Earlier this week QTOOTH had the pleasure of being an official media sponsor for the Wearable Technology Conference Europe 2014 in Munich. We were very lucky to have one of our colleagues in attendance, the very talented Niki Grissmann from Grizzly New Media Technologies of Austria, to give us a first-hand account of the proceedings. There’s always a risk of information overload at any tech conference and this was no exception. We’ve done our best to sift through all of it for you and hope we have done justice to the proceedings. Here is a recap and our top takeaways:
Day 1 – Monday January 27th
There was an incredible roster of talent for the keynotes and presentations that were to be held throughout the event. It started on a very hopeful note when Nick Hunn of Wilfore Consulting delivered his keynote “To Ubiquity and Beyond – the Growth of Appcessories”. He is correct in thinking that the combination of well-designed wireless wearable technology that is connected to highly functional apps will definitely help increase the adoption rate of this fast developing sector.
Nick Hunn was immediately followed by three top experts in the field of enabling wearable tech through new materials. Dr. Stylianos Mamagkakis represented Samsung, the event’s major sponsor, and gave some insight into how they are developing mobile components for our wearable devices. It seems all of the major electronics manufacturers realize that there are incredible business opportunities that will emerge from wearable tech in the next few years. Since all indications are that these new products will most likely be developed by small teams or individuals working outside of the major corporations, they are all trying to position themselves to be suppliers of the components that are used in creating them. Then, from Cambridge Graphene Centre, University of Cambridge, scientist Richard C.T. Howe demonstrated how many of these new products will rely on the research they are doing into the interface between traditional electronics and printed graphene inks that can allow for the transmission of signals through textiles and other flexible materials. Rounding out this segment was Esther Zahn, a designer with the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee. She has been working on a line of wearable and sustainable technologies for children called Rainbow Warriors. We loved her idea that fun, wearable tech fashion may inspire kids to explore the science behind their clothes.
The next group of speakers consisted of representatives of Texas Instruments, Microchip Technology, and Qualcomm Life. Their primary focus was on how all of this technology would communicate with each other and what information would be included in that communication. While Texas Instruments is focusing on the wireless aspects of communication, Microchip has come up with some very powerful gesture control interfaces. Here’s a cool demo video:
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Qualcomm Life on the other hand is working towards turning all of our current mobile devices into the ultimate health and wellness platform. This will also include leveraging all of the health statistics that these sensors will deliver which may deliver significant insights into future medical treatments and diagnostic tools.
Next was news from the developing world of sensors. Dr. Wolfgang Schmitt, Senior Manager of Strategic Marketing from Bosch Sensortec had an interesting take on how wearable tech might find wide-spread adoption. He feels that it will first occur in the consumer market and then be integrated into the industrial, manufacturing and commercial sectors. Personally, QTOOTH is unsure about how mass adoption might come about, but we have heard from other industry leaders that they thought it might happen in reverse order, industry first because they only care if it works, not if it’s fashionable whereas the opposite is true of consumers. Only time will tell how it plays out, but we suppose it is a race between which of those markets perceives a higher value first. Joining Dr. Schmitt in the discussion was Dr. Mark Melnykowycz, a scientist from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. They are currently working on flexible sensor materials for improving what is available for product development in all sectors of innovation.
One of the largest stumbling blocks for all technology, not just of the wearable kind, is where does it get its power? Energy is hard to store for long periods of time and is typically rather heavy. This obviously presents a challenge to incorporate a power source into something that is intended to be worn on the human body. No one wants to be weighed down by their devices and it can be a pain to frequently make sure they are charged. Either one of these things can quickly discourage any of us to say, “Ah! Never mind.” Luckily, there are many developments in the works that are trying to achieve two things: make batteries smaller and more powerful and make our devices use less energy. Two parties were on hand to offer solutions to these issues. First was a very intriguing sensor that harvests its energy from the physical motions of the wearer. Created by EnOcean, it is similar to the idea of a self-winding watch except it provides electrical energy instead of mechanical energy. We would LOVE for this to become the norm someday for as many devices as possible. Second was a new solid state thin-film battery from Applied Materials Inc. This powerful, small form battery should find immediate use among developers looking to make their products perform to their customer’s demanding expectations.
