What's coming from the labs
If you think that sounds far-fetched, you should see what's being cooked up in research labs.
Google recently showed off a prototype contact lens that has an embedded sensor to measure glucose levels in tears. The idea is that diabetics can be alerted on their phone (or perhaps Google Glass) when their glucose level gets low. The lens is in the early stages of development.
Intel, Honda, Toyota and various university labs are developing scanners that attempt to detect thought patterns. The technology, called BMI (brain machine interface), uses electroencephalography (EEG) to ostensibly translate thoughts into intentions.
Toyota showed a scanner in 2009 that allowed a person to steer a wheelchair through thought alone. With around 15 hours of training, the system could be tuned to a user's motor-control thought patterns to be 95 percent accurate so that basic left, right, forward and stop commands could be understood.
Fellow Japanese automaker Honda developed a prototype system that uses EEG and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), a technology that measures blood flow, to control a robot. In a Honda video, a researcher is shown a gesture printed on one of several cards — moving the right hand, left hand, foot or tongue — and then asked to visualize making the action. A robot then performs the action. Honda says it can get a success rate of up to 90 percent.
Intel recently demonstrated a system using NIRS that tries to figure out when car drivers are concentrating on the road ahead or daydreaming. Intel says information from the system could theoretically be used to adjust the car's environmental controls to keep a driver awake or give more or less control to safety features such as automatic braking or lane control.
While the potential uses for wearables are vast and getting more interesting, getting the majority of people to strap a computer on their body could be a tough order, especially in the wake of revelations about how much users are already tracked when they are online. In the end, what's still missing is that first killer app that causes consumers to forget their concerns about privacy in order to be part of the next big thing.
"There's a lot of potential in this space, [but] the jury is still out on which applications will really compel consumers to go out and wear these products," said Sony CEO Hirai.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.