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The wearable technology revolution


February 3, 2014
By Tom Rataj

by Tom Rataj

The ever-increasing ability to integrate and miniaturize electronics, especially various sensors, is creating a wearable technology revolution. Devices are worn on a person’s body or integrated into clothing. Some have been around for several years, although much of the more advanced tech has been restricted to military and other specialized markets.

The incredible growth of the smartphone market has fuelled much of the change by increasing integration/miniaturization and driving down power consumption and cost per unit

Most smartphones feature sensors such as an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, GPS receiver and proximity, ambient light and imaging sensors. These are integrated to varying degrees and all fit onto a tiny circuit board measuring only a few square centimetres in area.

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With the appropriate software, they work in conjunction with one another and can measure, record, manipulate and share data, often many times per second, to provide a wide variety of useful information and functionality.

The data can and often is shared wirelessly with other devices, systems and services external to the device through various means, including near-field communications (NFC), Bluetooth, WiFi and cellular networks for local and Internet based applications.

Much of this tech will soon migrate into the policing world since it can improve officer safety, operational efficiencies and automated data recording, which can provide more neutral data about events.

{Physical monitoring}

One of the most common and affordable pieces of wearable tech is the sport watch; combined with a wireless heart-rate sensing chest strap, it can provide a wealth of performance data, allowing the wearer to better train and perform.

More sophisticated watches also include GPS chips, which provide speed, distance and route measurement and data. Many also communicate wirelessly with smartphones and other computers, which can do further data recording, measuring, analysis and sharing.

The latest craze is the activity and performance measurement wristband, such as the FitBit, Nike+ Fuelband, Jawbone UP24. These tiny waterproof and shockproof devices typically resemble a rubber or plastic bracelet and are designed to be worn 24/7.

They typically measure body movement by various parameters such as steps taken, distance moved, number of stairs climbed, calories consumed and wearer activity. As one reviewer stated, they are a constant reminder to be less lazy.

The bands can communicate with smartphone apps and computers using Bluetooth, allowing their information to be shared with friends and fellow users in apps or on web sites.

In addition to the primary purpose, their sleep monitoring functions can be quite beneficial, especially for us shift workers. The quality of data is likely not as accurate or detailed as expensive medical equipment, but it can certainly provide a good basic record of how long and how well the wearer has slept.

The BioPeak Physiology Status Monitor (PSM) from BioPeak Corporation of Ottawa is specific to the emergency workers’ and industrial world. The chest-strap based system monitors and records a variety of data about the physiological health of the wearer.

Using Bluetooth, the flip-phone sized unit transmits data to another radio transmitter, which then retransmits it to commanders so they can assess the physiological health of the wearer.

It is already being used by firefighters and in the mining and other high-physiological stress work environments so it could be a good fit for police tactical teams.

Another wearable monitoring tech for emergency workers is the Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders (GLANSER) system being developed by Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions (ACS) labs.

It’s essentially a personal beacon that allows commanders to track the location of all their personnel (in 2D and 3D) while at or in a scene. It also provides inertial measurements to show how fast the wearer is moving.

This system is completely standalone and can potentially track up to 500 people. All units communicate with each another, improving overall accuracy, but they’re currently quite large and expensive, making them impractical for policing.

{Glass}

Google Glass is one of the recent darlings of the wearable tech world. Although just in the field trial stages, it is creating quite a stir because of its potential.

The basic field-trial version of Google Glass is essentially a lens-free glasses frame that includes a wearable, Android based smartphone computer attached to the right arm. The front of the module features a small digital camera for recording video and a small display prism (about 15mm wide by 10mm tall) that rests above the top right corner of the wearer’s right eye.

A miniature projector sends a 640×360 pixel image through the prism, creating a sort of heads-up display. All the usual smartphone sensors and other systems are jammed into the control module along with some physical controllers for activating functions.

Users can see a variety of information that can be called up using natural voice commands. A simple touch sensitive controller on the module also allows control of other functions. Glass can communicate wirelessly over WiFi and Bluetooth with Android and iOS phones and with computers over a micro-USB jack.

Currently, Glass is only available to testers for $1,500, although Google recently announced wider availability and integration on prescription glasses and sunglasses from several vendors. Expect prices to plummet once this happens.

A video circulating on the Internet recently claimed to show the first arrest recorded on Google Glass.

{Smart-Watches}

The other darling of the wearable tech world is smart-watches such as the Pebble, Sony SmartWatch and Samsung Galaxy Gear. In addition to all the usual electronic watch features, they can display various types of user-defined data sent from a compatible smartphone via Bluetooth.

{Apps}

While not wearable tech directly, there are many smart-phone apps that provide the same functionality as other specialised wearable tech. There are numerous sports centric apps like MapMyRun, CascaRun and others that use various smartphone sensors to display, analyze and track a user’s movements in real-time.

{Body borne cameras}

The other wearable tech that is getting a significant amount of attention, particularly from law enforcement, is the body-borne camera. These are generally small pager-sized devices attached to the chest area of a uniform and used to record both audio and video in front of the officer. There are also several products that fit on glasses or are otherwise affixed to the head.

Image quality varies but can be had as high as 720p. Most units use an SD or microSD card and can record several hours of audio and video on a single charge and are being field tested all over the world. A wide variety of products are available. Watch for a complete article.

{The future}

The adoption of wearable technology will grow incredibly in the next few years as the smartphone driven sensor technology and the integration/miniaturization market explodes. Expect to see wearable technology virtually everywhere within the next few years.

Many of these technologies will also appear in the law enforcement marketplace, providing improvements in officer safety, efficiency and recording of both officer and citizen actions.


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