The Future of Wearables

So what does the future of technology look like? As a graduate student at Stanford, I worked with a research team looking into this question. We prototyped and developed concepts of what we think technology will look like in the future. We looked at the most recent technological advances and paired it with a human-centered approach to research. I left the project after a year to focus on teaching design thinking, but the research group continues developing and crafting these core ideas. Their work was recently published in Nature:

The bodyNET

The bodyNET is the core concept developed during my time with the project. In it’s essence, we are predicting that we will no longer have a central technological device that we interact with (i.e. our cell phone) but an ecosystem of connected wearables.

Now when we talk about wearables, we aren’t just talking about fitbits. We are talking about four different layers of technology:

Peripherals

Smart Clothing

On Skin Devices

Implants

These four categories will work together to make a cohesive ecosystem of technology.

At the center of this ecosystem is a central battery and processor. It will most likely live on your back, either in clothing or connected to your skin. By centralizing power, we can decentralize the human-technology interactions. Devices will no longer have to carry their own batteries or processors. They will become smaller, lighter, and more manageable. This means we will no longer be trapped by our touch screens but we will be able to use the dexterity and creativity that humans are so good at.

Humanizing Technology

A big part of this project was considering the human elements of technology. Google Glass failed because it was culturally unacceptable. None of us want to walk around in a world where AR places advertisements everywhere we look. We don’t want to be constantly distracted by our technology. And we don’t want technology that simply measures our activities. We want technology that enhance our human capabilities and experiences. While the bodyNET has the potential to change the way we interact with the world, it is up to us to ensure the quality of those interactions improves our lives.

How We Got Here

We used a human-centered design process to understand how people currently interact with wearables and we built prototypes to test how they will engage with them in the future.

Here’s a look at the prototypes we built:

The temperature sensing glove allows a user to feel temperature from a distance. This concept was made to see how people feel when a wearable gives them a super human capability. We also wanted to test the usefulness of a tactile interface.
The power glove. What if the bodyNET could power external devices by touch. In this glove we used inductive charging technology to power our peripheral device when the user picks it up. Another example of how we are enhancing the human capability.
Slim VR / AR headset. The brass earing worn by the user connects the glasses to the bodyNET’s central battery and computing power. This allows us to design a pair of glasses that are culturally acceptable. They no longer have to cover up a human’s entire face to function.
The bodyNET’s clothing. On the back of the shirt we see the central battery and processor in blue. The white stripes represent wires, antenas, and connection to the screen device on the forearm. There is a camera on the back of the shirt that streams live video through wi-fi. Allowoing the user to have eyes always looking behind him.
Facial circuitry. These images were used to test cultural norms. Would people be ok with electronics tattooed on their face? Maybe in the future.

What’s next?

Stanford is continuing this research to refine and build the bodyNET through technological advancement. We now need other people to join in and design the future of wearables. By considering the bodyNET, we can build a world that allows humans to be more empathetic, creative, and free.