September 5, 2017
I recently did some field research. Actually, I went online shopping but I promise it was work-related! As an enterprise wearables expert, I don't usually follow the consumer wearables market. I don't have a fitness tracker or an Apple Watch, but I suspect many of the wearable devices available to consumers today have enterprise potential.
I did some browsing, and found that consumer wearables fall into several categories. I searched for devices in each category that might be useful in an enterprise setting. I didn't buy any of these wearables (no budget for a whim), so I'm writing with the assumption that the devices do what they're advertised to do.
Armbands and Wristbands
The Myo armband by Thalmic Labs is like a touch-free mouse for your tech, allowing you to control connected devices such as a smartphone or presentation clicker using gesture and motion. With SDKs for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, developers have a lot of freedom to build applications for the Myo, and some professionals have already adapted the device to their needs. Surgeons in Spain, for instance, are using the Myo to navigate medical records in the OR.
RE-vibe by FokusLabs claims to "encourage mindfulness while studying or at work." Essentially, it's an anti-distraction wristband that uses gentle vibrations at strategic intervals to keep the wearer attentive and on-task. I can only picture the RE-vibe entering the workplace as a personal device and not something provided by an employer. Which would you choose after a bad night's sleep: Caffeine jitters or some gentle vibrations?
This wrist wearable by Creative Mode is designed to prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. After establishing a baseline when the user first puts on the device, Steer monitors changes in the wearer's heart rate and skin conductance. A warning in the form of a slight vibration followed by a gentle shock works to increase serotonin, cortisol, and other hormones to keep the driver awake. Companies interested in preventing fatigue-related accidents on the job might consider Steer as an alternative form factor to the SmartCap.
Myo offers control, RE-vibe helps you focus, and Steer keeps you alert and awake. The next device on our list offers stress relief in as little as 30 seconds. TouchPoints are stress-relieving, wrist-worn neuroscientific wearables. They work by altering the the user's "fight or flight" response to disengage the body's stress mechanism. Next time you get stressed at work, consider taking a break, practicing some meditation, or using TouchPoints for fast relief right on your wrist.
Patches and Clip-ons
Wearsafe is a modern-day, mobile panic button that can be clipped onto any piece of clothing. When pressed, the device uses your smartphone to send an alert to friends and family. The Wearsafe Labs website actually has an enterprise section where it claims "safe employees are productive employees." In its pitch to employers, the company describes Wearsafe as a safety device to connect and protect your staff in case of an accident, incident, or crisis. The accompanying dashboard Wearsafe.help combines alert management, dispatch aid, and incident reporting.
Lumo Lift is a posture coach and activity tracker. Once connected to the Lumo Lift app on your phone, Lumo attaches to your shirt and sets a target posture. Every time you slouch thereafter, the device vibrates to tell you to sit straighter. Lumo BodyTech does market its product as a tool for corporate wellness programs, noting that back pain is a top reason for absenteeism and doctor visits as well as a leading source of disability claims. The company already counts Facebook, ExxonMobil, and Nestlé among its customers.
Another wearable posture trainer, Upright is only meant to be worn for short training sessions up to 60 minutes per day. Upright's website points out that 86% of U.S. workers sit for the entire workday, increasing risk of obesity, musculoskeletal problems, and diabetes. Attached to the back with an adhesive, Upright PRO vibrates to correct your posture. Track your progress on the connected app to see your posture improve over time. (The newer, simpler Upright GO is intended to help reduce back pain.)
Smart or Connected Clothing
Though smart clothing products can be anything from socks to high-fashion pieces, sensor-equipped athletic clothes currently dominate the market. These garments track heart rate and body temp, monitor air quality, and more. I don't see why similar tech couldn't be embedded in work uniforms. There are already smart construction vests and other PPE, so why not smart nursing scrubs or maintenance uniforms?
AiQ makes a range of smart clothing items, including an electronic heating garment for keeping the wearer warm (ThermoMan), clothing that lights up to provide visibility in dark surroundings (NeonMan), and anti-radiation textiles (ShieldMan). There are certainly enterprise use cases for tracking or regulating workers’ body temperatures and keeping lone workers safe at night.
In addition to Lumo Lift, Lumo BodyTech makes a wearable for runners that monitors cadence, ground contact time, pelvic rotation, and stride length. Lumo Run clips onto your running shorts and comes with an app that sends real-time feedback into your headphones. A similar tool in enterprise might give advice for practicing proper workplace ergonomics right in a worker's ear.
Samsung NFC suit
According to Wareable, you can purchase this smart suit in Korea under Samsung’s wearable brand The Human Fit. The connected business suit allows the wearer to do things like unlock her phone and digitally swap business cards. I don’t see this idea catching on in America but wearable-enabled networking (perhaps activated by a handshake) is something I can get behind.
There are existing efforts to monitor movement and posture on the job, and there are many form factors for gathering biometric information. Though it may be more accurate to take some measurements on one part of the body over another, work clothes are still prime, underdeveloped real estate for wearable sensors.
