WHO INVENTED WEARABLES?
The earliest and most prevalent use of biometrics is around security. It has been reported as far back as 500BC, where the ancient Babylonians were using biometrics to detect and monitor criminals.
And this use of biometrics has been getting more and more sophisticated over the years, till now where we have it in our divers license, passports and more. But biometrics isn’t just used in security and identification, it has expanded into wearables. The first mass market wearable was HP’s calculator that was worn on the wrist. All the way to today, where we have the very popular Apple Watch and FitBit all around us.
If at this stage you are confused about what biometrics even are, we wrote a blog post about it here.
WHAT WILL THE NEXT GENERATION OF WEARABLES LOOK LIKE?
We are now seeing new development in wearables that are moving away from the wrist. This is because, not everyone wants to wear a watch, but also from a technical perspective the wrist is not an ideal location for the detection of many biometrics. So we are seeing development in integrating wearables into clothing, the most famous being Jacquard a collaboration with Google and Levi’s. But there are many more.
Australian start up Nadi X Yoga Pants have designed fitness clothing that come with built-in haptic vibrations that gently pulse at the hips, knees and ankles to encourage you to move and/or hold positions. It syncs up via Bluetooth to your phone and, through the companion app, gives you additional feedback.
The Supa Smart Sports Bra will contextualise data derived from devices like digital scale and nutrition apps or biometric data such as heart rate, motion and temperature from SUPA and Movesense sensors in the clothing.
WHAT ARE THE CRITICISIMS OF CURRENT WEARABLES?
But there has been some criticisms of wearables particularly around:
What is the purpose of the wearable?
Are wearables worth the cost?
Is wearing wearables safe for your health?
Do wearables keep your data secure?
There has been some criticisms about the effectiveness of current wearables. Many current wearables are viewed as a gimmick and not addressing a strong pain point for the users. Not only are they not seen as overly effective, but they also can be expensive. Healthcare should be universal and is considered and basic human right, so being expensive reduces the access to it.
There are also concerns about the safety of wearables and questions about how they can adversely impact on the wearers health. Specifically, there are some concerns around the emitted radiation and also ethical considerations around the recommendations provided and how users are interpreting the data. As well as this many critics are concerned about how the data is stored, used and who has access to this.
We wrote another blog post specifically about the safety and security of wearables.
SO WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF WEARABLES? IS THERE A FUTURE?
We believe there is a strong future for wearable smart clothing. We believe that wearable smart clothes will change in focus from a simple calculator or gimmick, to a far more useful and effective smart clothing device.
Here are some reasons why we think wearable smart clothing will take over the world.
Early intervention and Prevention
One of the key parts of wearables and collecting biometrics is being able to track the wellbeing or health data of the users. This means that potentially, we can detect an issue or decline in health at the earliest possible moment, reducing the impact and effect of the disease. A really great example of this is Covid-19, most of the PCR and RAT tests will only detect the virus 2 days after you have been infectious. This study shows how wearables can be used to detect covid-19 at the earliest possible moment, well before you might even be aware of it.
There is much discussion amongst experts and clinicians about the accuracy of wearables. However there is a strong argument that wearables and the continuous monitoring of biometrics is far more accurate then most medical devices. This is because most medical devices are point-to-point (they take a measurement at a specific point of time) and so they are very precise about what your readings are at 5:01pm. However, they give no insight into how this is comparable against your normal readings, they can tell you how that compares against other sick people, but not about your normal. It’s like looking at an analogue watch that doesn’t have any numbers, it gives a good general idea but not an accurate idea of how this it different from the homeostasis (normal) of the patient.
Because wearables continuously track the user, they can give a good understanding of the actual reading but more importantly it gives a good idea of the trends and indications of the reading, it provides context and insights. This makes for much more personalised diagnosis and treatments.
During the Covid pandemic, we saw a massive spike in the use of telehealth. However, this comes at a cost because the clinicians can’t get access to the same data, particularly the unbiased data that they would normally get if the patient came into their office. Such as body language, temperature, skin colour, blood pressure etc etc. Wearables combined with telehealth provide a way forward, providing clinicians with the unbiased data to ensure they have enough context to provide the best possible care. Improving lines of communication for the carer and clinician is key to providing safe home care.
Reducing carer burn out
Many of us have been informal carers at some stage in our life, whether it is for a infant, child with broken arm, partner going through cancer treatment or an elderly loved one. Approximately 40% of care givers experience burnout or emotional exhaustion. Wearables provide a way to give carers confidence and reassurance. More advanced wearables can even provide coaching and advice to caregivers, to help them understand how their loved one is feeling and the best steps to take to ensure their health and wellbeing.
