By Duncan Bell
Amplified Robot VR
Amplified Robot has used AR and VR to do everything from creating virtual art galleries to letting lucky users go around a Milton Keynes shopping centre without having to actually set foot in Milton Keynes. This is an altogether more serious project in association with the Bart's Trust. Shot using six cameras, this system allows medical students to virtually attend surgical procedures and in time, could even become an interactive surgical simulator.
The flaw with the current setup is the camera's location: your main focus is right in front of you - take a look around the operating theatre are machines going “Ping!” and, yes, bored looking medical students - so what's the point of the VR approach? Nonetheless, it's a bold and impressive early “stab” at medical-grade educational VR.
In some ways this is like a fitness tracker - it's an accelerometer in a band, after all. However, Activinsights' products are for medical uses, tracking the movement and sleep of people with conditions from diabetes to obesity. All the fun stuff.
To this end, its bands need to be validated through studies in medical journals. Product Manager Stephanie Sergeant suggested that the likes of Apple Watch may struggle to move into the lucrative health field because they are consumer devices. “You can run into problems with regulation, especially in America.”
There are various features that make it clear this is not a fitness tracker, of course. The button on the band is there to be pressed by the wearer when they take medication or experience “pain episodes”, easily allowing a complex picture of how their treatment is going to be built up. The battery life is measured in months rather than days.
With this kind of “medical grade” accuracy, is Activinsights interested in the consumer market? Maybe not. “It's something to consider,” Stephanie says, “but our focus is very much health.”
Where most fitness bands track your steps and sleep, this one is for serious gym goers and is able to track specific exercises. “Aircraft grade” sensors (whatever that means; we're pretty sure being able to accurately track bicep curls isn't a prerequisite of constructing sensors for aeroplanes) can recognise up to 30 exercises so far - in our brief hands on, it successfully identified and counted bicep curls and precepts, but had no idea what an overhead press was - with more to follow.
As it's waterproof, it can also count strokes and lengths when you're swimming, and even recognise what stroke you're using.
Clearly, this is a potential leap forward for fitness trackers but it seemed a little unfinished at the show, especially given its anticipated April launch date. It's also, as you can see, not exactly a looker, but then the intention is to retail it at a very reasonable £150-£200.
The makers claim it can track your form when weight lifting, but at the moment, it only gives very basic feedback in its app, after you've finished - the real killer app here would be live feedback on your performance, warning you if you're potentially straining muscles and advising you to move to a lighter weight.
You're driving in the country at night and someone comes around the corner without his headlights dipped. The results may not be pleasant. These lenses, however, would immediately darken, thanks to sensors and a layer of liquid crystal in the lens. Likewise, go into a tunnel on a sunny day and they immediately switch off. Your pupils are already wider than they would be because they've been behind darkened lenses, so you transition smoothly and rapidly to the gloom.
The science bit: rather than being constantly on at a varying level of greyness, Inoptec is either completely clear, or black but strobing imperceptibly on and off at a rate that varies according to the level of light blasted at it. Got that? Good.
Please note, the product here is only the lens, not the frame - that's made by someone else - and that's an *extremely* bright light - in the thousands of lumens - being shone at our model's face. As you can see, the dude doesn't even care.
Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh… Smartlife! Smartlife makes sensors that can be woven into clothing, and then monitor your heart rate, with results showing up on app. Of course. Several competing products do the same sort of thing, but thanks to the use of a passive, “medical grade” ECG, Smartlife's device also measures respiration and, via the usual kind of algorithm, calorie burn.
Smartlife sensors actually predate smartphones, so it's been a case of waiting for tech to catch up and provide an interface for the product, which is resistant to washing and dry cleaning. We're not quite sure about their first choice of textiles partner, mind: a brand of runners' underwear called, er, “Runderwear”. Cheers, clever wording.
The eccentric French sleep tracker has been looking for a way to be truly useful. By teaming up with Nest, it may just have found one. Now, when Aura detects you're trying to doze off, it tells Nest to dial down the temperature to about 21 degrees C, the optimum for restful sleep. When you wake in the morning, it lets Nest know to return to its normal setting, as you awake from your slumbers to Aura's highly curious selection of chill-out-electronica-styled alarm tones and funnel filled of bright blue lights.
…And speaking of devices in search of a use… Misfit's Flash watch/tracker can now control its Bolt lightbulb. Multiple presses of Misfit's face will turn the bulb on and off, and even fade it up and down, in steps. Yeah, okay, it's maybe not the most advanced, sophisticated or seamless example of wearable/home tech interaction we've yet seen, but any kind of control from your wrist definitely beats having to fish out your phone every time. The bulbs are £39, last “for 20 years” - make sure you keep those receipts - and will be out June-July.
The Mio range
“Accuracy is absolutely key for us,” says Mio CEO Liz Dickinson. “You know, 50% of the U.S. population 20+ is interested in fitness. That's a huge market. I was very happy to see those figures. Just look at how the market's moving: even Fitbit seems to be moving away from its core market and positioning itself for the serious sport market…
The biggest selling wearable in the world is still strap-on heart rate monitors! We have a core proposition of accurate heart rate monitoring and accurate step counting. We don't get into all these other areas. Well, not yet.
“You have brands saying, 'Our device is accurate enough for our consumer.' That's an insult to their consumers!"
She's not convinced Apple Watch is going to be a competitor so much as an accidental enabler: ”Who's going to go running through the forest in an Apple Watch? But it'll build the market and the App Store will fuel innovation. You know what? I'd love to have a fitness device that anyone could develop apps for.”
SPT Game Traka
This GPS tracker was shown to us by a very butch Aussie guy. Placed in a rather “man-bra” style harness, it's worn by sportsmen (and women, although they have to wear it over their actual bra) as they run, train and play team sports. It lets coaches know how far they've run, and how fast.
Perhaps most interestingly, stats on speed, distance, acceleration and so on are combined via an “algorithm that's widely recognised in Australia” to give an all-encompassing “Intensity” score for easy comparison, so the hairdryer treatment can be applied to shirkers.
Game Traka sits above your basic off-the-shelf fitness tracker but below the pro-grade likes of Firstbeat (who were also here showing off their wares). It's for ferociously competitive amateurs, basically - in other words, Australians.
This, obviously, is a Samsung Gear S, but here as workwear. TBS is rolling out a pilot scheme with Heathrow airport, following on from its existing phone and tablet apps, to use Gear Ss as an ultra- convenient way to warn airport staff of passengers overloading gates, impending bad weather and much more, via simple pushed messages and graphical representations of what gates are and are not open.
TBS is also trialling schemes for retail staff to check stock levels and money-off deals instantly, and to monitor the well-being/work-rate of security staff on their rounds. In short: people with stressful jobs now have one more consolation: sweet, sweet wearable work tech.