Google glasses, smartwatches and electronic applications which are worn close to the body - “Same as the internet has dramatically changed the way we communicate and access information, wearable computer devices will push the limits how we generate data and access it.”
We met Florian Schumacher, an expert in wearable technology and talked about how this important kind of technology will change our social life and behavior in the future and what are the opportunities related to health-care and well being if we use them wisely.
Hi Florian, first of all tell us something about yourself. Where do you come from? Where do you live? What are the projects you are working on?
Hi maketechX. I have my home base in Munich and I also regularly spent a couple of weeks in Berlin to connect with the local Quantified Self, startup and digital health community. I am working as a consultant for digital health and lifestyle companies, helping them to make use of personal data, feedback loops and sometimes sensors and hardware. I also have my eyes on the wearable hardware industry and write reviews with the latest trends for the innovation platform Wearable Technologies.
You are an expert in wearable technologies, could you explain what wearables are and what fields of application you can find nowadays?
“Wearables” are all kind of electronic applications to be worn close to the body, at the body and sometimes even in the body. Going back to wearable computing which has been explored by researchers since the 80s, modern products like smart glasses, watches and activity trackers have given the genre a boost in the last few years. Besides communication there are also many wearable solutions in the health, fitness, security and even fashion industry.
Could you name us some examples how wearables could make our lives better?
Smartwatches and smart glasses will significantly reduce friction when accessing information, compared to mobile computing devices such as smartphones or tablets. Smartwatches will soon develop into a new platform for many different applications such as getting notifications, collecting and displaying vital signs for use in sports activities or for patients. Smart glasses, at least in the short term, might rather be used in vertical industries such as in medicine or manufacturing, where they can significantly improve real time access to patient information or assembly instructions. Besides new interfaces there are many dedicated devices that measure heart-rate, brain waves or respiration rate, thus allowing us to get insights and guidance for improving health, relaxation and well-being. Wearable technology will also hit the gaming market, enabling an even bigger connection of the user‘s physical with the virtual world.
What are the current technological trends in this field?
Many trendsetters like professional athletes and celebrities are wearing activity tracking writstbands like the Nike Fuelband or the Jawbone Up. Among the tech enthusiasts there‘s a lot of buzz about smartwatches which still have to improve to provide a level of functionality and fashion to please the average user. Activity tracking remains one of the biggest trends with more and more applications showing up. There a shoes and socks that measure athlete‘s performance and dedicated sensors for skateboarders, surfers or freeriders are about to revolutionise the way we work out, get motivation and improve our skills.
You are also organizing a group called Quantified Self? What is this about?
The Quantified Self is a worldwide community that has started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007. Today there are more than 130 groups in which people discuss how to measure, collect and understand data about one‘s health, behaviour or environment. This community is a collaboration of users and makers and represents a vide scope of interests from sports, health and lifehacking to emotions and well-being.
During the last years many self-tracking devices stepped into the market. Most of them are focussing on fitness or health issues. What else could be imaginable with self-tracking?
Besides vital signs you can track working hours and productivity, intelligence, emotions, habits and character traits. In some cases you can get such information just by tracking what a person does with their digital devices. You can detect e.g. alzheimer‘s disease with a smartphone by the modulations of the voice‘s while making a call and the way the user holds the smartphone. In the future there will be much more insights based on passive tracking of the data generated with smartphone sensors and additional connected devices.
Beside of tracking your own activities, what else can be done with that kind of data?
Many of the popular self-tracking apps use your data for their community or sell anonymized data to 3rd parties. If you are using a mood tracking app, the provider could built a mood map based on the location and data points of its users which might be interesting for the users but also for scientists and researchers. If you‘re not interested in making use of your data you can even donate information recorded by your smartphone to science. You can e.g install an app that tracks actions such as phone calls, locations and data that‘s recorded by your smartphone‘s sensors and donate it for scientific reasons, so researchers can actually find out what people are doing with their devices. In the future there will be more and more information measured by our devices that will be used by 3rd parties in science, research of advertisement.
In the age of social media, we are producing more data about ourselves than ever before, isn‘t it dangerous to make our lives so transparent?
Collecting data about oneself does not necessarily mean that others have access to it. You can track data with custom made tools like spreadsheets, but for most of the users, web based services are much more handy. Making our lives more transparent can be a huge benefit when visiting a doctor in the future and having the right information available that allows optimising your treatment. Data about ourselves can be a great help if applied in our own interest but might be a threat when used against us. As long as our interests are protected, data about our health and behaviour is unlikely to harm us but we will have to keep a close look on future developments in society and economy to make sure personal data‘s potential is used for the good of mankind and not against it.
What role does privacy play in this context? And what role does it have to play in the future?
Privacy plays an important role and you should always make conscious decisions about with whom you share your data. Values like your daily activity might be less critical than blood pressure or information about health issues or your genome. That‘s why when using self-tracking services you should make sure to check the user agreement and adjust your privacy settings. In the future sharing data with our doctors and other people that support us in our well-being will become much more common and we might even be encouraged to share some of our data with insurance companies, employers or other 3rd parties. Here it is important to make informed decisions and also discuss as a society, how to keep the balance between remaining social and personalising services to people‘s individual situation.
How will self-tracking look like in the future? Will everyone of us going to be tracked automatically?
As digital devices play an ever bigger part in our lives and more and more services connect, generating data about ourselves will become much easier and much more popular in the future. Smart devices like watches and glasses will develop into a platform with health as one of the many use cases. Sensor equipped mattresses, bath rooms and other connected health devices will allow for a much broader dataset that can be used to improve our health. However, tracking ourselves and making use of the data will probably remain an active decision. Athletes and patients will be the first to embrace the potential of new technologies which makes up for a user base of several hundred million people in the next years.
In which way will wearable technologies improve our lives? Is a healthier society imaginable by using modern gadgets?
Same as the internet has dramatically changed the way we communicate and access information, wearable computer devices will push the limits how we generate data and access it. This allows for a much closer connection between the physysical world, our bodies and information based services. That potential will be used for many purposes including improving health and well-being. Some of the advances will derive from automated services such as managing insulin delivery for diabetes patients or adapting our environments to our emotional needs, others will include providing people with the kind of information they need to make conscious, healthy decisions. Today‘s society faces serious threats by a culture of unhealthy food, inactivity and lack of knowledge about our bodies. Wearable technologies can make a change if we learn how to use them wisely.
Welcome. Hope to see you at a Quantified Self Meetup taking part in the discussion.
If you want to get more about Florian Schumacher – Click here