Wearables are not just for athletes anymore. At CES 2017, a host of innovative and useful technology was on display.
Dan Rosenbaum Jun 12th 2017
Time was, you could slap a couple of sensors and a battery into a plastic wristband, layer some software around it, tell the world you were in the wearables business, and watch the money roll in. Those days are long gone (although there are still the inevitable bottom feeders fighting for scraps). Now, wearables are actually doing useful and interesting things, with lots of innovation on display.
Earlier this month, at the recent CES 2017 tech show, much of that innovation centered around wearable medical, biometric and augmented reality devices that are finally coming to market after years of testing and development. You can't buy most of them just yet -- CES is mostly for vendors who need to plan months in advance -- but all except one of the devices in this slideshow should be available well before the end of 2017.
Prevent Biometrics Head Impact Monitor
Concussion prevention, monitoring, and treatment have become vital issues in sports at all levels -- youth through professional. There have been several wearable solutions developed over the last few years, but none as thoroughly thought through as the head impact monitor from Prevent Biometrics.
These boil-and-bite mouthguards track severity of blows to the heads of everyone on an entire team, and immediately transmit the data to a coach's phone or tablet app. When an impact threshold is exceeded, secondary parties -- a league or a school, for instance -- can be notified and the player placed into an assessment protocol. In addition, the monitor can show the direction and severity of the blow and precisely what part of the brain may be affected. The data for each player can be tracked and saved, to get a record of lifetime impacts.
Although Prevent Biometrics will sell individual units for $199, company execs say they will primarily sell in bulk to teams and leagues at a unit price of about $100. The company expects the product to reach the market this spring.
BACtrack Skyn alcohol monitor
BACtrack has become known for a line of accurate personal and professional blood alcohol monitors. But even the smallest of them is pocket-sized and can provide a measure only when you blow into it. At CES, the company showed two models of the BACtrack Skyn, which it bills as the first wearable alcohol monitor.
When it ships this summer, the Skyn will come in the form of a standalone wearable or be incorporated into a band for the Apple Watch, either of which will continually measure traces of ethanol in your sweat and communicate the results to a smartphone.
Because the monitoring is continuous, people will be able to understand how quickly they absorb alcohol and how slowly it leaves their body. Part of the secret sauce, the company says, is translating the transdermal alcohol content to an equivalent for blood alcohol content -- which is the metric that law enforcement uses.Expect the Skyn to sell for USD99 when it launches this summer.
eMagin BlazeTorch night vision goggle
If going zip-lining or skiing at night is your idea of fun, you're going to love the BlazeTorch.
The BlazeTorch is a consumer-grade night vision goggle from eMagin, a company that makes very serious, very rugged OLED micro-displays. The device is a flip-up binocular display module attached to a conventional ski goggle-type face mask. Each eye gets a 1280 x 1024 OLED night vision display, and the module carries a built-in infrared illuminator. An HD camera can accommodate a 128GB SD card, and the whole thing runs on a Li-Ion battery with an advertised three-hour life. An Android app lets you livestream your videos and chat in real time.
There's something sort of Blair Witch about the BlazeTorch, which may be part of its appeal. But all this commando fun isn't cheap: The BlazeTorch will run $999 when it starts shipping February 1. If that's a little spendy, the BlazeSpark is a night vision smartphone attachment that will do much the same thing (without the displays, of course, and not hands-free), for a mere USD299.
Inova Bodytrak biometrics measurement
We're starting to see a bunch of ear-worn devices whose main purpose is to gather biometrics rather than just provide music. One of the more advanced is Bodytrak, from the British company Inova. The device, which incorporates sensors from Valencell, measures heart rate, oxygen consumption, location, speed, and body temperature. It also allows two-way communication and the ability to hear what's going on around you.
What's particularly interesting about Bodytrak is that it is chasing after markets that provide hostile environments: First response, defense, health and safety, and sports. An accurate report of a first responder's biometrics and location can be a matter of life or death -- as are high-quality communication and long battery life. The Bodytrak is comparatively large, fitting mostly over the ear rather than strictly within it. But there's a lot of technology in there, and it's a device made for work, not for play.Pricing is not yet set, and availability is expected in the latter part of the year.
PKvitality K'Track Glucose monitor
Diabetes patients have it tough. Constant blood glucose monitoring is invasive, inconvenient, and expensive. Several wearables companies have tried to improve matters, but the French company PKvitality seems to have cracked the nut.
The K'Track Glucose monitor is a wrist-worn device with a replaceable module in the back that draws not blood but interstitial fluid from just beneath the skin's surface. The device then analyzes the fluid and displays the blood glucose result on the watch face and in an app.
The genius of the K'Track lies in making the microneedle module replaceable every 30 days. Previous tries at devices like this have failed because the dull microneedles lose effectiveness and cause irritation. But with a subscription model and user-replaceability, PKvitality solves two problems at the same time.K'Track Glucose will require FDA approval, so don't expect it to ship until 2018. It will cost $149 for the device, plus $99 per month for sensor/needle modules.
PogoTec PogoCam camera
The big thing that freaked out the public about Google Glass -- and, to a lesser extent, Snapchat Spectacles -- is the camera that they were afraid could be filming them with only minimal notice. Now, pretty much anyone can do that, using a perfectly normal-looking pair of glasses and a tiny camera from PogoTec.
The PogoCam comes in two parts: The camera itself, and a normal glasses frame that includes a small metal track in the temple bars. The camera -- 0.4 x 0.5 x 1.7 in. -- snaps onto the proprietary track. It can take up to 100 photographs and up to two minutes of 720p video, which is uploaded to your phone via Bluetooth. (There's a subtle "on-air" light.)
The company has lined up four frame makers to produce prescription and sunglasses frames with the track, including the makers of Foster Grant, Ocean Pacific, Argus Vision and Vista Eyewear. PogoCam has also floated the idea of devices that monitor UV exposure and drivers' alertness.
The PogoCam will be available this spring for USD149.
Bloomlife contractions monitor
Anyone who's lived through a high-risk pregnancy will probably remember an inconvenient and uncomfortable band that monitored subtle but important uterine contractions during the last couple of months before birth. Now Bloomlife is selling -- renting, actually -- a small device that does much the same thing.
You attach the small sensor -- 1.5 x 1.8 x 0.375 in. -- to a skin patch, and wear it typically every evening or overnight. The sensor counts and measures the length and force of contractions -- even the ones too small to be felt -- and reports them to an app.Note: It's vital to underline that Bloomlife is not FDA-approved as a medical device. If your doctor tells you to use a medical-grade device, listen to your doctor.
Bloomlife rents for USD149 for one month, USD 249 for two months, and USD299 for three months.
Kopin Solos smart glasses
The Kopin Solos smart glasses were designed for cyclists, and were adopted by the U.S. Women's Track Cycling Team at last year's Olympic Games. Looking like a slightly beefier version of Oakley Blade sunglasses and weighing just a little over 2 oz., the Solos includes Kopin's own advanced heads-up display and noise suppression technologies for voice control.
The glasses themselves don't contain sensors; a smartphone app controls what data -- navigation, split times, speed, power -- from which of the phone's sensors gets displayed in real time by the visor. The battery lasts six hours, which means you'll probably run out of power before it does. The visor also integrates with the Strava, MapMyRide, and TrainingPeaks apps.
The Solos are available on Indiegogo for USD375 through February, after which they will be sold on the product site and other channels for USD499.