Reducing readmission and triaging patients
Across Australia the cost of readmission is estimated to cost $1.5B each year. Many of these were avoidable or unnecessary. As discussed above, wearables can have a role to play in early intervention and prevention. But as well as that, they can help triage and provide confidence and reassurance to carers. This can prevent unnecessary admissions and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
Accelerating clinical trials and research
A very time consuming and expensive process in clinical trials is finding the baseline of the patient. It’s hard to determine the impact of a therapeutic until you understand what is normal for that particular patient. Traditionally we go about this by running control groups or by running extended clinical trials. I’m sure you have guessed it already, if you already have a wearable and it is collecting highly qualitative data, we already have a good understanding of what is normal and so can measure the impact and statistical significance of a therapeutic.
As wearables moves into clothing we are going to see more and more interest from a fashion perspective. This is already happening. While this may not seem like a need, it can be incredibly important from a safety perspective (using LEDs to alert traffic or deter assault) and a reduction of clothes wastage (because we can make our clothes look like whatever we want). What may seem like a pretty gizmo, may actually have incredibly powerful long-term effects.
Biometrics have for a long time been in the realm of security, we commonly use facial recognition and finger prints. But as cyber crime and identity theft becomes more prevalent, we need to become more sophisticated about our security. And so protecting our identity by using a heart rate signature or some similar biometric our data becomes much more safe and secure.
WHAT ARE THE ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF WEARABLE SMART CLOTHING?
The problem with data is that it does not solve every problem. Data is good, but too much data can sometime cause more issues than it solves. This is the case for wearables as well. Some health data is really useful and beneficial, but for some people, too much of a focus on their health data can cause mental health and anxiety issues. Care needs to be taken in the design of wearables to ensure that the user isn’t overwhelmed by the amount of data.
As with the collection of all personal data, if this gets into the wrong persons hands, this could have a severely negative affect on many levels. Take for instance, identity theft or unscrupulous health insurance companies manipulating your premiums or pariah advertising to vulnerable patients. Care needs to be taken in the design of future wearables to ensure that the data is kept as secure as possible.
As humans, we are comfortable with having decisions made by other humans on our wellbeing. We are comfortable with doctors making decisions, even when they are sometimes wrong (which they are more often than we would like to think). But what happens when a computer/algorithm is making decisions which impacts on our wellbeing? People are much less comfortable about that and there is much discussion on how accurate we need algorithms to be and what happens when something goes wrong. What legal options do we have available?
WHO IS DOING WEARABLE SMART CLOTHING WELL?
A CASE STUDY – Goldilocks
Goldilocks is a smart clothing wearable that collects biometrics on infants to improve the future for us all.
Goldilocks assists early intervention in infants by creating the largest database of highly qualitative data on infant development and wellbeing. Goldilocks is a holistic device which captures far more information then any other device on the market. This enables it to be more accurate, because it can use algorithms to reduce the incidence of false alarms because it has multiple feedback loops. The continuous measurement also allows Goldilocks to provide trending data and context to carers to enable them to ascertain and resolve the issue.
Goldilocks isn’t just a alerting device, it also closes the loop by connecting the parent to a clinician to help them resolve the issue. Instead of giving all the information to a parent 3 months before giving birth and expecting them to remember it. Goldilocks provides small, bite sized bits of information right when a parent needs it. Not only does this facilitate communication with the clinician and caregiver, but it provides confidence and reassurance to the care giver.
One of the key aspects of Goldilocks is that it helps the caregiver understand what is normal. Because the baby is being continuously monitored our algorithms are able to develop a picture of what looks normal for your baby. From this we can reassure parents what is normal and/or connect them to a clinician when things aren’t normal. This also provides a good baseline for clinical trials.
We personalise your coaching to your baby. If a baby normally sleeps through but suddenly reverts to waking 5 times in the night, we will provide advice and help to the parents. But if another baby normally wakes 5 times in the night, we won’t offer the same help to those parents as that is perceived as normal by those parents. And this is the same for feeding times, sleep patterns and core/room temperature.
- Is my baby safe & and breathing
- If this is the only question you have then a simple breathing or motion sensor product will suffice.
- Be warned this is a slightly flawed question in the sense that research shows that having a SIDS monitor does not reduce the incidence of SIDS and often causes more stress than it reduces. Source?https://rednose.org.au/article/home-monitoring
- The room is too hot/cold for comfortable sleep for your baby
- This can be answered by using a simple thermostat
- Be warned this is a slightly flawed question as well, as there is not a right/wrong temperature (within reason) as it depends on how you dress you baby, the materials you use and the climate you live in. So a more accurate representation of a good temperature would be tracking skin temperature.
- Is your baby is feeding well?
- Unfortunately, there is no product on the market (other than the Goldilocks Suit) that can provide this sort of information easily. There are some apps that can be used but they rely on the user putting the information in manually and they will provide generic advice. Another option is to weigh your baby regularly and to track the growth over a long period of time.
- Your baby is behind/ahead on some development goals
- There are numerous checklists that can be used to determine this.
- It is important to note there are always ranges and this type of information is generally taken as a guide rather than a hard date.
