Despite the boom in wearable technology in the last couple of years, it's easy to forget this corner of consumer technology is still very much a burgeoning one. But the future of wearables is an incredibly exciting prospect.
We have, in front of us, the green shoots in what could be some fertile lands. Smartwatches, fitness bands, virtual reality and the like are the sprouting grounds for now but will we still be talking about them when the mature blooms of a pan-global wearable reality flourish?
To find the answer we found four experts in the field willing to stake their reputations on what tomorrow might bring and asked them what they think we'll all be wearing in 20 years' time.
Wearables in 2 years time….
“One of the big benefits of wearables will be having our health and constitution monitored,” futurologist Ray Hammond told us.
“In the early stages it will be simple stuff like pulse, breathing rate, the number of steps we take, oxygen levels in the blood, the amount of glucose in the blood which can just be gathered from sweat on the skin surface. A bit later on it will be ECG. We’ll slip on an under-vest and our wearables will provide ECG pads. If you're elderly or have a sick baby, you could slip on a vest and have accurate monitoring all the time.”
Fashion faux pas
“You can’t easily put wires in garments at the moment,” explained Ben Moir, co-founder of We:Ex. “That’s one of the major problems holding back wearable tech in fashion. It’s the way fabrics are made and how cheaply it’s done. The idea of putting high cost conductive fibers in these low cost textiles that will still world after several washes and wears; it’s still to rudimentary even in two years.
“We really need nano-tech to come through on the material side. What we might see are more guys like Ralph Lauren dabbling in it but you won’t find technology in a £10 t-shirt for a very long time.”
“In two years we’ll see a lot more customisation, versatility, style, fabrics to make devices that people are happy to attach to themselves,” added Simon Randall, managing director of OMG Life, the company behind Autographer.
“So, I think the products will look more accessories and clothing than tech gadgets. I think people that use really good designers to design their products from scratch - knowing that it needs to be worn by males and females of different sizes, heights and different fashion attitudes and customisation - they’re the people that are going to win.”
Wearables in 5 years time….
“In 5 years, the tech on the silicon side, the battery life, the improvements in the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity will all be in place,” explained Simon Randall.
“In five years, there will be shirts measuring some biometrics,” added Pekka Tolvanen, CEO of sports wearable brand Myontec. “Those who already use heart rate monitors would like to know something more and we hope that muscle measurement is one of those new parameters.”
Stars of CCTV
“We’re going to begin to develop our own personal CCTV systems which will always be on,” predicts Ray Hammond.
“If we're walking along a dark road late at night and it’s generally understood that everyone is transmitting, in real time, vision and sound, then that’s a pretty strong deterrent. Even if someone comes and knocks you senseless, they’ll have been seen and recorded.
“Look at a car crash or an argument over a contract; that’s why we’ll be doing it. These personal networks will also do two-way, real-time foreign language translation. They’ll do ID verification and, of course, they will be part of a payment system which we can use globally.”
“The core issues will be energy harvesting and working out how to create the ability to have clothing taking energy from your movement of your body and your shoes on the street,” Ben Moir told us.
“My company is looking at battery solutions like a coat hanger rack that will charge your clothing as well as store it. You hang your jacket or your pants up and these hangers will charge it overnight. That will provide a stopgap before energy harvesting has gone mainstream.
“We’ll also see developments in flexible circuits and batteries that can be printed onto any shapes and spaces we like. That’s how we’re going to get away from all these bulky, square wearables we see at the moment.”
Wearables in 10 years time….
Next next-gen products
“We have to go through the iteration of smartglasses, which will probably be an eight or ten year iteration,” Ray Hammond explained. “If our glasses or lenses are examining our eyes while we’re using them - looking for movement, blood clots, patterns of the blood vessels, iris movements, colouration, inflammation - that gives us a clue as a diagnostic tool for mental and physical health.”
“By then, we’ll have sensors like nicotine patches which can take micro samples from our body fluids and can detect biochemical minutiae and do things like detect pain and also deliver medicine in the right doses automatically,” added Moir.
Calling in the cloud
“In 10 years, most probably the data integration will be heavily developed,” stated Pekka Tolvanen. “Then we’ll have sensors all over our bodies. We might also start to see some kind of analytics from our brains for exercise, so that we can combine how the signals start from there and then end up in muscles and motions.”
“Assuming you’ve got some sort of Wi-Fi-connected power mesh on your body, then these sensors can be pushing things directly up to the cloud for processing,” added Simon Randall from Autographer. “There’s a chance that could happen in 10 years but it relies on some fairly big steps in power management.”
Wearables in 20 years time….
Super hero shift
“In 20 years, there’ll be a shift towards what's’ known as transhumanism where we transcend being individual humans,” explained Ben Moir. “It’s when we have senses that we don’t have now, when we can see more than the visible spectrum for example. If you’re just living your life with the five senses you were born with, then you’re missing out on the experience. That’s wear wearables will go.
“We’ll also be able to see the world through each other's eyes, and be connected to them more fully. You’ll be able to feel what I’m feeling. The forward thinkers won’t even think twice about doing implantables in 20 years' time. What that might lead to eventually is a certain percent of the human population will leave and evolve to beyond what the human limitations are.”
Always connected, always recording
“Everyone will be wearing lenses of a sort,” predicts Simon Randall. “They’ll able to constantly capture images throughout the day which go up to the cloud services, get processed and you can then get different types of curation from them.”
“What we’re going towards is a kind of living in a personal halo of information and, 20 years from now, all our interactions with the outside world - not with our loved ones or our friends or our family - will be mediated by this halo,” added Ray Hammond.
“If someone’s approaching us on the street, depending on the levels of privacy they’ve adopted, you may just glance at them and see who they are, who they work for, where they’re from, what their interests are. If you’re a friend of a friend or got some personal connection, then the person will have the option to blink and accept you.”
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