Science fiction has long predicted a time when humans are enhanced using bionic implants. And with the latest generation of wearable technology, we may be inching closer to that future – a future where technology ushers our species towards its next evolutionary phase.
Fitness brand Athos is launching the world’s first smart garments that measure respiration, heart rate and muscle activity in real time. And Levi Strauss has partnered with Google to develop apparel that interfaces with your personal gadgets. This new clothing will use touch-sensitive surfaces to monitor your vital statistics and respond to your gestures (for example by placing a phone call at your command).
Jawbone, Nike and Fitbit also manufacture wearable gadgets that gather and analyse exercise and health related data such as food consumption, fitness levels and sleep patterns. And Swiss research firm Soreon claims the wearable healthcare market (worth $2 billion in 2014) would expand by 65% per annum, taking market value to $40 billion by 2020.
But technology is progressing quickly, and even this current generation of fitness trackers will shortly be superseded by new biometric wristbands that actually monitor conditions inside your own body. Echo Labs researchers are developing a biometric band that uses optical signals to measure your blood pressure, oxygen, CO2, PH and hydration levels.
And initiatives are currently underway to produce implantable technology, such as internal microchips and digital tattoos to augment human biology.
A recent survey of 200 women who used Fitbit trackers revealed that the majority consider the device almost a part of their body rather than external technology, with 89% wearing the wristband continuously and only removing it to charge the battery.
68% viewed the device as a friend who supports them to achieve their daily targets. One participant said: “I love my Fitbit Flex because it gives me a pat on the back every night.”
But somewhat alarmingly, 30% said Fitbit made them feel guilty, 59% said Fitbit controlled their daily routine, and 79% felt pressurised to achieve their daily goals.
So while wearable technology can have a positive impact on our lives, it’s also wise to be cognisant of the inevitable risks as we invite these technological companions into and onto our bodies.