By Pete Carey
San Jose Mercury News.
Running shorts that talk to you. A dress that adjusts to your mood. A clip-on that acts as a posture coach.
The Bay Area is alive with wearable startups and Silicon Valley’s largest companies have dived in, seeing a potentially vast market on the horizon. Fitbit, which makes a fitness tracker, went public in June. Intel has engineers working with New York fashion designers on wearable tech and sponsored a “Make it Wearable” contest which CEO Brian Krzanich helped judge. Apple sold 1 million watches on the first weekend.
A small part of the Internet of Things market that Cisco Systems sees as a future $19 trillion industry, wearables are becoming “trainables” that not only track your biometrics, but also double as digital coaches.
That’s just for starters. Someday your body may have its own set of Internet of devices monitoring various vital signs and relaying them back to trainers and doctors. I recently borrowed a gadget called the Lumo Lift from its maker, Lumo Bodytech in Palo Alto, and wore it around for a few days.
Lumo Lift attached to my shirt with a magnetic clasp and communicated with an Apple iPhone app. After calibrating it for my best posture, it vibrated whenever I slouched, reminding me to stand up straight like my mother told me to.
Lumo just launched Lumo Run, smart men’s shorts and women’s capris with a 9-axis sensor that fits in the waistband and measures the wearer’s movements and biometrics, offering real-time tips via headphones for improving running style and avoiding injuries.
The feedback from Lumo Lift and the data on the app helped me work on my posture, but Lumo’s CEO Monisha Perkash has a bigger vision for the running shorts.
“With our technology we will have data on thousands and eventually millions of runners in their natural environment,” she said. “With the data we will be collecting, there is an opportunity to really inform sports science, correlating various running forms with the risk for a particular injury.”
Last year saw a total of 28.9 million wearable devices of all kinds shipped worldwide, according to the research firm IDC.
“This year we’re anticipating 76.1 million,” said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas. “That seems like big numbers, but the smartphone market ships 300 million units each quarter.”
That said, Llamas thinks wearables have a future collecting and managing data on our bodies and health. “We are now getting to point where this data is usable,” he said. “Think of data you can capture from somebody in real time as they go about their day. The conversation is no longer limited, in a visit to the doctor, to ‘How are you feeling today?’ and ‘OK.’ Now the doctor says ‘I see you had elevated blood pressure at this point and this point last week. What’s going on?’ ”
Health management is the application some in the business think may take wearables to the next level, which some call the
“Internet of the Body.”
“Wearables are going to become medicalized,” says Dr. Daniel Kraft, a physician-scientist-inventor at the Google-backed Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. Kraft thinks doctors are going to be prescribing wearables and other technology before long.
“There will soon be continuous blood pressure monitoring. There will be more combinations of this data in ‘predictalytics’ that are like the check engine light on your car. Hopefully you can do something before you blow a gasket,” Kraft said.
The chip giant Intel has a New Devices Group working on marrying wearables to fashion, with its latest creations of a dress with latticed framework that grows larger when you’re anxious (free advice: don’t wear this on a first date), and a brassiere that adjusts for the heat, addressing a problem Shape magazine calls the “swoobs.”
“You don’t change your shirt because you’re uncomfortable, your shirt changes to make you comfortable,” explained Steve Holmes, vice president of Intel’s New Devices Group.
Neither is available in stores, being only proofs of concept that show off Intel’s tiny, low-power consuming Curie chip.
There’s more to come, says Ayse Ildeniz, also a New Devices Group vice president and Intel’s general manager of strategy and business development.
“It can be shoes, necklaces, bags, hats, garments — pretty (much) anything you can embed technology into as long as it’s a useful way to serve the user,” she said. “Intel is investing to make this happen. You’re going to see many more things.”
Intel has introduced smart earbuds with biometric and fitness capabilities that it developed in collaboration with Valencell, which makes biosensors, and is collaborating with Barneys New York, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Opening Ceremony to create wearable technology. A collaboration with Fossil Group is also aimed at designing new types of wearables.
The wearable tech industry is big enough to have regular conferences, one of which was held in San Francisco in July and attended by dozens of companies, many only a few years old.
A number of these companies are based in the Bay Area, including Jawbone, Moov, Lumo Bodytech, Spire, Fitbit and others, noted Redg Snodgrass, CEO of Wearable World, which he says is the largest accelerator for wearable startups in the world.
“Every human life is about to be changed like the Internet changed everything years ago,” he said.
Wearables are reaching a new level with apparel that acts as a performance or health coach.
Lumo Lift (Lumo Bodytech): Posture trainer, $79
UpRight Posture Trainer (UpRight), $130
Lumo Run (Lumo Bodytech): Smart running shorts and capris, $199
Moov Now (Moov): Workout tracker, $60
Spire (Spire): Mindfulness wearable, $150
Lumo Bodytech includes devices that attach to shirts with a magnetic clasp, plus men’s shorts and women’s capris with a
9-axis sensor that fits in the waistband. They communicate with an app.