The second to last presentation of the day was from Thomas Fickert, founder and CEO of DEXPERIO, who introduced the audience to his company’s technology platform for rapid development of user interfaces for Google Glass. Hopefully this will encourage all of the developers and hackers out there to consider applying their skills to creating a viable and sustainable eco-system around Google’s vanguard product.
The final event of the day was pure fun! It was cool to see all of the nominees for this year’s Wearable Technology World Cup prizes perform their rapid-fire elevator pitches one after another. The complete list of the nominees can be found on our site here. Congratulations to all for being nominated!
Category winners of the Wearable Technologies Innovation World Cup awarded by the partners Texas Instruments, Samsung, Allianz Digital Accelerator, C. Schneider – New Solutions, Varta Microbattery and AiQ Smart Clothing, are:
Best Sports & Fitness – Myontec Ltd. convinced the jury with their MBody Shorts, which, in connection with a smartphone, tablet or computer monitor, transmit and analyze athletic performance.
Best Security & Prevention – Limmex AG won the category with its Limmex Emergency Watch. The watch has an integrated GSM module, a microphone and speaker. In case of an emergency, the watch calls a preset person with the press of a button.
Best Gaming & Lifestyle – ViviTouch took the lead. The ViviTouch EAP over-the-ear-headphone promises a whole new 4D listening experience – close to what you’d experience at a concert or a movie theater.
Special prize “Evolve Insurance Award” – (provided by the Allianz Digital Accelerator) the experts awarded BodyTel Europe GmbH for their certified tele-monitoring system for chronic diseases. The device measures and transmits different parameters to a doctor for easy collection of all relevant data.
Best Smart Clothing Solution – Smart Button by Artur Technologies LLC. The button can be attached to any pajama or nightgown to monitor sleep movements, activities, and breathing in real-time, streaming the data to a mobile device.
And the Overall Winner of the 2014 Wearable Technology World Cup went to Moticon. The company won with its insole OpenGo Therapist. OpenGo Therapist is equipped with sensors that measure a patient’s or athletes’ weight distribution and motion, providing data for gait training and overload prevention. The data is then transmitted wirelessly to a mobile device.
The Accidental Inside Scoop of Day 1 – Although the QTOOTH team was doing a fair amount of its reporting from its home office in Los Angeles, we may have inadvertently given away one of the biggest announcements of the Wearable Technology Conference Europe 2014. We were concerned when we saw the following come through our Twitter feed in what was for us the wee hours of the morning:
@Q_TOOTH Big announcement is tomorrow in Munich, Germany at @WearableTech by our @TimMoore – stay tuned!! #WTEU14
— Rochester Optical (@rocoptical) January 27, 2014
Whoops! We didn’t mean to steal anyone’s thunder. We had picked up that info in a tweet from one of the people working for Rochester Optical. The last thing we want to do is upset Rochester Optical and their new business partner… Google. So, congratulations to both and we wish them much success in providing prescription lenses and frames for Glass. This may be an indicator that the consumer version of Google Glass for the general public may be soon to be released. Stay tuned!
Day 2 – Monday January 28th
Day 2 of the Wearable Technology Conference Europe 2014 started with a very popular keynote address from Dr. Isabel Pedersen, Research Chair and Associate Professor, University of Ontario Institute of Technology Canada and author of “Ready to Wear: A Rhetoric of Wearable Computers and Reality-Shifting Media”. Provocatively titled “From Carryables to Wearables to Implantables and Beyond”, we found her talk very enlightening. One of the primary points that we took away was her belief that the strongest motivator for the adoption of anything, including technology, is pop culture. If the famous and the leading trendsetters start adopting and visibly extolling the virtues of wearable tech, the world will follow. Seems logical to us!
Neil Cox from Intel took the stage next and talked about “Make It Wearable”. “It” being just about any type of smart technology we can imagine. In fact, over the next year, Intel will challenge innovators to bring the next wearable technologies to life. If you have an idea that you think is a real winner, Intel wants to hear about it. That is what their “Make It Wearable” campaign is all about. This is a further demonstration that big companies are really trying to put their ear to the ground when it comes to finding the next big thing. Intel putting their expertise to work developing the tools and components that these developers may need to realize their ideas.
The following roundtable discussion featured Harry Strasser from Wearable Technologies, the organizers of this conference, and Josh Flood from ABI Research. They discussed the outlook for growth in the wearable tech market. After looking at all of their hard numbers and projections for the next few years, what was the consensus? Excellent! ‘Nuff said.
