Will wearable computing take us by storm?

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The world of wearable computing is evolving at lightspeed and the impact these connected devices will have on our daily lives will be dramatic. From the simple fitness devices we see today, to the smart watches and google glasses which are just around the corner, we are not too far from some of the visionary scenes of a movie like ironman. 

Skeptics will say that wearable computing industry is still a big hype but I believe we have hardly seen the tip of the iceberg and there are just too many technology trends converging and too many business benefits for this not too happen at a large scale and much faster than anticipated.  Here is why…

Connectivity is almost everywhere

Mobile Connectivity is almost everywhere, being it through Wi-FI or 3G and LTE, we can now be constantly connected with our mobile devices and at affordable rates. Mobile data share plans will also make it easy to connect more devices to our current subscription, but in the worst case you can always use your mobile phone or home gateway as an aggregation point. The truth is, that any device that benefits from a connection will have one. The phone is most likely to be our aggregation point for data traffic, since this is the device we always carry with us, but this might change over time.

Wearable devices us Open Source Operating Systems, Open API’s and SDK

Wearable devices are becoming mainstream, fitness devices produced by Nike or Fitbit are already part of the common sports gear and soon we will see smart watches from Sony and Apple on retailer stores. Health monitoring devices are also appearing as mass market devices.  Many of the devices we see right now are very much single function or very focused functionality which means they do not necessarily need to be open to the developer community but this is changing as the device becomes more of an interface to the rest of the world.

Many devices manufacturers that see the wearable device as an interface or a portal will most likely want to build on open operating systems, being it Linux or Android they are providing open API’s to stimulate innovation and community engagement. We see this already with Google Glass supporting HTTP REST API’s to interface with their device. Google’s main competitor Vuzix is taking a similar approach and seem to have come even further since they have a rich SDK and a developer program to encourage innovation.

In addition to these hub devices, with Open API’s we also see companies developing sensors that can be embedded in cloth and some even washed.

Cloud infrastructure and Bigdata

With the availability of cloud and bigdata infrastructures it also means that the data captured by these wearable devices can rapidly be processed and insights can be actionable insights can be gained. It also means that the data can easily be augmented to be provide new information and insights to the end-user of the device.

Imagine yourself walking through a book store with you google glasses and by zooming on the ISBN, or barcode you get access to instant book reviews from Amazon, pricing information and other information about the book author. The system could also provide you with recommendations you might like based on your previous readings and by access the local in-store information portal you could actually get guidance on which shelf to find the book. That is if you are still going to bookstore.. but I guess you get the point.

Cloud, bigdata and analytics could change the way we use devices and transform them to become some kind of life support system.

Consumer and Business Benefits

I believe consumer and businesses will both drive the development of wearable computing.  On the business side devices like smart glasses enhanced with augmented reality will allow major costs saving and efficiency improvements in the enterprise, especially in segments where you need your hands free. A good way to exemplify this is how SAP and Vuzix are partnering to bring augmented reality solutions to the enterprise. In this video, you can see how the smart glasses allow a logistics worker to get important information and guidance in his daily warehouse activities while keeping his hands free, this allows him to save time and avoid dangerous situations. If elaborate a bit more the needs from job safety you can find all kinds of wearables devices, what if you would start measuring vital signs of people working in hard physical environment, that could help do preventive care.

On the consumer side healthcare and fitness are two big interest areas and we see more and more self-diagnosis and monitoring devices appearing on the market.

If you have a sense of humor, you can also check out some more exotic projects like Durex Fundawear.The famous condom manufacturer is working on underwear which can be controlled with you mobile phone, no more on that!

Another interesting example is the invisible bicycle helmet, it looks like some sort of scarf, but is in fact a hidden airbag for cyclists, that use sensors that determines when to unfold.

Earlier this year Juniper Research issued a report forecasing a total of almost 70 million smart wearable devices sold in 2017, including smart glasses, health and fitness devices along with enterprise wearables, compared to almost 15 million sales in 2013. I believe these numbers are still conservative.

So will wearable computing take us by storm?

I believe it will, the technology is there and the benefits are huge both for the consumer as well as the enterprise, but time will tell how fast this will really happen. Also I am sure I have missed plenty of use-cases and companies doing great stuff. I would love to get your feedback, experiences and thoughts about this topic.

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M2M and a Blue Ocean of possibilities…for Startups

There is now little doubt that we are about to see an exponential growth in connected devices. This will lead to what is referred to as the Networked Society or the Internet of Things.  Ericsson predicts that there will be up to 50 Billion connected devices by 2020.  What is more difficult to predict is who will shape this industry as the value chain is fairly complex and the eco-system is fragmented.

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Operators are today providing connectivity services and want to move up the value chain, either by providing service enablement functionality or industry targeted business solutions. Consulting companies on the other hand might try to keep it a complex system integration business, while specialized service providers focus on providing value in specific verticals.

