Perhaps the terrifying visage of Darth Vader, “more machine than man,” will not grace us during our lifetimes, but every year offers a new technological upgrade meant not for texting and photography, but sustaining individuals afflicted by one or more medical conditions.
Perhaps the most common form of wearable health device is the FitBit, with integrated application connectivity to encourage individuals to exercise further; a tiny, judgemental Big Brother that fits snugly on the wrist. However, increasingly common is the use of similar pieces of technology to monitor ailments and improve conditions in medical settings.
Many of these devices are technologically-advanced redesigns of existing products. Quell, a kitted-out knee brace, boasts about stimulating sensory nerves to reduce pain. What’s more, Quell tracks therapy and sleep trends, allowing you to adjust the device’s settings as necessary. That’s right; it’s a knee brace that also acts as your very own part-time health coach.
So, maybe we’re a few years away from full-fledged robot doctors, but similar inventions include a disposable patch capable of feeding biometric readouts to medical professionals. Data collected includes conventional statistics such as heart rate and skin temperature, but also posture, even capable of detecting when the wearer has fallen.
A website, WearableTech, is even dedicated to monitoring advances in this unique genre of technology, in healthcare and everywhere else. Wrist-worn devices, like the aforementioned FitBit, dominate much of the discussion on the website, but many less conventional platforms have gained attention. An individual could, with enough money, equip most parts of their body with some kind of device, including ingestibles, technologically advanced pills.
Soon, items of basic clothing may even be equipped to monitor health. Researchers from the University of Rhode Island are working on the development of “smart textiles” with the express purpose of monitoring possibly harmful tremors in Parkinson’s patients. Other adaptations of this technology include socks made of the material that could send doctors information on patient gait, possibly aiding them in treating victims of strokes. This research opens up the door for countless further applications, with wearable technology becoming less and less obtrusive.
This marks a shift toward more stylish wearable devices. It may sound like an odd aspect of the industry to mention, but among many, there is an aversion to the lack of aesthetic common to many devices on the market. The trend among wearables is the minimalist whites and grays common in Apple products, but some watch companies have taken notice and are moving designs closer to those of traditional watches.
Additionally, the OrCam MyEye may provide a solution to often cumbersome vision solutions. Designed for users with limited vision, the device, which resembles a relatively normal pair of glasses, is able to process facial expressions and text and relay it to the user as readable text. It seems almost miraculous, but this is a byproduct of an age of integration; with individuals allowing to take back some measure of control of their lives.
We’re on the verge of a medical revolution, the synthesis of research and technology to create solutions to previously unaddressed problems. And I suspect that it only gets better from here.