Next up was a mini symposium that covered all things smartwatch and wristbands. This included representatives from Sony Mobile Companion Products, Kwamecorp Ltd., Nokia Growth Partners and Neptune Pine. For us here at QTOOTH, the two most interesting thing was two see the two main divergent approaches to wrist mounted technology represented among the participants. There is an ongoing debate whether it is wiser to create products for this market that either do only a few select functions very well and act as an extension to a greater network that centers around devices like computers, tablets and smartphones or to make these wrist-mounted devices do everything and potentially replace our other devices. The Bond from Kwamecorp follows the first approach and utilizes a modular design so that users can configure their wristband to perform only the specific functions which they feel they will most use. The Neptune, on the other hand, seeks to pack all of the functionality of a smartphone, and more, into a single device. Which one of these approaches ultimately wins out is anyone’s guess. There is also a distinct possibility that there will be plenty of room, and need, for both.
The big announcement of the show was from Tim Moore of Rochester Optical. They were happy to announce that they are partnering with Google Glass to provide prescription lenses and frames for Glass (see “The Accidental Scoop of Day 1” above). This is certainly yet another an evolutionary step in making sure that Google Glass finds a home on people’s heads. This announcement was made as part of a history lesson of head-mounted displays delivered by Gernot Bahle, Senior Researcher at DFKI. There is certainly a mighty future in store for this technology, although who knows, it may eventually take the form of contact lenses or implants.
One of the very first things about wearable technology that companies and developers have latched onto is the obvious application to improving people’s health and safety. Although not always well-known among the general public, the next group discussion involved three very major players in the field of health and safety. Equivital, Roche Diagnostics, and UL are all seeking to play key roles in the development of wearables for medical and industrial applications. This is also the realm of Big Data, where there will have to be ongoing discussions about the benefits of having access to unprecedented amounts of personal data from huge segments of the population and respecting the individual’s right to privacy. There will be no single answer to this dilemma and seeking a healthy balance between the two will be a part of humanity’s challenges for the foreseeable future.
Continuing on the theme of health, the next three presenters, Seraphim Sense, Fitbit, and Athos, showed how companies are trying to find a niche that will make them stand out in a very crowded field. Seraphim is making an effort to keep their platform entirely open source. This can be a smart way to make sure that as many people out there as possible will adopt your platform because anyone can easily and rapidly adapt it to their individual needs by creating apps without relying on someone else to do it for them. A potential downfall is that it can be easy for users to get lost in a sea of options. If there is no reliable guide to know which applications are good and which ones are poorly designed, it can be overwhelming. Fitbit is by far the most successful of the health bands on the market. Their approach is similar to Apple and the AppStore. A closed system that offers elegant design and seamless integration between hardware and software. This makes choosing an app and getting it to work as easy as possible. The potential shortcoming of this approach is that it confines the user’s choices to a single source with limited or non-existent opportunities to look for third party options. Athos represents an entirely different approach to health sensors. it incorporates them into what is being called smart fabric technology. These fabrics are embedded with networks of special filaments that extend the range and capabilities of the sensors and are made to create a network that covers most of the human body. All of these approaches have their merits and it is exciting to see all of them bringing incredibly imaginative products that can really help all of us meet our individual health goals. It’s a noble cause!
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And to mark the closing of the conference, there was a little David and Goliath show between the European telecom giant Orange and innovative start-up Playtabase. Orange is looking to be the provider of choice when it comes to synching all of our fitness trackers to the cloud. Playtabase wants to empower us by being able to use gestures to control our everyday environments. Here’s their cute interpretation of a day in the life with reemo, their wrist worn mouse:
So there you have it! If you didn’t pick up on the theme running throughout this article, it is the strangely symbiotic relationship between the powerful, well-funded corporate giants and the fast-moving, rapidly innovating startups. When it comes to wearable technology, both sides are relying strongly on the other to get where they need to go in order to succeed. There will be corporate acquisitions of the smaller players and there will be small players growing into tomorrow’s behemoths. Trying to figure out who will do what is where the action is. So, are you in?
Special Thanks –
We would like to thank the folks at Wearable Technologies for putting on this great event.
QTOOTH would also like to thank Grizzly.cc for letting us borrow Niki Grissmann for a couple of days. His reporting from the conference, his images, and his personal insights were invaluable for the creation of this article. You can learn more about the amazing work they do in web and media development by clicking their logo: