The Wearables Revolution
October 15, 2015
On this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the wearables revolution with Scott Sullivan, Experience Designer at Adaptive Path and a co-author of O’Reilly’s “Designing for Emerging Technologies”.
We chat about the current state of wearable tech from fitness tracking to augmented reality to watches, the tools for design and prototyping, and the future of wearables, as humans develop a more intimate relationship with this technology.
What I’m seeing a lot more of right now and what I’m really interested in are what I’m calling cognitive wearables, which … They don’t get a ton of press right now, but when they do come around and they do become more common, I think that’s really going to change a lot about how we think about ourselves and what these devices are capable of.
Beyond that, there are active ones. They’re the ones that … The EEGs… The one that I really like, and the one that I have is called the Muse. The Muse shifts with an application that is focused around meditation. You put this headband on your head and it guides you through a meditation process, but there’s also some really smart audio feedback during those sessions. It’s very calming audio to begin with, so you’re listening to waves crash on a beach, and the more active your brain is, the signal is then … The more active the sound of the waves become … If the ocean is calmer, it’s and indicator of your mind being calmer. It’s way to train your head, train your consciousness into relaxing. That works really well.
One really funny story with me setting that up, is it was the first time I have never been able to just take any time off in terms of thinking about things. In the setup process, for about two minutes straight, it asks you to think about lists of things in your mind, such as sports, or fruits and stuff like that. It was the first time I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t just wait there for two minutes and be like, “Okay, cool, I did it,” you know? It felt in way, not invasive, but it was just different. So that was pretty cool.
If you look on the Jawbone Up 3 on the box, there are three things under its list of specs, that are not … The device is capable of, but it’s not exactly turned on. There’s the heart flux sensor, skin temperature sensor, and galvanic skin response. These things added together with the things that they already have, such as the heart rate sensor … They basically add up to a rudimentary polygraph test. You can see a lot of things about … There’s a lot of bio indicators that respond to things that are typically cognitive. How I’m seeing those put together once they do release that functionality, which I hope they do sometime soon … Is something along the lines … It’s just a more complete picture of your overall health. You’ll be able to see a little bit more of what happens as a result of your physical activity and your sleep pattern. You can say, “look, you’ve been really stressed out today. I think it’s probably been because you haven’t been sleeping a lot, you’ve been really inactive. Maybe you should really just try to get to sleep earlier, and walk a couple thousand more steps and see how you feel tomorrow.”
You can see the … Basically it’s the other side of that coin, where you can see a measurement, and then you can then see the result of that in a more real way.
What’s really good about that is that it takes … A lot of them work with this kind of stuff. At least the hard parts. The sensor stuff is pretty easy. It’s not … There’s a lot of stuff that you can get off the shelf and wire it together, and that part isn’t all that difficult. Where the difficulty comes in is really the connection and the storing of the data, and then the use of the data at a later time. Particle takes the … A, it’s the same kind of dev board where you can use Arduino code, or other things like that. Their online component makes it really great. When’s it coming out, let me see. It looks like January 2016, they’re releasing a new product called the Electron, which is a cellular development kit.
It’s the exact same thing, except you’re no longer confined to stay in a wifi area. You can actually take it out into the world, and it has the exact same functionality.
Meadow wear is really good for that as well. Then when we talk about the other side of this … We’re really going to have to shift in terms of how we think about ourselves as designers … And what our roles are. A lot of what we’re going to be doing is basically going to be machine learning, and weird kind of stuff like that. The value of these products don’t come from the actual hardware of the devices itself, it comes from the information that they collect, and our ability to use that information to produce any kind of insight, or information that we didn’t have.
Those kind of things are going to be increasingly more important for us. I’ve found there’s … There’s one place called Initial State, which is a really great data visualization service. Initialstate.com … I saw them at the Bay Area Maker Fair. I got a really great demo of what they can do. They’re also really focused on getting IOT event data, seemingly simple to use API, and giving you dashboard visualization. Honestly … I remember just a few years ago, once we … We were able to set up sensor networks and things like that, but once we got all that data, it was really hard to visualize that data and make that data meaningful in any way. I think the tools that, the DIY or prototyping or maker revolution that’s coming right now is really taking care of that kind of stuff.
