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April 30, 2015

Will wearables become hearables?

Tiny chips and sensors open way for 'disappearables'.

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Emerging solutions within the sensor and chip industries could lead wearables to evolve into hearables.

According to Reuters, the trend for the next five years will be to go from wrist wear to ear wear.

The news agency also said that as devices with small chips and sensors become more mainstream, solutions placed in clothes or inside humans’ bodies will transform wearables into disappearables.

Nikolaj Hviid, CEO at the Dash, a small wireless in-ear headphone, said: "In five years, when we look back, everything we see [now] will absolutely be classified as toys, as the first very basic steps of getting this right."

The Dash solution was developed by Bragi and includes a music player, 4 GBs of storage, a microphone for phone calls and sensors to monitor users’ body position, heart rate and body temperature.

Consultant Nick Hunn said smartwatches will be the key trend within the wearables ecosystem for the next three years, but hearables will take over and by 2020 the technology will be worth over $15 billion.

Mr Hunn added that the shift is happening now as developers realise "the ear has potential beyond listening to music — it’s an ideal site for measuring a variety of vital signs".

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A new generation of chipsets using Bluetooth wireless communication, with less power consumption than their predecessors and a new wave of smaller sensors are the main reasons for this emerging technology, the consultant said.

Companies like Philips, Motorola, Haier and Parrot have invested in reducing the power demand and size of sensors.

Kow Ping, CEO of Well Being Digital, provides these enterprises with algorithms and reference solutions on wearable sensing. He said: "A few years ago, an accelerometer which is now one sq ml was two or three times as big and two or three times less refined."

Andrew Sheehy of Generator Research added that the heat in a human eyeball could power a 5 milliwatt transmitter, enough to power a connection from a smart contact lens to a smartphone or other controlling device.

Well Being Digital is currently developing a sports bra application, which could harvest energy from relative motion. In five years, he said, "there will be people building sensors into every existing wearable device or apparel".

The smaller applications of wearables earned the nickname of ‘disappearables’ from Mr Hviid who, apart from recognising the medical and fitness benefits of these devices, is looking into other ways of using them in different life situations.

For example, he said disappearables could advise on how to improve your posture or gait when trying to impress a suitor.

Mr Sheehy points beyond the personal, as parallel advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence "come together and lead to some remarkable use cases:" A politician’s contact lens, for example, might provide real-time feedback from a sample of voters, allowing for a speech to be tweaked as it happens.

The researcher added that the technology is already available and pointed for Google’s venture in developing smart contact lenses to measure glucose levels in tears.

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