By Rajiv Kapur, Managing Director, Broadcom India
Imagine a device the size of a band aid that is capable of collecting your biological data and connecting with your smartphone to alert you when you require medical attention. Now, imagine a GPS device embedded in your pet’s collar that will help you locate him if he goes missing or better yet keep him from wandering off your property to begin with! While this might seem far-fetched and futuristic, researchers and innovators around the world are working behind the scenes and around the clock on extraordinary applications. Their efforts are driving innovation into areas that just a few years ago were considered little more than science fiction.
Around the globe, we are moving toward a scenario where we no longer just use technology. Instead the technology is being embedded in devices that are not only on us but everywhere around us at home and at work. Because the devices are worn on the body, innovations in this space are known as ‘wearables’, and they are a key driving force behind the Internet of Things (IoT) era.
The very diversity of IoT applications is staggering – literally anything that is electronic can be connected. We now have products capable of making life simpler and remotely managing tasks that up until a few years ago were only possible in movies. There are smart consumer products and devices that monitor health and behavior—whether human or animal. There is even a company called Dairymaster in the United States that markets a number of smart products for farmers, including a cloud-based MooMonitor that determines a cow's readiness for pregnancy.
The wearables revolution first started with fitness devices, watches and wirelessly-enabled sports shoes, but has since morphed into health and location monitors and activity trackers. FitBit and Nike Fuelband, for example, are two activity trackers worn on the wrist that allow a person to monitor their own physical activity in real time. In India, start-up companies such as Diabeto are creating innovations poised to change the way we monitor and manage our health. With developments like these, it’s no wonder that analysts and experts alike predict that roughly 100 million wearable devices will have been sold by 2014. By 2018, that number is set to top 485 million.
The development of IoT applications and wearable devices are being driven largely by innovations in wireless technologies; namely Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart, Near Field Communications (NFC), and GPS. Key enhancements in size, heat dissipation, and battery requirements have made better and smaller devices possible. Ongoing innovation in process and power consumption will further enable manufacturers to introduce IoT products and wearables with ever more functionality and mass appeal.
Bluetooth Smart (formerly known as Bluetooth Low Energy), is one such game-changing innovation. It enables devices to consume energy at such low rates that they can literally run for months, or even years, on just a single coin-cell battery. Apple is one company at the forefront in understanding the power of Bluetooth Smart and its impact on the wireless industry. To date, nearly all of its devices now serve as Bluetooth Smart ready hubs, allowing them to easily and simply connect to Bluetooth Smart-enabled sensor devices
Now Microsoft, Blackberry, Google (Android), and Samsung are following suit—increasing Bluetooth Smart integration and setting the stage for an extraordinary explosion of wearables. This remarkable technology can seamlessly sync a wireless smartphone or tablet to a vehicle's audio and display system for communication with pedestrians, other vehicles and even road infrastructure. It also has the potential to connect wearable technology and medical sensors on the body to the vehicle. Google is currently testing driverless cars that can talk to traffic signals and other vehicles on the road. One day, in the not so far off future, emergency vehicles may even be fit with sensors that allow them to change traffic signals to ‘green’ for easier passage in times of need.
What’s becoming increasingly clear here is that when it comes to the IoT and wearable technology, the possibilities are too numerous to count. Their only limitation is our imagination.