Wearable Meets Medical

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We are all familiar with wearable tech like Fitbit that screams, “Look at me, I’m a jogger! Be impressed by my fitness!” But in reality, they aren’t much use as medical devices. Medical practice has used lab monitoring for many years, but the moment the patient leaves, so does most of the opportunity to monitor the treatment in a meaningful way. That might be changing. The Google X research division — home to Glass and WiFi by balloon — has announced plans for a wearable device designed to monitor patients with the kind of accuracy and reliability medicine would find useful.

It’s a brilliant idea that, in many ways, makes more sense than most of the consumer wearable applications littering the market right now. Initially, they are targeting clinical trials, but I could see this going much wider. Imagine a not-too-distant future where your doctor dispenses prescriptions along with the watch needed to track the efficacy of the treatment in real time. I have no idea which parameters could be tracked without compromising the skin, but we already track things like blood oxygen level and alcohol that way, so I imagine the opportunity is out there.

At first glance, this looks like something of a niche play, but if you factor in the enormous growth in conditions like diabetes and childhood asthma (both of which benefit from constant measurement of critical levels), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the early versions of this kind of tech seeing very rapid adoption. It’s good to see yet another technology imagined in Star Trek becoming reality. Now if only we could figure out matter transportation too.

Using Your Tongue to “See”

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A new device uses your tongue to help the blind become aware of their surroundings, and has recently been approved by the FDA.

The BrainPort V100 has three parts: a camera that has been attached to a pair of dark sunglasses that takes photos of what is in front of the person, a hand controller that receives the image data from the camera and then sends them on the stimulation device in the form of low intensity electrical stimuli.

The stimulation device is a square lollipop-like device that can produce up to 400 electrical stimulation points, aimed at the person’s tongue. On a normally developed person, this would feel like tactile stimuli on the tongue, but for those that are blind, it seems that the visual cortex can actually be stimulated.

The device does not make a blind person see actual visual images, but rather these stimulations on the tongue help the blind interpret what object is in front of them. This can offer the blind some independence, because they can learn how certain object feel on their tongue and become aware of what is present in front of them.

The device can help blind people tell the difference between certain objects that they have in front of them, such as a banana and a ball. Furthermore, it could even enable them to read some small words, such as EXIT, that bares great importance in their independence.

The visually impaired can practice with the BrainPort device in specialized areas, so that they can learn how it works and how to use it. One type of practice rink is an oval track which they can learn to walk in, without assistance. By practicing, the blind can identify certain patterns in their usual routes much better than using a walking stick.

The initial price of the BrainPort V100 is steep, and will be $10,000. Hopefully, as the technology is improved and its use becomes more widespread, the price will become more affordable.

Oculus Reveals 1.0

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It’s here! And as predicted, it will launch with Xbox One and Windows 10. Yay! Sorry, let me back that up, I was momentarily exuberant. As you may know, I’m one of the idiot geeks straining at the leash for the launch of meaningful virtual reality. The gamers want it for that total immersive kill factor; I want it because there’s a bunch of stuff I want to do and a bunch of places I want to go that I may not get to in the real world any time soon. I’m also hopeful that we may just figure out how to cheat (or greatly delay) death in my lifetime, and VR will no doubt be an important factor.

Anyhow, my exuberance is a little premature because yesterday they revealed the equipment, but not the price or launch date, which is a vague “Q1 2016.” But still, the equipment looks like the real thing and the gizmos that go with it allow you to virtually touch and hold things in the VR world. That’s a little more than I’d expect out of the box with v1.0.

Importantly, they are announcing with Xbox One and Windows 10. That will give them a ton of early adopter gamers to sell to.  They are also offering $10MM in incentives to game manufactures to support VR. If you add in the recent announcement by GoPro of a 360 VR rig to allow users to record their own VR content, by the time the final thing is ready for release, there may well be a ton of VR enabled content out there that isn’t just VR versions of big selling games.

Their schedule means they will miss the Christmas window for this year, but they will be showing more details and announcing more partnerships at E3 in a couple of weeks. I wonder if that will include the price?

Self-Flying Drone Lily Will Provide Your Selfies

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A newly released self-flying camera drone called Lily, described as the “world’s first throw-and-shoot camera,” uses GPS and a tracking device to follow and record your every move. Remote controlled quadcopters require someone to pilot them, which is why Lily, made with sports enthusiasts in mind, can be as intuitive to direction as you program it to be. Simply toss it into the air and let it self-stabilize, and it will trail behind you, shoot from the side, or fly overhead while it captures all the action in 1080p video, or 720p up to 120 frames per second. It also has the capability to shoot 12 megapixel photos.

Lily follows a small tracking device that users can carry or wear on their hand, and it is capable of staying as close as 5 feet away for as far as 100 feet. The camera also tracks users with computer vision to make sure they are focused and in frame.

