It is impossible to address emerging trends without mentioning the metaverse. The buzz around this topic has been steadily building, some might even say to the point of overhype. However, the convergence between this virtual world and the world of human-based, wearable sensors and products is very exciting, with many pragmatic health and wellness implications for augmented, assistive technology. The metaverse brings together physical devices, humans, and digital systems and relies heavily on complex data processing and insights.
What new trends will emerge in 2022?
In the health and wellness space, there’s an opportunity for sports technology traditionally used by the professionals to use data processing to provide consumer friendly health and wellness metrics. Examples already on the market include the WHOOP band, which monitors your recovery, sleep, training load and more, with personalised recommendations and coaching feedback to give consumers actionable insight into their health and wellness. Platforms such as TrainerRoad move away from areas of health such as steps, which tend not to provide meaningful insights into people’s health. TrainerRoad is tuned into people’s physiology, using science-based planning, training and analysis tools to optimise cyclists’ performance.
These technologies take measurements with sensors, and interpret that data locally within the wearable. Ultra-low power processing, also known as edge computing or machine learning at low power, is of interest across this space. Some of the appeals are: improved battery life, due to less data transmission, heightened security due to smaller amounts of data, and the fact that the device can be used in offline environments where conditions limit network coverage.
One of the most exciting areas for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) is in health and fitness, with companies such as Valkyrie providing a ‘gym in your pocket’ fitness solution using electrical stimulation of the muscles. Electrical signals travel to the muscles from the brain and activate them via action potentials, but this process can be bypassed by applying the electrical signal onto the skin, which in turn finds its way to the muscle tissue and has the effect of activating the muscle in a similar way to natural brain activation. Wet or dry electrode techniques have been used and various parameters, such as use of DC/AC current and several signal shapes including square wave, sine wave, and more.
Pulsed and continuous current can also be used to achieve the same results. Meanwhile, UK-based Emteq is using AI and AR to sense facial muscle activity, heart rate features, head movement and eye tracking in order to measure people’s emotional responses. Their muscle sensing technology has a vast range of applications, from discovering our psychological responses to the world, to the rehabilitation of serious neurological conditions such as stroke or facial palsy. This has far-reaching possibilities in a medical context, with the usefulness of the technology extending into the treatment of mental health conditions as well.
What is the most up-and-coming sector for wearable tech this year?
Ten years ago, Google Glass was at peak hype, but now there are expectations that Apple’s glasses will reach a crescendo of fanfare. The frontier of smart-glasses is extremely difficult to break through, so that while on the face of it the two products may seem similar, no other company has managed to produce something of strong commercial ‘break-through’ success in this sector.
If the rumours in techie circles are correct, Apple’s 2022 release of their flagship glasses will completely disrupt the market and forge a path for other wearable devices in the space, where all others have failed. Will they be the first smart glasses that are successful in engaging the mass market consumer? They could provide a valid, safe, and useful technology in the form of a fashion glasses product that looks good. Apple has consistently shown an ability to marry cutting edge technology with consumer needs, but it is high stakes as they try to achieve what no one else has in the ten year period since Google Glass was first pitched.
What will continue to grow from the trends of 2021, and will wearable tech persist post-pandemic?
The growth in Hearables continues to grow apace, a prediction that’s had a pretty long lifespan since we first identified it in this article. The consumerisation of medical technology plays a large part here, as people are able to augment their listening experience as well as overcome hearing loss and other issues.
Remote patient monitoring, made a necessity by the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently massive and will continue to grow now that a huge and sudden investment has allowed the infrastructure to be put in place for people to receive high-quality care at home.
Doing clinical trials remotely has also improved exponentially for these reasons, which has enabled data to be collected in real-time rather than only in medical settings.
These situations are not necessarily best placed to gather data, as it could be influenced by, for example, people’s stress in hospitals, while a device that is able to measure health metrics in people’s everyday settings is likely to gather more useful data. Cardiac monitoring, for example, could transform everything from medical care to athletic training and general well-being.
You can read more about the top trends of 2021 here.
The pandemic is also likely to have widened the space in the market for solutions focused on mental health. Factors that impact mental health have diversified and intensified considerably during the recent period : from isolation during lockdowns, a volatile job market, long Covid, missing important life events, to loss of life and bereavement. The market grows with people’s needs, so there is a huge opportunity for wearable tech here.
Many of the products that show promise were exhibited at the recent CES show, which had categories such as fitness and wearables, wellness technologies, and sports technology. Meanwhile, our long-term client BioSelf Technology’s Sensate device has made strides in relaxation for stress, and the device was recently nominated in Glamour Magazine’s Wellness Awards in their ‘Relaxation Tech’ category. After working with BioSelf for the last five years, we are aware of their immense commitment to finding ways of helping people, so this is a great acknowledgement of work innovative companies like them do to improve health and wellbeing.