I believe now is the right time to disrupt this M2M/IoT industry.

Take an OTT approach and put all your efforts on innovation and value creation. Why? Because the cost of developing, integrating and deploying new solutions goes down close to zero. Entry barriers for new companies are vanishing really quickly. Here are four trends that support this thought.

1 – Super Affordable Sensors, Device Gateways and Controllers

Today almost anybody can start prototyping to create connected devices at low cost. Arduino, for instance, is an open-source electronic prototyping platform allowing to create interactive electronic objects. With arduino you can create and control simple objects, sensors, all of this for a handful of dollars. For less than a hundred dollars you can even connect to the internet over a mobile network.

Similarly, for more complex control, it can be enhanced with cheap processing power, the Rasberry Pi is a 25 USD, credit-card sized computer that plugs into any HDMI TV and USB keyboard/mouse. It includes an ARM chip that is powerful enough to run Linux and a full Java Virtual Machine. The possibilities are endless.

Standardization is also moving to make things easier. ZigBee protcol and Zigbee alliance is an example of such a simplification initiative. ZigBee is an open global wireless standard to address the needs of low-cost, low-power wireless M2M networks. ZigBee applications include wireless light switches, electrical meters with in-home-displays, traffic management systems, and other consumer and industrial equipment that requires short-range wireless transfer of data at relatively low rates.

Technology is also evolving and supporting move innovations. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) appears to have solved some of the energy consumption problems of sensors since these sensors can last 1-3 years with the same battery. iBeacon, a technology derivative of BLE, is now also getting widely adopted. Some companies like Estimote, WiMoto or Blesh have quickly understood the potential and are provide sensors and toolkits that allow you to collect more data and create value.

There is a big shift in the industry that is happening as we speak and you only have check the number of Crowfunded projects to see how big this trend is becoming.   Now is the time for the emerging maker generation.

2 – Opensource M2M Plaforms / Cloud Platforms

Appearance of opensource M2M platforms like DeviceHive provide now also the communication layer needed to control multiple devices and sensors that can be used to develop home automation solutions, energy management solutions and much more. These M2M platforms provide also the basic functionality to provision, manage and control multiple devices that are part of an M2M enterprise solution. The platforms also support simple API’s based on HTML to address a large developer community.

Deploying an opensource M2M platform on a public cloud provides a very attractive go-to-market approach for anybody that wants to become an M2M specialized service provider. Not much is required to get started.

With the cost drastically decreased, more innovation will come from the end-users within each vertical. I could easily imagine larger communities like cities develop their own M2M solutions and manage it in order to optimize urban development and public spending. Why not?

3 – Application Design through Mashup and Integrated Communication

With the development provided by HTML5 we can now also embed real time communication capabilities in web pages. This allows for rapid UI design, clever mash-up and a complete new type of interactivity. WebRTC is part of these new communication capabilities that can easily be embedded in Web Pages. Whether it is voice, video, messaging or document exchange it can now all very easily  be provided from a web page.

I have now doubt that these technologies could easily be used to develop home automation or energy management solutions that can be controlled from a tablet or mobile device from anywhere in the world.

4 – Low risk and quick market feedback through crowd-funding 

I believe the Internet of things provides huge opportunities for innovation, substantial growth opportunities and an entry barrier which is fairly small. Beside the availability of open source technology to reduce production cost, operational costs can be reduced thanks to cloud. And why not use social media to build-up your M2M tiger team and for the funding try to expose your project to crowfunding platforms like Kickstarter.

In Kickstarter project creators get funded by the community. They set a funding goal and deadline. If people like a project, they can pledge money to make it happen. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing — projects must reach their funding goals to receive any money. Kickstarter is very effective in creating momentum and rallying people around an idea. Backers are supporting projects to help them come to life, not to profit financially. Instead, project creators offer rewards to thank backers for their support. Kickstarter takes a marginal 5% fee to the funds collected.

What industries to target?

I believe that with the current technology development, fragmentation of current M2M value chains the opportunity is there for anybody to take a strong position with niche industry solutions. The entry barriers are pretty low.

For the consumer market, applications like home automation and energy management are probably good places to start, but I think there might be huge possibilities as well in sectors like e-health and quantified self.

Enterprise segment might be difficult to enter for startups, since it is ofte about optimizing current business processes and using M2M to reduce costs. From telemetry, to POS, Securtiy or Vending machines the industry specific requirements will usually make it more or less easy to enter that particular market.

When it comes to industries to target there are plenty and the shipment of connected devices per segment is going to surpass 100 Million per year in a couple of years only, according to an ABI research report, so plenty of choice.

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A call to innovate and disrupt the M2M/IoT space

I believe now is the right time to disrupt this M2M/IoT industry: Affordable devices and sensors, reduced costs through cloud and opensource, Application design requiring less coding and finally crowdfunding allowing you to quickly validate and fund your ideas. All the conditions are right, now is the time to Make it happen.