Honestly, we really have to think about our … This is a larger societal question, where we have to think about what we want our lives to be. Do we want things that are constantly reminding us to look at them? That’s my banner that I’m holding right now, is that we can do things, and we can make products that are useful that don’t interfere with our lives and really take away from things. We don’t want to make this kind of dystopian future where we are at the mercy of pretty much anybody who’s an advertiser or anything like that, that wants to make contact with us and send out mass email blasts … I’m doing something really important and all of a sudden there’s something in my field of vision that I’m wearing on my body that is going to interrupt what I’m doing based on the whim of this design … Not designer, but this company advertising to me.
I was trying to figure out what these things really should be. I had owned smart watches before, and honestly if you look at the studies that happen right now in terms of what kind of functionality people are really using on their Apple Watches … It’s almost entirely based on notifications, because really the watch … That’s what the watch was made for. There’s not a lot of processing onboard, there’s not really anything that’s happening, other than just single Bluetooth signals being sent from your phone to your watch to give you a notification … Instead of on your phone, giving it to you on your wrist.
This kind of freaked me out, because the idea of … This whole idea is us giving up our personal agency. That being our capacity to act independently and make our own free choices about where we put our eyeballs. I was talking with Chris Risdon about this, from Adaptive Path, who is also a designer at Adaptive Path. I wrote my article about this dream watch. I can’t remember what the article was called, but it was something about my dream watch. It was basically a watch that didn’t do that. The problem there is, if that’s what smart watches are, and that’s how we define smart watches, what does a smart watch look like that doesn’t do that?
I really went back and spent a lot of time with more traditional watches. If we look at what watches do, is that they give us a … The pieces of information that progress throughout the day. So right now, it’s time. Time progresses throughout the day, and it’s not notification based at all, or it’s not event based. What are things like that that would be useful for us to have on our wrist, and then how could we be more connected but be completely in control? The watch that we’re building now is actually going to be a horological smart watch, or a mechanical smart watch. It’s going to look exactly like a normal watch, it’s not going to have an LCD screen, it’s going to have hands that move. It’s kind of going to look like a standard chronograph right now, except the sub dials on the watch are going to be tied to our digital life. Those can be things such as our steps for today, I know a lot of people like having that information handy, but also other things. Instead of vibrating your wrist when you get an email, one of those sub dials just clicks up one. You can have an indicator of what’s going on, it’s just not going to bug you.
Another couple … Another big really good use case that I like to think about is having it tied to your Mint account. I definitely have an amount of discretionary spending that I have based on the day. I have a goal to not spend over X amount of money, and having that on my wrist … And that’s also something, a piece of data that would be very useful in that context.
In terms of timelines, we’re prototyping right now. I’ve spent a lot of time buying old watches.
Right now I’m building little prototypes … They’re basically paper prototypes with little motors underneath them so that the paper can kind of twist around, and we can kind of see what it looks like, and make sure it feels right, and it doesn’t feel weird. At the same time Chris is prototype … Chris is really driving a lot of the overall phase design in terms of how things are position and working with each other.
Our next step is … What we’re planning on doing for the actual roll out of the watch itself … We have a few people that we’re talking to in San Francisco, and Silicon Valley about investing. What we’re going to do … We have a engineering partner that will take our prototypes into actual … Something that will be small and useful and reproducible. Basically what we’re looking to do is get money from investors to fund that part, the engineering and the manufacturing setup, and then launch a crowd funding campaign, probably on Kickstarter, that will be in place after we already have every single little kink worked out, which will be funded by the investors, and then ask people to contribute the campaign there. Once we already have everything down … That will pay for the manufacturing process, and it also … It also won’t be one of those Kickstarter campaigns where it’s like, “Hey, yeah, do this and we’ll get it to in maybe six or seven months.”
All those kinks are hopefully going to be worked out by then so we can say, “Hey, look we can ship in maybe a month or two … We’re going to get these off the line and straight to you.” And we’re already there, we’re already right there and ready to do it.
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Scott, how can people get in touch with you?