Wearable technology is the future. Smartwatches and fitness trackers have transformed from clunky, expensive novelty items into fashionable and indispensable components of the smart tech experience. These wearable smart devices offer an array of features such as real-time notifications, GPS navigation, and remote controls for linked smartphone apps (such as music players). But it is their role in health tracking which has arguably been the most impactful. The average person has become much more conscious and aware of their health thanks to wearable technology, and the medical potential of these devices and other digital health technologies has yet to be realized.
The Emergence of Health Tech in the Consumer Marketplace
Fitness and health tracking are core features in most wearable technologies. Even entry-level smartwatches can collect and track a range of data such as heart rate information, sleep pattern cycles, and calories burned throughout the day. For many people, discovering something as simple as the number of steps they have taken can be an eye-opening insight into their health. However, few would have predicted that current consumer models can be described as lifesaving. Following the release of the Apple Watch and its irregular heart rhythm notification feature, some users were able to discover that they were at risk of atrial fibrillation. This heart condition can go unnoticed and lead to severe complications like blood clots, strokes, and heart failure. This has prompted many tech manufacturers to seriously look at the future of their devices and their role as health tech necessities.
The Rise of Artificial Intelligence
It’s difficult to underestimate the impact artificial intelligence (AI) will have on the future of technology, but its potential role in wearable tech could be ground-breaking. Most apps rely on the user to interpret their own collated data, but integrated AI could completely transform the way we track our health. Could an AI predict that a person with elevated heart rate levels throughout the workday may be on the path to developing conditions related to workplace stress? Can environmental factors like pollen count and air pollution levels be used to predict if an asthmatic may be prone to an attack? Wearers of smart tech don’t have the time (or medical background) to interpret and analyze the ever-expanding data they are producing every second of the day, so machine learning will have to play a role in the future.
The recent series of the Apple Watch boasts cutting-edge accelerometers and gyroscopes which are able to track and measure fine motor movements more accurately. These sensors can detect subtle arm movements which are used to track fitness levels as well as to ‘wake up’ the screen if it predicts the user is looking at their watch. This technology can also be used to detect if the wearer has had a hard fall. When this happens, the Apple Watch sends an alert to the screen to prompt the user to send an emergency SOS alert. This can be customized to call a phone number or send a message (with GPS location) to emergency contacts. The risk of a serious fall is a huge concern for frail and elderly people who live alone, so having an accessible, affordable fall detector could give them the confidence to live a more independent lifestyle.
Biosensors are able to capture more in-depth physiological data than a standard smartwatch or fitness tracker. Typically worn as an unobtrusive, non-invasive patch, biosensors can measure and analyze markers in sweat or blood to provide accurate information about the wearer’s temperature, heart rate, and even respiratory levels. The fitness industry has been using biosensors for years to track the vitals of athletes during training to fine-tune their sporting performance. But the health industry is now keen to use the wearable tech to better monitor and identify the development of preventable, long-term medical conditions. Early intervention of such diagnoses could transform the treatment and outcomes for countless patients.