I’m rarely this excited about a wi-fi router. I’ve used Apple gear for years now, replacing Airport after Airport until I found I hit a wall. My house is made of wood, brick, and lathe with a little horsehair and metal sheeting thrown in so I was unable to get good Wi-Fi throughout. I ran powerline Ethernet to the attic and added an Airport Express to speed things up but I was… Read More
DJI didn’t start out as the best entry-level drone maker on the market but, at this point, it’s safe to say that they’ve taken the crown from Parrot and are truly creating flying machines worth flying. The new Phantom 3 Professional is the gold standard for quadcopter and I was amazed at the ease-of-use and quality of the photos and video it took. The Phantom 3 is essentially… Read More
Everyone had a dad, mom or uncle who was addicted to the VHS camcorder. Large and hoisted on a shoulder, it captured every birthday party and canoe trip on its massive tape. Our family’s official cameraman was Uncle Brian. Some 15 years and several rolls of duct tape later, he finally let the old machine rest and enlisted his BlackBerry to enshrine the memories. Read More
I just returned from the most exciting Consumer Electronics Show I’ve ever covered. Thanks to extraordinary demand for gadgets that make us healthier, stronger, and smarter, the technology industry is putting some serious brain power behind the next generation of wearable health devices. Over the next year, a torrent of new devices is hitting the market to provide automated elite coaching, a pocket-sized clinical lab, and your own personal assistant.
Labs In Your Pocket
It seems that nearly every time I rush head-first into a new diet or exercise program, I find months later there’s some crucial oversight that’s holding back my progress or actively destroying my body. Exasperated in frustration, I drag myself to a clinic for expert diagnostics, only to discover simple advice I should have been following from the beginning.
Now, nearly every expensive lab test I’ve gotten over the past year is coming to the delightful convenience of my smartphone. The Sensoria smart sock correctly diagnosed that I make the runner’s rookie mistake of heel striking, leading to a workout-stopping knee pain (available this spring).
Valencell’s PerformTech in-ear heart-rate monitor calibrated my V02Max (a common measure of endurance) in a nearly painless five minutes of light stair-stepper work on the CES show floor (available now). The results were within 5 percent of lab-test results I received months earlier and helped me know that two months of running San Francisco’s hills are probably paying off.
Quality rest is just as important as hitting the gym. The Basis B1 wristwatch, Sleeprate app, and Withing’s Aura bed pad will diagnose the quality of the major stages of sleep, including crucial REM cycles.* I got a preview of Sleeprate’s heart-rate-monitor-powered app, and apparently I’ve got a nasty restless sleep cycle (Basis update coming January 21, Sleeprate January 23rd, and Aura in the spring).
Unlike a lab test, these devices can follow you wherever you go, ensuring you actually follow through with the advice. Many of us work so hard at self-improvement; it’s nice to know that our time isn’t going to waste.
Automated Elite Coaching
The defining feature of the world’s sharpest coaching minds is a broad novel strategy that is meticulously applied to each student. The delicious replicability of elite coaching makes it ripe for automation.
While last year was all about fitness gadgets that monitor activity, “what’s going to happen next is teaching technique,” said Ruth Thomason of Cambridge Consultants. Cambridge was showing off the ArcAid basketball free-throw technique video analyzer. Normally available to college sports teams with budgets larger than the entire Humanities Department, this kind of video technology could bring elite coaching to the masses.
The marathon-enthusiast fitness company, Polar, is releasing what claims to be the most advanced training watch on the market. The Polar V800 meticulously tracks heart rate to advise athletes when they’re overtraining, analyzed through a free online web app, Polar Flow (available in April).
There’s also hope for my fellow ADHD brethren: Interaxon’s Muse headband is like a mind-reading meditation coach. Using classic techniques from the field of neurofeedback, the behind-the-ear mounted EEG device measures brainwaves to coach users into a state of meditative peace. Unlike its competitor, Neurosky, which is mostly used for brain-controlled computing (and women who love to wear rotating cat ears in San Francisco), the muse will track improved mindfulness over time.
