Is wearable technology a good measure of your health?
In the past five years we have been inundated with technology that monitors just about our every move – or lack of it.
From the wristband craze that continues to gather momentum to the smartphone that turns on the washing machine and dims the lights, “wearable tech” is becoming a big part of our everyday lives – and it’s big business.
Tallying your daily step-count has been a staple for those wanting to keep eye on their physical activity for a while but now, with the growing presence of wearable devices – Fitbit, Lark Life and Apple Watch to name a few – you can monitor your daily sleep patterns, food intake and calories burned; even your mood.
Multi-tasking gadgets – like fitness tracker Jawbone UP which can monitor and adjust the temperature in your home – let you turn on lights, view your home via CCTV and close the blinds, all while power-walking to the shops for a chai latte.
Perfecting your swing
For the most part, people view their wearables as a kind of personal trainer on your wrist, and niche sports technology developer Zepp has what CEO Jason Fass calls a “coachable intelligence” – something way beyond a simple step-counter.
Fass says data captured on its wrist-worn gadgets can create a 3D model of your golf/tennis/baseball/softball swing and analyses your form. The device allows you to compare your performance with the world’s greatest athletes and helps you develop training goals to lift your game.
“Wearables in sports are becoming an essential resource for training and the technology is advancing each year," Fass says. "Our goal is to provide analysis that not only collects numbers, but offers ways to improve those numbers through content in our app.
"We're turning data into actual coachable intelligence."
Tech in the workplace
Another up-and-coming purveyor of wearable tech, Movo, is appealing to the corporate market as well as individuals with its low cost and easily customised Movo Wave – a bracelet fitness tracker that counts your steps, distance travelled and calories burned.
Movo CEO Mark Tanner says businesses were seeking to leverage customised devices to rally employee and customer communities around health, wellness and activity.
"The enterprise space is exciting because every group has a different use for the product," Tanner says. "Our goal is to facilitate health and wellness initiatives in each sector, at an affordable cost."
Meanwhile, workforce management solutions organisation Kronos is offering rewards for staff using wearable technology, including lower insurance premiums for US-based staff and subsidised health insurance and gym membership, superannuation and wealth management advice for Australian and New Zealand employees.
Employees upload activity from their devices to their profile on the company's wellness portal where they accumulate points attached to rewards.
Bill Bartow, vice president of global product management at Kronos Inc, says the initiative had improved staff engagement in health and wellbeing programs. He says wearable technology has a future in the workplace, improving safety, productivity, compliance and collaboration.
“By encouraging and incentivising employees to exercise more to earn points, it enables them to keep healthy on their terms and gain rewards in the process,” Bartow says.
Kronos also has a global walking program in which staff aims at achieving the weekly step goal, monitored by their devices.
Wearables at work are not a new concept, Bartow says, with uniforms, hats and safety gear the earliest forms.
“Most office employees wear an ID badge that doubles as access control and/or time card without second thought. The same way we use company-paid smartphones for both business and pleasure today, work wearables could be used at home to improve fitness, communicate with friends, or push recipe instructions to your eyeballs while your hands are free to prep ingredients on the counter. It’s a win-win for the employer and the employee.”
Sleeping like a baby
According to the makers of Kokoon, an EEG headphone that induces a slumber, wearable tech is a game changer for health… especially if you travel frequently. Developers say the sleep-sensing headphone “understands your brain” and adjusts the volume of your music while you sleep. The headphones apply “machine-learning” techniques to understand the audio that is most effective in helping a user sleep. “When it’s time to wake, the intelligent alarm identifies the perfect point in your sleep cycle, ensuring you feel alert and refreshed,” says Tim Antos co-founder and CEO. It can record your sleep patterns and share data with you via an app, thereby letting you know how well you slept.
"Sleep affects all that is most important in our lives; our happiness, our health, our relationships and our performance at work," Antos says. "Kokoon protects and encourages our sleep enabling everyone from the serious insomniac through to the great sleeper to benefit and get the most from their sleep wherever they may be."
Organisers of the global annual consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow called CES – next held in January 2016 at Las Vegas – predict more sensors to capture even more vital stats from our bodies in lots, lots more gadgets.
As for health benefits, if a gadget gets you moving and active then that can only be a good thing for personal wellbeing, says Dr Tony Bartone, the Victorian president of the peak body representing Australia’s doctors, the Australian Medical Association. "For medical practitioners, the ultimate goal is to exercise for outcomes; if wearable technology gets you there then that’s a good thing."