If the recently concluded CES 2014 at Las Vegas is anything to go by, the health monitoring revolution that has been gathering momentum over the past decade seems all set to transform the lives of almost every individual, writes Karthik Subramanian
All electronic companies are in some ways circus acts. They have the ability to hold at least some of us in awe with the wonders their gadgets are capable of performing.
Which is probably why the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) at Las Vegas is, in a sense, the biggest circus tent pitched in the world of gadgets and electronics. And this year, among many other things, there has been an unmistakeable buzz about wearable health monitoring devices.
Take a deep breath and look at this list of gadgets that made a buzz at CES 2014: a smart sock that monitors your every step and provides feedback to an App on your smartphone; a toothbrush that sends feedback on how well you brush your teeth; an earphone that monitors your heart rate as you jog around a park or walk on your treadmill listening to your favourite song; and there’s even a smart collar for your dog that gives feedback that you and your vet will find useful.
The big technology companies have been targeting preventive healthcare in a focussed manner for more than a decade now. This writer remembers going to the Philip's design and future technology event 'Simplicity' held at Hong Kong in 2007, when the company gave a preview of what to expect in the next decade.
The event, organised at one of the biggest conference centres in Hong Kong, showcased futuristic technologies, rather like sci-fi. There was one video presentation, where a couple were shown in a futuristic home. The presentation began with the man and the woman waking up, and as they began their daily chores, how gadgets would continuously monitor their vital signs and send useful feedback. This would be like sending out alerts saying “your blood pressure seems a bit low” or “your sugar levels are dropping” or “you have not burnt your optimum calories for the day”.
Today, all of that is possible, thanks to the computational power of the smartphone and more importantly, the trend of people feeling comfortable wearing health monitoring devices and no longer worried about being faced with data regarding their personal health.
The last two years have seen the widespread use of health monitoring devices in Western markets in the form of fitness bracelets such as Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex, and also the emergence of smart watches. Parallel to this, is the widespread use of smartphone Apps such as Nike Fuel that combines health monitoring with gamification.
All of this has become possible today because of the advances in fabrication and microchip manufacturing over the past decade. It is possible now for even smaller companies to fabricate “activity trackers” more than ever before.
New at CES 2014
At the CES 2014, there were announcements by companies, big and small, about a range of products that will help us understand our health better.
Heapslyon, a Redmond-based company, is set to bring out a range of motion sensing garments — a pair of socks, a sports bra and a sports T-shirt — featuring its proprietary ‘e-textile’ material that it claims senses body movement better and more accurately. The smart sock is set to hit the American market in April this year, and is capable of sending pretty accurate feedback not just on basic parameters — like the number of steps taken — but also on more important aspects such as ‘stride cadence’ or ‘foot landing technique’ analysis that would help understand one's orthopaedic data.
Following in the footsteps of other successful health rate monitor bracelets, LG has joined the fray with its ‘LG Lifeband’ bracelet, which is a lot similar to the Nike Fuelband. It has also coupled this with an LG heart rate earphone that would monitor one’s heart rate when one listens to one’s favourite songs.
Kolibree promises to be the world's first truly smart toothbrush that will provide users with valuable feedback on one's dental hygiene, an oft-neglected though vital aspect of personal health. Users will know not just the most obvious details — like how many brush strokes have been made and the time taken for brushing — but also intricate details such as whether one has been thorough with the process. This not only helps minimise visits to the dentist, but can prove critical to one's overall health too.
There were a few other devices that seemed to blend novelty with healthcare such as the Withings Aura, a bedside alarm that wakes one up by increasing ambient light rather than sound. Most sound alarms are a traumatic way to wake up, as they completely shake one out of slumber. Increasing ambient light is a scientifically proven and better way of doing so.
Fitness tracker for pets
Where many companies have started focussing on health monitoring for humans, a company based out of Virginia in the U.S. is looking to develop top-notch fitness trackers for dogs. Pet lovers, especially in the West, are willing to spend a lot more on the health of their dogs, and the 'Voyce' smart collar comes in handy. It monitors various parameters of pets, helping to bridge the communication gap between pet, owner and veterinarian. It has readings for calories burnt, hours slept, heart rate and respiratory rate. Those who get the device for their pets can follow it up live by creating a profile of their pet on www.mydogsvoyce.com and monitor their dog's wellbeing using the feedback the fitness tracker provides.