Any time a new technology is introduced, it's easy for the general public to discount its benefits, and the tech community to tell us how everything's going to be better. Sometimes their promises pan out, and other times, they fall flat. But even in its early stages, wearable tech is offering some very practical opportunities to make our world just a little better.
One of the wearable devices, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Glass, you've likely heard of. The other is a small device Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) showed off a couple of months ago at the Consumer Electronics Show, which has lots of potential to change the way we see wearables.
Wearable technology is a very big topic, so let's start with something a little more accessible -- babies.
Rest Devices is a small Boston-based company that's created an infant onesie, or kimono, that monitors a baby's respiration, skin temperature, body position, and even its activity level.
The Mimo Baby Monitor is a removable plastic turtle with sensors inside, which attaches to a onesie designed by the company. A small lilypad under the turtle taps into a home's Wi-Fi and sends information about the baby to a parent's smartphone.
An app shows the baby's sleeping pattern and movements in real-time, allows parents to set alerts if something changes, and even accesses a microphone to listen to the child like a traditional baby monitor.
Intel showed off the Mimo Baby Monitor at its CES booth in January, because the company's small Edison board powered the onesie. Intel said the sensors and the mini-PC were about the size of a baby's hand. Intel won't be the initial chip supplier for the device since it won't be ready until later this year, but it showed the company's capability, and focus, in tapping into the wearables market.
Not everyone using wearables is a Glasshole
It's difficult not to become cynical of new technology that claims it can change the world. But aside from being the butt of many jokes, being banned from some establishments, and generally creeping people out, Google Glass has already done a lot of good.
The Boston Globe reported this week that Glass was being used in a preliminary program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center when Dr. Steven Horng tapped Glass' potential to save a man's life. Here's what happened:
A patient with bleeding in the brain told Horng he was allergic to certain blood pressure drugs -- which the doctor needed to slow the hemorrhage -- but didn't know which ones. Horng had little time to leaf through the man's medical files or search for records on a computer, but with Google Glass, he didn't have to. Instead he quickly called up the patient's information on the device's tiny screen and saved his life with the correct medication.
That's a pretty amazing story, and as a result of the incident, the medical center is expanding its initial Glass program to its entire emergency room department, the first program of its kind, according the paper.
But that's still nowhere near the end of what Google Glass, and other wearables, can do.
Recently, Google donated five pairs of Glass to Newcastle University in the U.K. The school asked for volunteers with Parkinson's disease to test if the device could help them with their symptoms. Here's what a recent CNET article said on the impact of Glass in the study:
Those with Parkinson's sometimes experience a type of "freeze" in which they suddenly stop moving and need some type of trigger to get them to move again. Google Glass can provide certain visual cues to wearers during such a freeze to unblock their brain and help them regain their movement.
The university put together a video about the research project and some of their findings, which is worth checking out.
Some of the suggestions volunteers had were that Glass could be used to remind them to take their medication, which often can be many times a day, with several different combinations to remember. It also provided the participants with more confidence to venture out more in public.
Foolish final thoughts
While wearable technology has its place in conversations about the latest and greatest tech, it's good to remember that there's also lots of actual good some devices can do. They can be more than just gadgets when they monitor how babies are sleeping and when they're used by doctors to save lives. Investors looking to benefit from companies tapping into wearable tech can certainly already see how the devices are changing our world -- and they're just getting started.