How wearable tech goes from geek fad to mega-trend


Google Glass is just the beginning as wearables find a home in our world. (Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg)

Wearable tech continues to be one of the hottest trends in the technology world. At every big tech event, the number of wearable devices available to consumers – wristbands, watches, gloves, glasses, helmets and armbands – seems to grow at an exponential rate. However, if tech companies can’t figure out a way to integrate all of these wearable devices into our everyday lives, we’re just going to end up with a spectacular pile of wearable gear that’s out-of-fashion by next season.

Google, which essentially launched the wearable tech trend with its Google Glass concept, thinks it’s solved the problem. Google’s vision, announced at SXSW, is to make the Android operating system available for wearable tech. Essentially, any wearable tech device in the near future would be able to run the Android operating system via a new software development kit that Google will make available to developers within the next two weeks.

You can see where Google is going with this “Android for wearables” concept. Just as 80 percent of smartphones now run Android, Google surely hopes that 80 percent of all wearable tech will run Android as well.  It would also enable developers to make apps for any of the wearable devices that are part of Google’s Android ecosystem. That would make it easier for your Android smartphone to sync with your Google smartwatch or Google Glass. It would also theoretically make it possible to interact with your Google car or your Google robot.

However, even Google’s vision of wearable tech as a platform is just the tip of the iceberg. The next stage is not just in getting all these devices to interact with one another using a common operating system (Android) – it’s in getting these devices to interact with your human body as well. It’s called wearable tech for a reason – eventually you’ll have sensors in wearable devices hooked up to your body, providing far more feedback than just the number of hours you slept last night or the number of steps you’ve taken since lunchtime. In some cases, this wearable tech will be implanted within your body, not just worn. These devices will be able to leverage data about your breathing, your eye movements, even your heart rate.

This could lead to some truly revolutionary product offerings for wearable tech.

Take a concept such as the Skully motorcycle helmet, which won first prize at this year’s SXSW wearable tech contest. Skully creates an augmented reality vision experience for motorcycle riders with a heads-up display, similar to Google Glass. Using the Android platform for wearable tech, developers would theoretically be able to create the Google Motorcycle Helmet, the Google Motorcycle Jacket, and Google Motorcycle Gloves. Your helmet will take a quick biometric reading of your eyes, determine that you’re the correct owner, and automatically start revving your motorcycle’s engine. Your motorcycle jacket will automatically regulate your temperature based on skin temperature readings from your body. A single wave of your Google Gloves might activate NFC payments, making it possible to zip through highway tollgates. The thrill of riding down an open highway like Kanye and Kim would show up in data about your heart rate or skin perspiration, which might then automatically sync with your Android smartphone, enabling you to share audio and video with your friends of your experience in real-time.

As William Gibson famously noted, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Many of these hypothetical offerings in wearable tech already exist. There are NFC rings for making payments. There are wearable bracelets that can send personalized inspirations based on your mood. There is wearable tech that regulates itself according to body temperature. There is a “telepathy device” that enables you to share audio and video with friends. And, of course, new fitness devices already offer a plethora of data and readings about your human body.

Now all it takes is a company to put it all together and create an entire wearable tech ecosystem that unites these innovative devices. Maybe it will be Samsung, which is now experimenting with the Tizen operating system for its smartwatches. Maybe it will be Apple, leveraging the fashion know-how of Yves Saint Laurent. Maybe it will be Google. Once all these hundreds of new wearable tech devices are integrated into ecosystems, it will be time to stop talking about wearable tech as a geek fad and as a mainstream consumer mega-trend.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.

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