In the same way online education is bringing the teachings of world-class professors to anyone with an Internet connection, the future of health tech will be to essentially roboticize elite coaches in the devices we wear on our bodies.
The Digital Mother
“Sit up straight and brush your teeth!” Sometimes, we know exactly what we’re supposed to do, but just aren’t very good at following through. The latest health tech is here to gently nag you into better health.
The Lumo Lift is a vibrating shirt pin that buzzes whenever it detects slouched shoulders. It’s pretty much impossible to answer 5,000 emails a minute and remember to sit up straight for eight hours. This little guy helps you remember (available in the spring).
For objects around the house, the aptly named “Mother” device imbues everyday objects with the nagging power of our lovely moms. Sen.se’s Mother interacts with satellite “cookies” that know when and how an object is being used; for instance, whether a bottle of pills is being picked up and poured upside down. The same goes for a jar to water the plants (available in the spring).
2014 is going to be an exciting year for digital health. For years, technology has conspired to transform our upright bodies into hunched-back zombies. Now, it can make us all ubermen. Bring on the gadgets!
As a dedicated watch nerd, I felt that smartwatches were, on the whole, awful. A watch was a watch – if made correctly and correctly handled it’s a miracle of technology in its own right. The movement, the face, the metals, the design – all of these came together in a beautiful whole. There was nothing extraneous in a good watch, and most watch nerds know this.
So when watches like the Pebble, the Galaxy Gear, and the Omate came out, I was skeptical at best. Who needed these little wrist computers. Am I Dick Tracy in need of constant contact with base? I have enough screens in my face, I don’t need my watch to ping me with new emails.
I was wrong.
What changed? The Pebble got so much better. Before the Pebble could bring you text messages and had intermittent connectivity to your email account. I have a huge email box and I get about 400 emails a day. I needed more email notifications like I needed a hole in the head. In fact I turned off my notifications on my iPhone and even removed the unread badge from the mail icons. I just couldn’t handle the crush.
So a watch that reminded me that I had 1,000 unread emails was not something I wanted.
Then the new PebbleOS appeared in November. People raved. I almost didn’t upgrade. I had put the Pebble on my desk, uncharged, and figured it would join my SPOT watches and Palm Pilot watch in the box o’ dead smartwatches. Then, on a whim, I plugged it in and updated. I went to the Pebble app to find out how to add my email inboxes again and found nothing there – just a tutorial on how to update my notifications to make them appear on the Pebble. While I was busy grump using about how stupid wearables were, these guys had made some major changes.
Suddenly all the notifications I cared about appeared on the watch screen. Things I wanted to see I could see, things I didn’t want to see were hidden. This very basic change – from firehose to à la carte – was immensely valuable. I wear the Pebble regularly now. Sometimes I wear the Pebble on one wrist or one of my mechanical watches on the other. I’ve learned to depend on the Pebble in a way that I never have with other wearables. It is at once exhilarating and freeing.
That’s when wearables get good: when they become part of our lives. Google Glass, as charming as it is, is still too wonky for daily use by non-die-hards. Wrist computers and phones – devices that have been with us for years – are still too big and battery-hungry. The Pebble, like the Fitbit before it, is just right.
I always counted wearables out. I never thought they’d become useful. But now, when facing a brave new era in notification technology, I’m cowed. Smartwatches make perfect sense, and they will only get better.
I want something that can do it all. I want the Pebble to measure my heart rate, my sleep patterns, and my steps. I also want a more vibrant notifications system, with different methods for different people. I want more standalone features – maybe world time – and I want the battery to last a little longer. But, in the end, I’m really pleased. Pebble has finally turned the corner and I think competitors aren’t far behind. In the immortal words of Farmer Hoggart, “That’ll do, Pebble. That’ll do.”