By Ari Cetron
Google Glass is so three years ago (they’ve already stopped making them), and the Apple Watch is already out. But there are other trends coming in wearable technology, some of which may actually make your life easier, others are just kind of cool. Here are seven of the more interesting ones that are already commercially available.
1. Myo armband
Like to do things with computers but hate the drudgery of pressing buttons? The Myo armband fits on your forearm and is designed to read impulses in your muscles when you make hand gestures. The company sells it for $200 as a way to make presentations by controlling your PowerPoint slides, and a variety of other apps, remotely without having to use one of those traditional remote controls. You could possibly put this on under your sleeve, control slides with grand gestures and let people wonder if you’re some kind of technomancer.
2. Ring Zero
Similarly, there is Ring Zero, a plain band with an LED sensor on the side that made a big splash at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and from there to the world. The company says it can be taught a series of small gestures that you can use to do everything from playing music on your phone to turning lights on and off in your house. There’s even a demo of the $150 ring being used to close curtains, presumably with some motors and other gear sold separately. If these people don’t team up with the Tolkien estate for a one-ring-ruling-them-all marketing scheme, they’ve really missed an opportunity.
3. The Tile
Everyone knows the strategy: If you lose your phone, have a friend call you so you can zero in on its ring. The Tile extends that to pretty much anything. It’s a flat square, about the size of a key that is attached to a given item (like a set of keys) or placed inside a purse, and it sends out a signal in a 100 foot radius. It can either chirp for you, or you can play a modern version of hot and cold, with your phone letting you know when you’re getting closer to the item. There’s a hole in one corner of the Tile, so it can easily fit on a key chain. The $25 Tile ($70 for a four-pack) is fairly small, and the company notes it’s easy to drop in a purse. Maybe even put one in your luggage when traveling and then get the signal as your things come to you at baggage claim.
4, Activity trackers
Perhaps the most common sort of wearable tech is the activity tracker. The best known among them is Fitbit, though Jawbone is a popular alternative, and other companies like Garmin, Microsoft and others are making the bracelets as well.
These come in an array of shapes, sizes and colors. They fit on your wrist and keep a measure of what you’ve done all day in terms of activity, so if you ran a marathon, did some jumping jacks, or just sat on the couch eating ice cream and watching reruns, it’s all in there.
They can also track your heart rate and other vital statistics, which could be especially important for people with some medical conditions, fitness fanatics and elite athletes, or people who fancy themselves elite athletes.
Some will even monitor your sleep patterns and purport to wake you at just the right point in your sleep cycle so you don’t wake up feeling tired. Prices vary widely from stripped down models for less than $25, to more than $300 for all the bells and whistles.
5. GPS locators
Again, coming in a number of different brands and styles, these small locators can be attached to most items of clothing or bags. Then, you can find out where the locator is, hopefully still attached to the original item of clothing and hopefully still wrapped around the person you’re looking to find, to within a few feet. So many people have these in their phones, so why lay out $100-$200 for it? It could be useful for keeping track of kids, pets, or — if done surreptitiously — your cheating significant other. Or it could just be fun to live out a spy fantasy and say you’ve (finally!) attached a homing device to something.
6. Baby monitors
New parents are obsessive. The baby comes, and they just can’t stop looking at it and fearing for its safety. Every hiccup is cause for alarm. So they engage in some common sense activities, like baby proofing the house and making sure the crib hasn’t been recalled. Sooner or later though, even the most doting parents need to sleep. But the old style baby monitor is little more than a walkie-talkie, and that’s so 20th century.
Now baby can enjoy a wearable baby monitor in the form of a onesie that will monitor the infant’s heart rate, breathing and other vital stats. For $200, you get three of the onesies in a pack. Three things that the baby will probably outgrow within two months. Hopefully, they’re waterproof. Once you’ve made the investment, you’ll have it for your second kid — or just realize that humans have managed for thousands of years without knowing their baby’s temperature while they were sleeping.
7. Solar clothes
So, you’ve gone and geared up. You’re wearing enough technology that you might just pass for a cyborg. But if your batteries run out, it’s just deadweight. A number of designers are now making clothes with solar panels imbedded in them. Some avant-garde designers have shirts with solar panels in them, or jackets with shoulder panels that fold out exposing the panels, and making the wearer look a little like an extra from a “Star Trek” episode. Even Tommy Hilfiger is getting in on the act with a $420 jacket that has panels embedded in the back. All of these options come with USB ports, so you can plug your phone in and keep it powered. Or, you could just remember to plug in your phone at night, which costs about 50 cents per year.