Wearable, Implantable, and Sensing Technologies

Wearables: Fitness Trackers

Wearables: Fitness Trackers

Wearable technology is a trending term now used for a wide array of products – from fitness trackers and smart watches to the latest augmented reality glasses – all of which connect wirelessly to your smartphone or computer from its place on your body.  The growing wearable market is expected to reach over $70 billion by 2025 (IDTechEx).  Indeed, wearables are on the rise; meanwhile, innovators are thinking hard about the next phase of this category: testing out personal technology concepts that push the envelope.

Auger Loizeau’s Audio Tooth Implant

Auger Loizeau’s Audio Tooth Implant

Further emphasizing the cyborg-like qualities of wearable technologies are implantable wearables – that’s right, connected devices inside your body. Pictured here is a tooth implant which, in a spy-like fashion, is embedded with a miniature audio output and receiver to bring communication capabilities to its user’s mouth. A modified mobile telephone or dedicated device is used to receive the long-range signal.

Project Underskin

Project Underskin

There are also devices that can be embedded just below the surface of the skin to detect vitals or unlock a smart door. Devices such as this will send internal data or images to an app and will likely be able to run on energy from our body. Depending on the device, these could be used for an array of purposes, including to monitor diseases, communicate with doctors, and even treat ailments by releasing medication into your body via remote control.

Nest thermostat

Nest thermostat

In yet another take on personal sensors, tech writers have coined the new concept of “senseables,” described as a series of sensors embedded throughout an environment that provide users with instant data feedback to customize their experience. Cameras assembled with active alignment could potentially be needed to actualize this technology. For instance, Audi has recently unveiled Pre-Sense, for which a number of sensors are embedded inside a car to measure a driver’s emotions, body language, and involuntary reactions. This data is then used to automatically adjust safety mechanisms within the car; for example, if a driver is distracted, the car safety control will ensure it does not drift into an adjacent lane. Similarly, sensors embedded in the Nest thermostat automatically adjust the temperature when particular events in the environment are detected.

So going beyond wearable cameras and smart watches toward implanted and surrounding sensing technologies is not just science fiction…it will soon be part of our reality.

Digital Assistant for the Blind: Camera Module Provides “Sight” in EyeRing

The EyeRing system, invented at MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group, is a chunky ring device with a camera module mounted on it that can aid the blind by providing audio responses about what is in front of them.  For example, in the EyeRing video (below), a man is shopping and commands the ring to detect the color of the shirt he holds.  The image is sent through the system and the result is translated into words; the EyeRing responds, “grey.”

When the camera snaps a photo, it is sent to a Bluetooth-linked smartphone. A special Android app processes the image using computer-vision algorithms and then a text-to-speech module to communicate the results through earphones.  So far, the device is capable of detecting currency type, color, and the amount of open space ahead (the “Virtual Walking Cane”).

Communication from camera module to mobile phone

The camera module sends an image to the mobile phone app, which then translates the image into words and tells the user what it sees. Image: MIT

 

Camera detecting type of currency

The EyeRing camera will identify currency for the vision impaired. Image: MIT

 

Although commercialization is likely at least two years away, the potential for this type of technology to help the blind to “see” what is in front of them is huge.  The team is currently working on the next prototype, incorporating more advanced capabilities for the device, such as potentially reading non-braille words, taking real-time video, and adding sensors and a microphone.  The design will also be streamlined to be smaller and have a lower center of gravity. While finger-worn devices are not new, most of the existing ones have been designed for people with sight, so this is truly an exciting breakthrough for the visually impaired.

EyeRing – A finger-worn visual assitant from Fluid Interfaces on Vimeo.