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BIOWEARABLES: Tech Gets Skintimate

24 Sep 2015
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The wearables market has exploded in the last couple years, and we’ve talked a lot about how they’re the go-to tech of the future and how, within the wearables sphere, some products are flourishing and some are flopping. We’ve also compiled design tenets for creating wearables that people will, you know, actually want.

However, there’s no denying the fact that, at the end of the day, wearables face an inherent obstacle to ultimate success: Every day the user has to make an active decision to put them on. But the ultimate goalas it is in any type of techis for wearables to be fully integrated into the user’s life. For them to become almost a part of the users themselves.

“Everyone has this idea of the future as this guy with Google Glass and the Apple Watch and five Fitbits,” Chaotic Moon Creative Technologist Eric Schneider told us a while back, “but the goal is really wearable technology that you can’t even see.”

Enter what we’ve dubbed biowearables: wearable technology that isn’t just, say, strapped to the user’s wrist, but interacts WITH their wrist. It’s technology that is, in a sense, part of the user.

“That’s the future of wearables,” Schneider said, “total integration and essential invisibility.”

Here, we take a look at how biowearables are slowly but surely working their way into our lives and, in some cases, into our bodies.

HEALTH AND MEDICINE

While the idea of implants certainly isn’t anything new in the medical field (think titanium hips, pacemakers, screws inserted into the knee during an ACL repair…), recent developments and projects in progress are “smarter” than ever and qualify more as biowearables than simply nuts and bolts tasked with the duty of holding our bodies together.

One example of a biowearable of sorts that’s serving as the weapon of choice for Google’s Life Sciences Division as they take on diabetes is a smart contact lens equipped with a tiny sensor that has the ability to measure the glucose level in tears. While it may seem a bit physically invasive, it’s actually making the testing process a far less invasive part of users’ lives. It doesn’t just spare diabetics the inconvenience of pricking their finger six to 10 times a day, but it allows them to monitor their glucose on the go without altering their normal behavior whatsoever. It’s completely automatic, completely easy, and it’s a wearable that experts believe those that suffer from diabetes will welcome into their lives with open arms (or, rather, open eyes).

“There’s been an explosion of wearables, data and analytics,” Michael Chae, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter at the American Diabetes Association, told NPR. “People with diabetes are more comfortable living in a measured world.”

CONSUMERISM AND PRACTICALITY

It’s not just the worlds of health and wellness with the potential to be revolutionized by biowearables, however. In other realms there are also innovators taking matters into their own hands—in some cases, by actually putting technology in their own hands.

The October 2015 issue of Wired features a story on Gadi Amit, the designer behind the Fitbit and other notable tech products, whose current endeavor is taking the idea of wearables to a whole new level.

Project Underskin is, Wired reports, a digital tattoo implanted in the user’s hand which utilizes a two-node circuit board and boasts a wide variety of uses:

The tattoo can send near-field communication signals to unlock doors and authenticate credit-card users. It can track location and movement and display information such as blood sugar levels or heart rate. It won’t convey alphanumeric information, but rather codify it geometrically. The user gets to decide what is displayed and how it is transmitted. Amit calls it an introvert user interface. “It’s completely personal,” he says. “No one knows what it means, because the context is made in your mind. That’s the beauty of it.”

This is an even further evolution of Amit’s design philosophy, which Wired explains perfectly in relation to the Fitbit: ”a device that was present but didn’t need to announce itself every five minutes. You could put one on and forget about it.”

And that–the idea of technology that becomes an actual part of us–is what, really, the goal of wearables should be.

+ HERE AT CHAOTIC MOON

Biowearables as we’ve defined them are a relatively new concept–and largely uncharted territory–and here at Chaotic Moon, we’re excited to explore the incredible potential.

One of our works in progress is a conductive tattoo which–rather than being a device implanted under the skin like Amit’s–would live on top of the wearer’s skin. We’re also experimenting with the idea of growing a skin of sorts, which could incorporate technology while serving as a more environmentally friendly alternative to PCBs, wires, etc.

(There are also some projects we can’t tell you about. You’ll just have to stay tuned for those.)

“When it comes to solving problems with technology, the ultimate solution is always one that takes incredibly complex tech but presents it to the user in a streamlined, intuitive package,” said Chaotic Moon CEO Ben Lamm. “This concept—the idea of integrating the wearable with the wearer—is the epitome of this concept. It doesn’t get more streamlined than that.”

In short: Stay tuned, because when it comes to biowearables, we can’t wait to be, um…on you.