Will The Future of Wearable Tech Be Hidden?

A new health tracker that monitors vitals through an earbud is a reaction against Google Glass

While smartwatches, fitness bands, head-mounted cameras, and activity tracker apps are all the rage for health monitoring as the latest in wearable tech, they all require the wearer to make a rather bold fashion statement. All the things we wear carry social messages, and in the case of wearable tech, the statement is often loud and sometimes unclear.

One of the major take-aways of PSFK’s Future of Wearable Tech report was that people want technology to adapt to them, to blend in seamlessly with their sense of design and fashion, and above all be something they would want to wear even if it weren’t ‘smart.’

Valencell, a company based in North Carolina, has developed technology that can track vital signs like heart rate, temperature and respiration all from earbuds similar to what you’d use to listen to music. It works by shining a light onto the wearer’s skin to see how it reflects off of blood vessels near the surface. It also includes an accelerometer to track distance, speed and pace of exercise. The company’s advanced algorithms can then deduce things like calories burned, and sends this data to the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. Meanwhile it still delivers music like any other pair of headphones.

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The market for ‘hearables’ over wearables was predicted a few months ago by one analyst, but beyond people’s distaste for tech like Google Glass the ear is actually an excellent place for a multifunctional piece of hardware. Monitoring blood is much easier around the ear, user-only sound is an unobtrusive output and people are used to wearing and seeing things in and around people’s ears anyway.

Beyond sports tracking and health monitoring, as more devices come with biometric-reading capabilities, we may see everything from games (played with headphones on) to Internet radio reacting to our physiological states to serve us different content and experiences automatically. Whether this verges on the edge of manipulation remains to be seen as the technology matures.

Valencell

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