Hearables and Wireless Earbuds
The ear is another popular body part for fitness tracking. It's also a hot spot for smartphone control, noise cancellation/augmentation, and real-time translation. Those last two applications have real enterprise potential for global companies with geographically dispersed teams and noisy workplaces.
Here Buds by Doppler Labs combine premium audio for music and calls, noise cancellation, speech enhancement, and voice assistance. Use the connected app to control how you hear the world. Options include layered listening, manipulation of real-world volume, and smart noise filters. The price tag will keep Here One firmly in the consumer market (there are cheaper noise-cancelling devices for industry), but if the noise altering features are as sophisticated as they claim, similarly capable wireless earbuds could help block unwanted, distracting or distressing sounds in any work environment.
Side note: Did you know that high-level noise from factory equipment or heavy machinery can actually damage your hearing? Tens of millions of Americans are occupationally exposed to harmful noise, which puts them at risk of both hearing loss and heart disease.
Pilot by Waverly Labs
This next hearable - a pair of earbuds - translates between two users speaking different languages in real time. Noise-cancelling mics in the first earpiece filter out ambient noise from the person currently talking as the second earpiece returns a translation to the person listening. Speech recognition, Machine Learning, and speech synthesis technologies do the actual translation through the Pilot app.
This AI-powered earpiece by Lingmo claims it can translate both spoken conversation and written text within three to five seconds without Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity. The solution uses IBM Watson's Natural Language technology and currently supports English, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, German and Chinese. The speaker and listener must each be wearing an earpiece.
Marriott is reportedly interested in these wireless earphones for staff at its hotels to communicate with guests. Clik by Mymanu uses voice recognition to translate live conversation in 37 languages near-instantly. Additional language packs are available in the companion app. Like the previous hearable, Clik doesn't require a data connection.
It's not hard to imagine the customer service and international business scenarios in which in-ear translation would be useful. Hotel staff could better service foreign-speaking guests, negotiations with foreign business partners could go more smoothly, and colleagues around the world could collaborate more effectively on projects.
Personal Safety Wearables
Many personal safety wearables are marketed to women and the elderly. The ones that follow, however, might be used by lone workers, in-home caregivers, and utility workers.
Nimb acts as a panic button, tracking the wearer's location and, when pressed, sending an emergency alert to a preset group of responders through the companion app.
With the latest update, Apple Watch now has an SOS mode. If you hold down the side button, Apple Watch will attempt to call local emergency services by phone (if your iPhone is nearby) or over Wi-Fi. A text message can also be sent to preset contacts following the call.
Emerging technology startup RapidSOS recently announced partnerships with several wearable device companies to link its advanced emergency platform to existing wearables.
The finger is another spot for activity tracking, smartphone notifications, and contactless payments.
According to OURA, our fingers provide more accurate activity tracking than our wrists. The OURA sleep tracker and wellness ring senses arteries in your finger to provide insight into yours sleep and performance. Fatigue on the job threatens worker safety and leads to errors. From truck drivers and machine operators to store employees, lack of sleep negatively impacts daily performance, reduces productivity, and raises the likelihood of on-the-job accidents.
Use this smart ring to unlock your mobile devices and doors, share and transfer information such as links, photos, and contacts, control smartphone apps, and make payments. What if instead of a store credit card, a retailer were to offer a store smart ring just for use in its stores? Visa has been experimenting with rings and a wearable sticker for mobile payments, and there's also Tappy Technologies's smart payment ring. Tappy also provides its tech to watch and jewelry companies to develop their own products.
This category is focused on improving sleep and mental wellbeing, stimulating the mind during tasks, and helping with memory and performance. Most of the devices use EEG technology and aren't medically approved.
Thync bills its product as "the first consumer health solution for lowering stress and anxiety." Worn at the back of the neck, the small triangular device uses low-level electrical stimulation to trigger natural mechanisms (nerves related to the brain's adrenaline system) that relax the wearer and improve mood and sleep.
These smart sunglasses by Smith Optics help athletes and other active users perform well under pressure. During mental training sessions, the technology measures brain activity, providing cues to the wearer to keep her calm, focused, and relaxed.
Brainstation by Neuroverse is a small oval-shaped device adhered to the forehead. The tech works by putting the wearer through a series of brain games designed to promote neuroplasticity or the forming of new connections in the brain. EEG sensors monitor the impact on reaction times, attention span, memory, and decision making. Another version of the solution would enable mind control in Virtual Reality.
Final verdict: Consumer wearables seem to enter and disappear from the marketplace at a much higher rate than enterprise devices. There are many crowdfunding campaigns for similar devices and nearly all of the above must be paired with a smartphone. From what I can tell, consumer wearables are still looking for a killer use case. If you don't want to invest in hundreds of devices that may or may not have an ecosystem to support them within a year, then knowing what's available on the consumer side is still worthwhile. Organizations should have a sense of what today's wearable technologies are capable of and how companies are attempting to augment human beings both in and out of the workplace.