- Your baby slept well/poorly?
- This can be done via smart video monitors, smart activity sensors. This technology generally works like a Fitbit and is a good guide.
- It is important to note this is quite hard in infants, this is due to the fact that some babies move as much when they are asleep as when they are awake, some babies sleep in a rocker and some babies don’t sleep in their bed most of the night. So care should be taken to select an appropriately advanced system that can take into account your specific requirements.
- My baby is too hot/cold to be comfortable
- If this is the only question you have then a simple tympanic or armpit thermometer will suffice.
- However if you want to know when your baby first became too hot and when they stopped being hot, a more advanced long term, continuous temperature monitor is required. At this stage Goldilocks is the only product on the market that does this.
Maybe you want all of these data elements & collected in a way that is easy to digest. That is what makes the Goldilocks Suit such a unique smart clothing product as it is the only product available that can answer those questions plus more.
Some of the other benefits of the Goldilocks Suit is to collect the data, the only thing required is the Goldilocks Singlet and a compatible smartphone using iOS or Android. Putting a singlet on your baby and carrying a mobile phone is something parents do anyway so we are not adding anything to the daily routine – this was a priority for us when designing the product.
Goldilocks also collects data 24/7, (so long as it is worn by your baby), whether you are in a café, at a friends house or traveling and if the phone is out of Bluetooth range the data is stored in the Goldilocks Module to be transferred when the phone comes in range again with the ability to store up to 12 hours of data. (However, no alerts can be sent if the phone is out of range)
So biometrics may be seen as intrusive by some people or an invasion of privacy by others, although when we designed the Goldilocks Suit we knew we wanted to take this clever technology and use it in a way that could help other parents.
Our focus has been on developing a wearable smart clothing product that is in a simple to use form factor that everyone is already familiar with, but pack it with clever technology that you can use at the touch of a button using your smartphone. We believe the benefits of smart clothing wearables outweigh the negatives.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS BIOMETRICS
Biometrics is any biological signal from a human which is detected by an external sensor. Typically it is used in areas such a security, healthcare and defence
WHAT ARE THE USES OF BIOMETRICS
Biometrics are used in many different sectors such as security for identification and health for diagnostic capabilities.
ARE BIOMETRICS SECURE?
Biometrics essentially turn your unique biological features into a really long string of numbers. It is like having a really long password, which you can’t write down or forget. And that is why biometrics is very popular in the security sector. But like any password, if given enough time eventually it can be cracked. So whilst it is more secure than most options, it is not infallible. Also once it has been cracked it is impossible to change your password, because you can’t change your biological features. But in the health sector it is incredibly useful to give clinicians insights into your wellbeing when you are unable to communicate it. For instance you might know your chest is sore, but an ECG can inform the clinician it is a tachycardia.
WHY PEOPLE MAY NOT LIKE BIOMETRICS
Some people don’t like biometric data because they are worried about privacy. Some data, if it got into the wrong hands potentially could be used against you or your identity could be stolen.
WHAT ARE CLOTHING BIOMETRIC SENSORS
These are biometric sensors which are built into the clothing you wear. They are incredibly comfortable and noninvasive
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF SMART CLOTHING
We believe that smart clothing is the future of wellbeing. You always wear clothes and if you have sensors built into the clothes this means you always have data about your health. This means that we can catch diseases at the earliest possible moment and so reduce the risk of the complications that may occur. In the future we see all clothing to have some sensor built into it to help detect any changes as in your homeostasis as early as possible.
WHAT COMPANIES PRODUCE SMART CLOTHES
Smart clothing is a very exciting field and most of the big companies are moving into it. Most sports brands such as FitBit, Nike and Adidas are already in the field. Google recently teamed up with Levis to develop Jacquard a smart jacket. And Apple has stated numerous times the biggest impact they think they will have on human life is in health and have numerous patents in the smart clothing sector.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WEARING SMART CLOTHES?
We believe that smart clothing is the future of wellbeing. You always wear clothes and if you have sensors built into the clothes this means you always have data about your health. This means that we can catch diseases at the earliest possible moment and so reduce the risk of the complications that may occur. It also is used in the security sector to create incredibly complex and unique identification, to allow for greater security.
WHAT ARE WEARABLE DEVICES THAT USE NEUROFEEDBACK?
Some advanced wearables can get direct feedback from the brain via electrodes. This is still very much experimental and not well understood, but the electrodes (typically an EEG) are connected directly to the head and detect electrical signals. This way the user doesn’t have to speak or press any buttons, the wearable will be directly reacting to the thoughts the wearer is having at the time.
WILL WEARABLES REPLACE SMART PHONES?
Some advanced wearables have the potential to do this, we have already mentioned neurofeedback, but there is also augmented reality, smart watches and smart clothing. However, most current versions of wearables require a smart phone as the user interface and it is not anticipated this will change in the next 5 years.