Makers of the Lily are looking to compete with action cameras like GoPro, however it can only fly up to 25mph, which means it may not be able to keep up in every situation. But this is only the first consumer iteration of Lily, and the builders have big plans for the future of robotic cameras. Lily is currently taking pre-orders at $500 and will begin shipping in February 2016.

Google Glass Round 2?

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Google Glass seemed to arrive with a bang and then disappear with a whimper. The smart eyewear seemed to always be a hot news topic and offered iconic tech gadget design. For many it embodied the essence of new and exciting wearable technology. However its limited distribution and high pricing caused public interest to wane before the Explorer Program was boarded up in January this year.

The closing of the Explorer program wasn’t about the end of Glass but it graduated from a Google X product to a fully-fledged Google product development. Now we are hearing some information about a new version of Google Glass.

Glass 2, as it has been referred to, is being worked on and will be released soon. Massimo Vian, who is the CEO of the Italian eyewear maker Luxottica, explained his firm’s partnership with Google on the project. He told company shareholders that “We’re now working on version 2, which is in preparation.” Meanwhile a Google spokesperson confirmed that the team is building the future of the product.

With Glass 2 a number of improvements are being implemented. Key enhancements will be a longer battery life, improved sound, better display and a cheaper price tag. By pairing the smart eyewear with more traditional designs it is hoped that Glass wearers won’t be as put off by the bulky framing and ugly design, as was previously the case in some places or situations.

The Wearable Solution

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It’s happened again. An armed white cop guns down an unarmed man of color who apparently presented no actual threat, after an altercation during a routine traffic stop. It’s interesting to note that simply because a passerby caught the entire thing on video, the cop involved has been arrested for murder rather than been given administrative leave pending investigation and cover up.

As I have mentioned probably half a dozen times before in this very blog, there is a simple wearable solution to the problem of our over militarized largely racist police problem. It’s called a body camera. In a perfect “slamming the stable door shut after all the horses have escaped and murdered a bunch of people of color” the Mayor of the town involved announced that they would be acquiring an additional 150 body cameras in an attempt to control their out of control police organization. With the 150 cameras they already have on order that’s enough to equip every officer on their streets.

It need not be expensive either, the 64 GB 1080 HD Muvee I have costs less than $200. They are already in wide use elsewhere, even the local animal control officer I met the other day was wearing one. It makes no sense that teens on skateboards boast better wearable tech than the guys who are supposed to protect and serve us.

I’m sure over time wildly over priced wearable “engagement visualization and analysis” equipment will be integrated with other secure systems which will not only cut down the police on public violence but will also be useful in identifying suspects and risks. That’s great…let’s call that the full on RoboCop 2015 solution. For now, every single cop on patrol on every street in this country should have $200 of wearable tech attached to their $500 Kevlar vest to serve as a reminder that it’s we who they are supposed to be protecting and serving and as a deterrent to more acts of casual murder.

Apple Watch Ad Campaign In Full Effect

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Apple is no stranger to robust marketing campaigns and the company is known for its clever advertisements, but no one can deny Apple is pushing into new territory with its media blitz for its smartwatch, which includes 10 short videos demonstrating the Apple Watch’s usefulness. Three of the short videos, which Apple calls “Guided Tour” videos, are available online, and are broken down into different categories based on the feature described, such as Messages, Faces, and Digital Touch. Among the features highlighted in the upcoming videos are maps, Siri, phone calls, music, activity, Apple Pay, and Workout.

The company had previously released a series of short videos, made with Apple’s typical flair and highlight the precision manufacturing involved in the creation of the watch, after the device was first announced last year. Though the launch of the Watch is almost guaranteed to garner significant media coverage, the new reservation-only system will deprive Apple of one of its standard, and most durable PR images that includes lines of Apple fans huddled in lines stretching city blocks, waiting for store doors to open.

It remains to be seen whether or not the company’s marketing blitz and expansion into luxury stores will have an impact on sales. Smartwatches currently hover at 2% market penetration, and nearly half of the smartwatch owners surveyed (48%) had an income below $45,000.

However, Apple entrance into wearables is expected to give the overall market a boost, especially after the disappointing sales of Android Wear. Still, it is not known if the Apple Watch will be a short-term phenomenon, or one that translates into long-term growth of wearables.

Android Wear going Up Market?

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Apple has thrown down the gauntlet to the luxury watch industry with their recent announcement of the gold Apple watch priced at about $17,000. Word has it that the Swiss watch giants are more than a little worried by these developments. Google has just announced a partnership with Tag Heuer and Intel to make an Android Wear  premium watch…so things just got real in premium watch land.

