Wearable Technology: Where Are We Headed?

Science Fiction Is Becoming 'Science Fact'

Christina M. Sorenson, OD


February 12, 2018

Wearable technology is becoming pervasive around the world. But where is it leading us?

We were interested in the applications of wearable technology when introduced in the early years of Google Glass, but then the privacy invasion, the morphing of information, and the question of, "Where are we headed with this technology?" surfaced.

Today, however, wearable technology is seen on almost every person; wrist devices are commonplace, and, if you include smartphones in this same category, it is endemic.

If you have any doubt as to how pervasive this technology is, a brief review of the social media reach of the Consumer Electronic Show 2018 may convince you. There were 133.9 million views of social media highlights on Snapchat, 4.3 million views of official videos on Twitter, and 39,000 shares on Instagram.[1]

Wearable technology can now be considered a habit or maybe even an addiction. It has the trigger (bing, buzz, or ring), the action (check the feed), the reward (information and images), and the cycle of investment (comment/swipe). Each step of this cycle includes an emotional connection that you find in habitual or addictive behaviors. The immediate information acquisition and distribution is a powerful and useful tool to even the most casual user. "Where is the closest coffee shop?" Just tap that app and voilà—you have your answer.

But it is the future application of wearable technology that really is of interest in the field of healthcare.

The brain-computer interface (BCI) could be the most game-changing development in our lifetime for the disabled. BCIs acquire neuron signals from the central nervous system and translate them into actions carried out by robotic arms, wheelchairs, cursors, and other devices. The output of a BCI interacts with the user's environment to carry out a desired action.

Many options are possible with this technology, and the study of the options has just begun. It might even become an adjunct to the learning surgeon. Given our adaptation to external machinery in the past 10 years, it seems likely that we will soon see BCIs for people with neuromuscular disorders and those in rehabilitative settings as ordinary.

At present, BCIs are primarily found in the laboratory setting—and challenges with this technology remain, such as what is the desired signal acquisition hardware, what is the device's capability, and how reliable will the user find this device in daily application.[2]

With technology such as this, we could see science fiction become science fact. However, this is only an output pathway. From my very sensory-centric viewpoint, I hope that the future also holds the study and development of an input pathway so that we can restore vision and hearing.

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