Just a few short years ago, the only wearable you might need on a date was a Durex. Now, the revolving door of wearable dating products has started to spin for the world of love.
The world of online dating is predicted to be worth £229m in the UK alone and it's about time the tech industry aimed its innovations at the heart-shaped pound. Just how we'll get there is still under wraps. But as with apps like Tinder, the most quickly adopted ideas will survive and even redefine how we date whilst others will remain unloved and forgotten on virtual shelves.
These hearts don't lie
Many early starters are those who have simply bolted on existing tech to a successful dating app. French-born dating service Once seeks to match you using real-life human matchmakers and also has a Heartbeat feature, which monitors your pulse response to every suggested match using your Fitbit.
Each Once user receives a bespoke dating match every day at exactly 12pm. The app then records lurches in your heartbeat and forms a chart comparison. This details which people made your heart sing the loudest, enabling Once to offer you better matches in the future.
The data aims to give a better feel for love than simply a "yes" or a "no" - instead plotting a course which can show the exact peak difference between an, "Okay, I'm interested," and an "Oh yes please!" bpm.
Jacopo Magni, Once's UK country manager, says it isn't a gimmick. "For a site like ours which is based all around the emotional, long term view of meeting a partner rather than just swipe right or swipe left, this is perfect," he tells us. "Users may be doubtful of the data at first but - as with the Health app on the iPhone - people don't realise how big an imprint it can make on their lives until they immerse themselves in it. People like to see how their body reacts to things using real data."
Trying it out for real, I don't necessarily feel like it brings me any closer to love. Part of the thrill of Once is the input of a human matchmaker deciding who you best match with - it's a daily lunchtime distraction as much as a path to love - and the added data, whilst interesting, doesn't necessarily give me any extra clues to who I fancy than my own eyes do.
I am presented with a sort of Fantasy Football team sheet of who I fancy most. However, according to the app how pumped I feel about somebody seems to be as influenced by how much coffee I've drunk as how attractive they are. But, as the creators say, our obsession with data - be it football stats or wacky statistics - will mean this heart rate extra has fans.
Once isn't the only team interested in monitoring how we feel towards other people, either. Emotion sensing is having a bit of a moment with MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab creating smartwatch tech capable of measuring audio and bio-signals to detect how you feel with 83% accuracy. It's designed to, one day, act as a social coach but the implications for connected dating are already being discussed.
Breaking the ice
Looking to the future, technology is gearing up to take us beyond existing swipey hook-up apps, even with extras like heart rate data and human matchmakers. Why just 'like' someone when you can go straight under their skin?
Project Underskin is a digital tattoo concept from New Deal Design which will - in the "near future" - sit under the skin. Its technology is currently wired for things like opening doors without a key - the tech would recognise a sensor in the owner's hand so only they could use it. But it could also visualise your partner's health, mood or feelings and even glow a loving shade of red when you and your partner hold hands. Flashy but also rather odd but the team say they could build the tech tat in the next five years.
What if this technology could tell you in real time if someone fancied you as they walked past? You could squeeze your fist if you saw someone you liked and that impulse would go straight to them? Or, flipping fidelity on its head here, the sensor could let your partner know if you held hands without someone else?
That age-old problem of breaking the ice between two people in the same physical space in a non-embarrassing and low risk way is certainly one that could be solved by future wearables or tech tattoos.
Ideo's concept Spirit takes this further with ingestible nanobots that replicate that fluttery feeling in your stomach when the AI system detects someone with similar personality traits nearby.
In the near term, proximity based apps like Yac are laying the foundations for the what-comes-after-eye-contact question. Yac allows users to see how they 'rate' against other in the same room or company, in business use, and - more personally - enabling you to see if someone is single, how successful they are and to 'like' them in real time.
"What we have done is taken the feature of 'liking' away from digital and online space and put it into real life," says co-founder Ales Zivkovic. "It is a fact that people psychologically want to see whether they are of interest to others and who they are getting noticed by. The recognition you will be getting this way is real life recognition - in a bar, club or on the train - and not just someone liking your Facebook selfie from the other side of town or even another continent."
Dating in 2040
We are only at the dipping-toes-in-the-water stage with wearable technology and dating, but investors are already looking skywards. Imperial College Business School and dating mega site eHarmony recently teamed up to create a Future Of Dating Report - using 100 years of trends data and analysis - to predict the wearables we will have in 25 years time, asserting dating would become "a far more efficient and less time consuming process."
Efficiency isn't the sexiest word, sure. But by 2040, the report reckons we will have all sorts of bleeding edge tools at our disposal including DNA dating, as the price of analysis plummets to around $1,000; holographic smartphones to make dating site browsing easier and fully immersive and realistic dates in virtual reality.
Imperial and eHarmony went further, actively constructing templates of how future wearable devices might work. Perhaps we'd have smart contact lenses which track the type of people you look at most frequently when your body emits signs of attraction - either contacting these people in real time or instantly offering you matches like them on dating sites.
Closer to reality are wearables which instantly tap into the wealth of info online to ensure there are never again any awkward silences - constantly throwing up new hot topics, virals, or seamlessly chiming in with add-ons into the conversation you're already having.
One thing we know is that they won't look like the first Google Glass which yes, we have worn speed dating with comic results. We'd like to see advice from chatbot wingmen & women pushed to smartwatches or hearables.
The study also predicted that time poor, cash rich daters will date in virtual reality first by 2040, scoping someone's real attributes in their bedroom in real time. You know, see if they are as funny in real life as they are on instant messenger or - more importantly if they are actually 6"2. Possibly even if they have bad breath or what their cooking tastes like.
As we all start living to 100, we'll need to create something for dating in later life. A rather sweet idea is taking your partner back to your first date in VR. Even if you've forgotten exactly where it was - it could marry social media posts from that day to GPS locations, taking you to the exact spot you first kissed, matching even the weather of that day. Or - if you are creaky but single - relive being 21 again with an athletic body and a sexy mate.
But the concept of simulating dating experiences goes well beyond vanity. Andra Keay of Silicon Valley Robotics, speaking at Web Summit, insisted that interaction with a robot rather than a human could be a lot easier when we feel less sociable. That idea leads the way to a 'perfect' AI partner who doesn't get tired of talking about your anxieties or the poor results of your football team from your first date onwards. The ultimate consequence of future dating tech? We could have not one but two life partners - one human and one robot.
Image credits: Wall-E, Brain Divided