To date wearable watches have been all over the map in terms of pricing and design. Most are stuck in the “Get Smart” world of clunky geekery, I have yet to see one I really like…and as an Apple phone user I couldn’t use them anyway. Interestingly fitness trackers have completely out sold smart watches, they are typically priced afford-ably and do something which their users actually value. Most people already carry a smart watch in their pocket…it’s called a phone. I like the form and function of my Tissot watch. It’s robust, doesn’t need charging and if I destroyed it or lost it I wouldn’t be devastated. It does one thing really well. I don’t leave home without it…but I easily could. I probably check the time on my phone more often than I do my watch by a factor of three to one.

The announcement with Tag Heuer is interesting especially because the top guys at Tag explicitly said they would not be going the “Get Smart” route. Out the box the smart money will be on their watch being much more expensive than most Android Wear devices. I’m OK with that. Having Tag use their watch expertise to make an attractive robust watch which does something which users care about is a really good idea. Most people won’t be able to afford it but having them pull it off (assuming they can) may set a new direction where wearable meets functional meets style…and I’m all for that.

Glass as Fight Club

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The tech portion of SXSW ground to a hipster halt yesterday with the boss of the Google X division sharing insights and updates. As you may recall I’m not a huge fan of Google Glass…I like wearable tech but I always thought the way Google positioned Glass as an elitist ‘too cool for you’ gimmick was flawed.  Back in the day Google reveled in product demand, celebrating the desire from the Brooklyn Bearded ones to decorate their faces with the ultimate symbol of in-crowd cool. The mere fact that the battery life was awful, the functionality clunky and the obvious invasion of privacy concerns were ignored was neither here nor there. In yesterday’s session Astro Teller (yes that’s really his name) pinned most of the blame for Glasses failure on the way Google over hyped the project.  In effect they misled their audience to think that it was a cool finished piece of cutting edge tech as opposed to a cool looking but clunky second screen for an Android phone. In short they talked it up…then talked it to death.

Google loves long betas. as I recall their main search was in “beta” for five years.  That’s fine with a free to use web product, but in high priced consumer electronics getting the 1.0 of something is problematic…getting the beta is a recipe for disaster.  If it was never really a stable product hyping it hurt them and the entire wearable market. They turned wearable tech a into a punchline for late night talk show monologues. Next time (and I’m sure there will be one) I imagine they will take a much lower profile marketing approach….the first rule of the new Google Glass will be….Don’t talk about Google Glass.  The second rule…DON’T TALK ABOUT GOOGLE GLASS.

Expectations from the Apple Watch “Spring Forward” Event Today

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The Apple Watch, set to go on sale likely next month, will be Apple’s first venture into the smartwatch market and also its first new product category since the iPad made its debut in 2010. Introduced back in September, this gadget is expected to come with a number of new features and a wide selection of styles.

Apple has left many questions unanswered regarding features, price, battery and more. Full details will be revealed during the company’s Spring Forward press event today. Here’s what we expect to learn about the Apple Watch.

  • App Development

Several big companies are reportedly planning to release apps for the Apple Watch on launch. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter are among them. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s app will be able to unlock hotel-room doors, and United Airlines plans to release an app to provide flight notifications.

  • Battery Life

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he expects the Apple Watch battery life to last all day. Beyond that, the company has remained mostly quiet. On the low end, the Apple Watch may last only 2.5 hours under constant active use. Combined passive and active use would bring the Watch closer to 19 hours. To stretch that, it may also ship with a feature called Power Reserve, which would reduce its power consumption and disable all features outside of timekeeping.

  • Communication Methods

The Apple Watch will display notifications from apps and a paired iPhone. It will enable users to communicate in new ways, through heartbeats, Siri, sketches and Yo-style taps. Users will also be able to transfer messages, emails and calls from the Apple Watch to an iPhone for longer conversations.

  • Health And Fitness Focus

The Apple Watch will come with a variety of health features at launch, including a built-in heart-rate sensor. It will be able to track various types of activity throughout the day, such as moving and exercising. And if a user is not standing up or walking around much, it can be set to provide a gentle nudge with a couple of vibrations.

  • Price

The Apple Watch will start at $349 for the sport model, which features an aluminum case and Ion-X Glass for the touch screen, according to the company. But Apple hasn’t said where it plans to price the stainless steel-version and the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition, which both feature a sapphire screen. The steel model could come in at between $499 and $549. Estimates place the gold model anywhere between from $5,000 to $10,000.

  • Watch Band Options

The Apple Watch will have a number of interchangeable bands available for purchase. Among the options are five colors of the fluoroelastomer band, eight leather bands and three steel bands. Prices for the bands are expected to fall between $49 and $99 for the fluoroelastomer and steel bands. If Apple introduces gold options, their prices could go into the thousands of dollars.

  • Retail Store Changes

Apple is expected to make some changes to its retail stores when the Apple Watch launches, such as the introduction of glass display cases to create a more upscale buying experience such as a jewelry store. The Watch could also get its own retail space: Apple has been seen setting up displays in high-end department stores in Paris and London.