

That's right, Spire can "see" you breathing. And you're thinking, "Great. It sees me breathing. Big whoop." Well, let's think about a few things here for a second... some fitness trackers have had some issues with accuracy but what about one that tracks your respiration? It can see how intensely you're working out by how hard you're breathing (it also includes the other sensors like a pedometer) versus your level of movement. If you've been sitting at your desk for the last 2 hours and all of the sudden your boss calls you and just stressed you out, it knows because your respiration will be affected. I know, "Big whoop," right? Wrong. Jonathan gave me a look at early Spire software and what I saw was very cool technology. You know that employer that stressed you out? Spire's app will make you aware that you're stressing and provide you with feedback to help you regain your calm, in the form of breathing exercise recommendations and more. What Spire really focuses on  though is positive reinforcement. Jonathan says that the software will let you know when you’re reaching or have been “in the zone” for any length of time. You get kudos for being focused in an effort to raise your awareness of when you’re at your best and, I think, ultimately help you recognize when you’re maintaining your calm, train your focus and increase your ability to get things done. There’s much more that Spire can do and track and we’ll be getting our hands on a unit in the future to do a full review for you.





Wearables Making The Improbable, Not Impossible

Then there was Eliott Kotek, Editor/Co-Founder of Not Impossible Labs. I was captivated by his account of organizing a team of engineers, developers and coders to create a low-cost device similar to what Stephen Hawkings uses to communicate so that a man trapped in his body could communicate with the outside world. It was riveting! He also talked about going to Sudan and using 3D printers to fabricate prosthetics for children there who've been the victims of ongoing military conflicts. They left the machines down there and trained locals to be able to do the same thing. Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for life. Well Eliott and his team are giving, teaching, they are truly modeling what tech innovation is really about. It isn't tech for tech's sake but truly to better people's lives!

Then there was the wolf. Oliver Starr talked about how the advances in wearables have allowed him to take animal tracking to the next level by adding a GoPro to their tracking collars- which has also decreased in size thanks to wearable innovation. He showed footage of his wolf traipsing through back-country that wowed the audience. He passionately explained how these advances are helping other notable scientists better understand animal populations and more. He truly captured the audience when he brought out his wolf Aqutaq and the mentor dog, Bixby, which most people mistook for a wolf (it was a massive Malamute). What I really enjoyed about his presentation was that we tend to be so focused on the human applications for wearable technology that we may fail to see the bigger picture and how these technologies have potential much greater than authenticating our banking logins or tracking our calories consumed throughout the day.




No, Not The Wearable Future. All Of The Future!

And that takes me to my conclusion: we need think tanks and symposiums and conventions like this! Wearable technology is just a small step on a longer journey we’re going to take as a society and we need to be reminded of that. We need to keep focus that innovations can be more important than merely finding better ways to utilize our smartphones, which is fun and relevant, but returning some sense of normalcy to a child who's lost a limb because of war is what it is all about as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I’m just optimistic enough to believe that eventually, certain technologies may remove some of the reasons people go to war in the first place- scarcity of resources. I know it’s a tall order to think that technology can cure some of our societal problems. Then again, who would’ve ever thought a “telephone” could be used to help non-verbal autistic children communicate with their parents?
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