Wearable technology comprises clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced sensors, such as armbands, body cameras and glasses.
What We Learned from the Dialogue
Wearable technology comprises clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced sensors, such as armbands, body cameras and glasses. As the cost and size of the sensors continue to decrease, they are being incorporated into more items and expanding the type and use of wearable technologies to textiles, shoes, hats, rings, stickers and contact lenses.
One of the most common forms of wearable technology is the human activity tracker. Devices like the Fitbit can track and provide real-time feedback on a person’s movements and calories, and more advanced wearables can even monitor heart rate, blood pressure and location in real time. Usually paired with a mobile phone, activity trackers are disrupting how people measure themselves and regulate their health. For the first time, we can know how someone feels without proximity thanks to these wearable sensors.
Wearable technology is distinct from other mobile technologies, like phones and tablets, because it has enhanced features that require it to be worn as a “hands-free” device. Because they are attached to the body, they are also less likely to become separated in a chaotic situations than mobile phones and other devices that are carried. In this vein, wearable technology associated with glasses, like Google Glass, or watches, like Apple Watch, are more nascent, but have the potential to transform the smartphone from a handheld device to one integrated into worn items. They also bring new possibilities to human-computer interactions, such as biometrics-aided, facial recognition with glasses, health monitoring with clothing, and early warning with wristbands. Interesting uses cases generated through the dialogue also included wearable beacons to aid search and rescue, shoes to sense earthquakes, wristbands to find and communicate with loved ones if separated, and eyewear that integrates augmented reality software for real-time translation and navigation.
This emerging technology was the most prioritized tool for resilience strengthening during the dialogue. Community members and experts all recognized the value of wearable technology transmitting location information, which could be used by first responders to find people and accelerate family reunification after an incident. They also envisioned wearable technologies assisting with medical triage and diagnosis; this use could also help prevent disease transmission if healthcare professionals can access the patient’s information remotely. Others expressed interest in wearable technology for their pets as well.
Cost was not perceived to be a major barrier, given that wearable devices are among the least expensive of the eight technologies explored in the dialogue. Participants also stated that they had the most relevance in everyday life and met all of the other criteria for resilience-strengthening solutions.
While the benefits far outweighed any concerns, dialogue participants noted a few barriers, which, if resolved, would increase their value immensely. Today’s activity trackers focus on movement, but do not give a full picture of the user’s health, which can lead to skewed priorities and outcomes. Additionally, computer-aided glasses can create a perceived or real barrier between the user and society as a whole. Participants noted that it is important not to eliminate all human interaction simply because technology does not require it; social cohesion is critically important to resilience. They also said that wearable devices could create additional distractions that impair driving and other activities.
Participants noted that both glasses and trackers currently require smartphones and Internet access, which limits their disaster use. Some even expressed mild concern that, like mobile phones, scientists do not yet know the long-term health effects of wearing electronic devices. Lastly, these technologies also raised privacy and ethical issues for community members and experts alike. They agreed that they would like options for how their information is shared and with whom, noting they may opt in to sharing the information with the doctor but restrict government and insurance company access.