Wearable technology and its future as more than just a fancy gadget.

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Headphones: a more accessible example of wearable technology.

If you have had any interest in recent technology news, and considering the fact that you are reading this then I am assuming you have heard more than enough about wearable technology. Maybe you read about the BB Tech screen cleaning blanket with its microfiber edge that cleans the screen of your electronic device, a product whose arrival we have all awaited shamefully for some time now. Or, doubtlessly you have been scandalously absorbed in the hype surrounding Google Glass and their high-tech computerised glasses, considered by some to be rather invasive and quite creepy. Either way, wearable technology has been gaining momentum and for the most it does not seem to be benefitting the greater good. The question that is on many of our minds, and probably on those of the developers too, is what does the average Joe actually think of the concept and are they willing to endorse it.
The wearable technology catch-phrase is more than likely to be constructed around trying to make our lives easier, yet how can they possibly attempt to do this when the majority of the world’s population dangles below the poverty belt, and can further hardly afford lunch let alone a pair of glasses that cost more than R13500. Kelsey Ledger, a student at the University of Cape Town, an environmentalist and a self-proclaimed bleeding heart, deeply believes that further developments in wearable technology is unnecessary considering the state the world is currently in and where we should be. Ledger elaborates on this idea while making reference to Under Armour’s future concept Armour39, “What’s the point of putting a computer in a suit if some people don’t even have jerseys.” She explains that scientists are trying to jump into the second arena, whilst leaving behind a wake of destruction and neglect in the first, a simple case of “Hit and run”. Ledger believes that we first need to deal with the problems we have on the ground level before we move onto to greener pastures. However, she does make an exception in the case of technology being used to benefit those in need instead of simply entertaining the elite ,”If it improves lives then it is worthwhile to develop, but if the technology is already there, why would you attach it to a piece of clothing, it’s weird.” Ledger further goes on to suggest that wearable technology that is not in the best interest of the world’s underprivileged, then it is purely “pretentious”.
Similar views are held by Gemma Field, one of Cape Town’s local wizards of technology and a gaming disciple. Field questions wearable technology developers’ intentions and wonders why they have not yet used their skills and developments in finding cures and antidotes for any of the countless diseases and illnesses that plague today’s society. She further raises a rather alarming point in relation to Google Glass and other correlating technologies by asking “Aren’t phones on your face liable to cause traffic accidents?” It certainly makes you wonder whether or not these “potentially illegal” devices, as Field defines it, should be roaming the streets willy-nilly. An answer to this question can easily be seen in West Virginia, USA, where a bill was proposed in order for it to be made illegal for any motorist to drive while wearing Google Glass, or any device that uses similar computing technology that is strapped to the wearer’s forehead. Moreover, Google Glass has already been banned from a few establishments due to its invasive features, such as the video and voice recorders. According to Kelly Levinsohn of BandwidthBlog, Google argues that this is due to “people’s lack of familiarity and discomfort with the new technology”. Either way, Glass does not appear to possess any philanthropic qualities besides recording what some might consider as precious memories.
It must be said, however, that there are a few selfless renegades that have developed more beneficial concepts. The most recent example is of a bracelet produced by the Civil Rights Defenders group. The bracelets are intended for aid workers who follow a career path that more than often finds them at a risk of being kidnapped. The real-time GPS location device sends the wearer’s most recent location to the Civil Rights Defenders group, and a mass prepared message is sent out to Facebook and twitter so that the aid worker does not disappear off the grid unnoticed. The bracelet can be triggered manually or automatically if it is forcibly removed from the wearer. The device, called the Natalia Project, is named after Natalia Estemirova, a Russian human rights campaigner who was kidnapped and murdered in 2009. Similarly, the benefactors at MC10 have created a health monitor in the form of a second-skin. The super-thin tiny device latches on to your skin via the same material that spray-on-bandages are made of. This is a great example of “epidermal electronics” that, although it was originally intended for use by athletes, now has potential to be used in many medical fields. This is due to the web of circuits that have direct contact with the skin, and is able to convey information regarding the temperature, hydration levels and the strain of the wearer. According to materials scientist John Rogers of the MC10 company, the future of hospital examinations is looking bright. Patients would not have to be attached to excessive amounts of wires and plugs, and the result would be more accurate due to monitoring them in less rigid and stressful environments and that are familiar.
Although both are instances in which humanity’s more altruistic tendencies are expressed, the same is not true of the majority of wearable inventions. Asgar Rawoot, owner of Strat-Tech Solutions, a local business that operates as a supplier of computer hardware, software and technology consumables, provides valuable insight into the inevitable future success of wearable technology. In response to whether or not the technology will be prosperous, Rawoot said the following, “There will always be a demand for the latest technologies that are not really available”. He elaborates by saying that there will constantly be a market for these products, which will consequently be steeply priced due to increased desirability. Rawoot further points out that “Twenty years ago, people argued whether cell phones were necessary or beneficial”, it is possible that any wearable devices will become a staple of our future existence. Moreover, he also suggests that these technologies and the knowledge that we gain from developing them, may lead to other more valuable research and discoveries in the future.
Although wearable technological advancements have a bright future in sales, it is clear that there is question as to whether the developments will be used to the advantage of the underprivileged and those who suffer from incurable diseases and ailments.


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