Next Generation Wearables: A Future Without Phones?

Today’s wearables can monitor heart rate, breathing rate, sleeping patterns, calories burned, intensity of activity, sleep patterns, temperature and much more. Work is underway to turn these wearable devices into bendable, stretchable forms that can be 3D printed or stamped directly onto human skin.

One of the earliest commercial examples of bendable wearables is in conjunction with the Proteus digital pill — a device that incorporates a grain of sand sized ingestible sensor into a pill that can measure a patient’s medication-taking patterns and physiologic response.

Once the ingestible sensor reaches the stomach, it transmits a signal to a wearable Proteus patch worn on the torso. From there, a digital record is sent to the patient’s mobile device, and then to the Proteus cloud where with the patient’s permission, healthcare providers and caregivers can access it via a portal. The patch also measures and shares patient metrics such as sleep patterns and physical activity levels.

Proteus’ peel-and-stick biometric sensor patch is the first of many flexible sensor patches. Earlier this year, engineers at University of California, Berkeley, developed a prototype wrist device that incorporates a wireless flexible PCB [printed circuit board] and a flexible sensor array that’s able to analyse the chemicals in sweat. And, Cambridge MA-based MC10 has developed a thin electronic mesh that stretches with the skin and can monitor data from the brain, muscles, heart, temperature, movement, hydration and strain. Their BioStampRC Sensor conforms to the contours of the human body.

These biometric devices will provide many opportunities for ultra-individualised healthcare services, safety monitoring and self-quantification.

They also point the way to the future of mobile devices.

Researchers at MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research recently released research on a project known as DuoSkin — a fabrication process that enables rapid prototyping of functional devices directly on a user’s skin using gold leaf as a key material. DuoSkin is a skin-based user interface that senses touch input, displays outputs and communicates wirelessly with other devices — allowing control of external devices directly from a skin-based patch that looks like jewellery.

Then there are the latest augmented reality smart glasses, which process user input based on hand gestures and voice commands. In the future, these smart glasses will morph into smart contacts, which will undoubtedly communicate with an array of sensors on and in our bodies.

In the telco space, mobile operators generate sizeable revenue streams from the sale of handsets, as well as using subsidized handsets as in incentive to lock customers into multi-year contract periods.

Mobile hardware revenue continues to grow, increasing year-on-year in line with average recommended retail prices on high-end smartphones.

What will happen to this lucrative revenue stream in the coming 3-5 year timeframe? Will smartphones continue to be a cash cow for the mobile industry? Will smart glasses replace the mobile handset revenue stream?

I hope you can join me at the Subex User Conference in Jaipur India where I will explore these and many other trends in my keynote speech on “Unlocking the Future.”

* Photo Credit: MIT Media Lab

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