Wearable Technology: Better and Worse Than You Thought

ImageBy Doug Logan

The idea of wearable electronics has long been associated with distant technologies that never quite materialize. But as technology keeps marching forward, so does the prospect of having highly functional devices that are layered on, attached to, or even embedded into our bodies. Many are now familiar with Google’s Google Glass, the wearable eyewear that provides users with a functional screen and camera attached to a pair of glasses, yet fewer are familiar with other wearable technologies on the horizon.

Intel recently announced its “Make It Wearable” competition finalists. The finalists include: a project aimed at allowing users to run on a treadmill and read at the same time by tracking the vertical motion of the user and matching the text’s movement; a jacket that cools down hot people and warms cold people; a wisdom tooth monitoring device that tracks conditions in one’s mouth after wisdom teeth removal; a small listening device designed to track the voices of those speaking to children; and a special fabric designed to absorb human sweat and carbon dioxide in order to produce oxygen.

Want even more? How about contact lenses that allow the user to see in infrared? Yes, it could soon be possible thanks to a miracle material called graphene. Since its discovery, graphene has been hailed as “the strongest, slimmest, and most malleable material in known existence,” and it could revolutionize computing and wearable technologies. For example, graphene could soon be used to make sensors, such as heart monitors, printable on clothing. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have already had success printing graphene onto different materials.

So far the largest obstacle to getting graphene into commercially marketable goods, such as processors and smartphones, has been producing graphene in a cost effective manner. But Samsung may have just blown open the doors on mass producing graphene. “Samsung is dressing this up as a breakthrough for flexible, wearable computers—which is fair enough, given the company’s recent focus on curved smartphones and watches,” writes Sebastian Anthony from ExtremeTech.com. Graphene could also be used for “wallpaper-thin lighting panels” and “next generation aircraft.”

However, with the potential arrival of all these wearable technologies come familiar legal questions regarding privacy, free speech, and consumer protection—we have previously covered privacy implications of the “Internet of Things.” Google Glass has already experienced a backlash from those who do not want to be “observed” by the technology. In at least one instance, this sentiment has even turned violent. But as with any technology, the ultimate legal implications depend on who is using it and what they are using it for.

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