Wearables from around the world: Next stop, France

We check out some of the hottest French wearable tech startups
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It's easy to think of all tech as global. Apple may be an American company, but its gadgets are made in China and Apple offices are dotted across the world.

Geography becomes a little more important when you dig down into the world of startups, though. What inspires an inventor more than the world around them?

Read this: Hottest wearable tech hubs from across the world

In the first part of our series looking into the wearable tech scenes across the world, we stop off in France to pick out some of the exciting devices being built We also speak to the teams that are bringing them to life with special treats for fans of horse riding and electronic music.


Wearables from around the world: Next stop, France

Location: Paris

You may have heard of a wearable for your dog or cat, but what about your horse? This is Paris-based Arioneo's area. The company has made a pair of these trackers, called Orscana and Equimetre.

They "have been designed from inception specifically for equines taking into account their physiology as well as scientific study that has been carried out in France," said Arioneo country manager Claire Hubbard.

Orscana is the wearable that simply keeps an eye on the health of your horse. "This connected sensor monitors the temperature and humidity beneath a rug as well as monitoring its motion, be that lying down, standing calmly in its box, walking or agitated behaviour," she explained.

It's a sort of passive horse nanny, storing 30 days of data and lasting six months from a watch-style cell battery.

"Orscana is currently put into a specially designed pocket that is then sewn into the under rug of a horse, and a fixing system is provided that can be used for travelling," Hubbard added.

It's already being used by "several pro riders" including, for the real horse fans, Jump 5 Showjumping Team riders Kevin Staut and Patrice Delaveau, as well as Amanda Shirtcliffe and Nicola Buchanan, to name a few.

Arioneo's upcoming Equimetre should be of even more interest for the riders out there, though. This is the horsey equivalent of a hardcore run tracker, with GPS, stride and rhythm tracking, plus a heart rate sensor.

"The first Equimetre will be available for the Racing Community in a controlled release in August 2017, with a general release in January 2018," said Hubbard.


Wearables from around the world: Next stop, France

Location: Montpellier, various

Picture a dance music producer and you might think of someone bobbing their head in front of a mixing desk, keyboard or MIDI controller. Specktr is a wearable that turns your hand into a compositional tool.

Read this: Best virtual reality music videos to watch now

"Specktr is a musical glove controller," said Specktr communications manager Julien Delafoy. "It detects the position of your fingers and the moves of your hand. It uses the MIDI protocol with Bluetooth transmission, to transmit all this information to your computer, tablet or smartphone."

For those not familiar with MIDI, it's the main 'language' behind electronic music, and has been since the start of the 1980s. It splits any parameter of a note or filter into 127 gradations. So you could perform a dubstep bass drop by just lowering your hand if you like, giving dance music types a way to perform live in a way that doesn't just involve twiddling a mixing desk knob.

"Thomas Chrysochoos, the creator and funder of Specktr, worked in the music industry so he knows well the problems of the DJs," said Delafoy.

Hook Specktr up to music production software like Ableton and a good analogue synth, or even an iPad app, and you have the makings of one of the most fun wearables in existence. Forget the Theremin.

There are two versions of Specktr, the Play and Pro. "Beyond better precision for Pro version there is a difference in the programming of the gloves," says Delafoy. "With the Play version there are just presets but for Pro version you can create all your controls."

While the initial target audience of these gloves is DJs and music producers, Delafoy and his team see plenty of potential for Specktr as a controller for drones or VR, with the controller monitoring the position of your fingers as well as using an accelerometer/gyroscope in the 'brain' that sits on top of the glove. The Pro version also has ultra-low latency of just 5ms.

It won't be cheap, though. A pair of Specktr Play gloves costs around $370, and it's roughly $500 for the Pro set, both due later this year. If there's not a YouTube video of Jean-Michel Jarre using a pair within 12 months, we'll be deeply disappointed.


Wearables from around the world: Next stop, France

Location: Paris, San Francisco

Most people's idea of a sleep wearable is a wrist band that 'sees' when you move about to guess how many hours of deep sleep you get a night. A lot of wearables can do this, but you soon realise that this sort of information isn't desperately useful.

Essential reading: Why Fitbit is tackling sleep apnea

Paris-based Rythm has come up with a next-gen sleep wearable, Dreem. It's a strange-looking headset, like a fabric-coated sweatband with a larger band that loops over the top of your head.

Dream uses six electroencephalogram sensors, which monitor brain activity, as well as an accelerometer and an oxygen saturation sensor. This should give it a much better grasp of your stage of sleep than a fitness tracker.

It's not just a passive sleep monitor either.

"Sound is emitted through bone conduction technology which is transmitted via the forehead directly to the user's inner ear," Rythm CEO Hugo Mercier told us.

If you've not used bone conduction headphones, they let you hear music without even getting close to your ear, vibrating your inner ear to stimulate your eardrums. It's initially a strange sensation, but it works.

Wearables from around the world: Next stop, France

Dream tries to make you sleep better using pink noise, which sounds like TV static. "Pink noise is a specific frequency of sound that has been proven to enhance deep sleep with short bursts of sound that influence your sleep but don't wake you up. This frequency of sound has been known to aid memory consolidation, increase the density of deep sleep, and boost overall sleep quality," he explained.

This pink noise is piped through at specific intervals in your sleep cycle.

As well as making you sleep deeper, Dreem also tries to make waking up less painful. "We monitor your brain activity so we know when you're in the light sleep stage and wake you up gradually in that stage," he said.

"We track brain activity, heart rate, breathing frequency, and your overall daily habits," he continued, so Dreem has a much better view of your sleep cycle than most.

Dream is currently available to pre-order for $499, or $399 before 15 July. Rythm expects to deliver the first headsets in autumn 2017.

AMA Xpert Eye

Wearables from around the world: Next stop, France

Location: Rennes, Boston (USA) and others

Mobile gaming fanatics may recognise AMA as a developer of games and apps. The company was started by one of the Guillemot brothers, the other having established publishing giant Ubisoft.

Read this: Best smartglasses to look out for

After almost a decade making mobile games, AMA saw the potential of Google Glass and branched out into the AR-style video that inspired Xpert Eye. It's a combo of video conferencing software and hardware that lets someone see through another's eyes from across the globe.

The project began after the first showing of Google Glass at the I/O conference in 2012.

"Dr Philippe Collin, an orthopaedic surgeon based in Rennes, quickly approached us," said AMA communications director Marie-Anne Denis. "He had a real need to bridge distances as he was traveling to Japan quite often to train junior surgeons.

"His idea was that the connected glass could be of great use in the operating room to train fellow surgeons worldwide, as he could remotely log into their eyes and provide live feedback as they operated," Denis explained.

"Dr Collin convinced our team of the strong impact of the technology so we started to work together on making it a reality."

AMA's main role is in producing the software, and it has partnered with headset-makers like Google, Vuzix and ODG, which provide the hardware. Google Glass may be long-discontinued as far as we're concerned, but it has quietly been bubbling away in the background as an industry product since its end as a consumer gadget back in 2015. It's not dead yet.

AMA handles the entire process for its clients, though. "AMA is a 'one-stop shop' – all you need is a use-case, and we can take care of the rest," Denis told us.

"The idea here is that Glasses A may not be the best fit for John Doe, who is maintaining airplanes, and vice-versa glasses A might be the top of the crop for paramedics as they try to connect with a MD while on a car crash scene." It's good to know smart glasses won't just be used to paste adverts onto every surface we see.

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Andrew does freelance writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker, Wareable, The Ambient, and more.

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