IoT Tutorial: Chapter 14 – Wearables IoT Systems and Applications

IoT Tutorial: Chapter 14 – Wearables IoT Systems and Applications

Introducing Wearables
Wearables are small electronic devices, which comprise one or more sensors and are associated with clothing or worn accessories such as watches, wristbands, glasses and jewelry. Wearables come also with some sort of computational capability, which enables them to capture and process data about the physical world. In several cases they provide the means for presenting data in some sort of display. Wearable devices are not always connected to the internet, yet they usually offer some sort of connectivity such as Bluetooth or NFC (Near Field Communications) based connectivity to smartphones and the applications that are executed over them. The latter smartphones and applications support Internet based connections to cloud computing infrastructures and other devices for the purpose of exchanging data and invoking services (e.g., collecting and aggregating data within cloud infrastructures, triggering alerts). Despite the fact that not all wearables are connected to the Internet, wearable devices are considered a characteristic example of IoT devices, as they enable the blending of embedded sensors, software and connectivity towards supporting automated data exchanges and interaction between humans and devices.

Wearable devices serve multiple purposes and applications, as different types of wearables provide a wide range of different sensors such a light, sound, speed/acceleration, humidity, and more, while also providing a variety of calculations ranging from simple speed averages to electrocardiography values. Therefore, wearable devices are increasingly used in many industries, including both consumer and non-consumer oriented ones. The consumer oriented industries where wearables are extensively used including fitness and sports, fashion and apparel, home automation, as well as gaming. On the other hand, non-consumer oriented applications are typically found in defense and security, enterprise and industrial and healthcare. According to most market reports, the wearables consumer market is growing more rapidly than the non-consumer one; both however are witnessing significant growth, in the areas of tens of billions dollars between today and 2020. The proliferated use of wearables devices in the above listed market segments is likely to transform whole sectors of the economy, especially when combined with IoT technologies,including the Big Data and IoT analytics technologies discussed in earlier chapters.

Nowadays, the wearables sector with the highest penetration among consumers is probably the sports and wellness segment. This includes activity tracking and body operations monitoring devices, such as Apple Watch (which includes a heart rate sensor, a GPS and an accelerometer) and Sensoria Fitness T-shirt (which comprises embedded textile sensors that enable tracking of heart rate). In general, vendors with significant potential in these markets are those that have already established consumer ecosystems, including access to large numbers of end customers. Prominent examples of such vendors include Samsung, Google, Apple, Fitbit, Nike, Adidas and Sony. Popular products of these vendors include:

  • Adidas (http://www.adidas.gr/) Smart Run, which is a wrist device that monitors the wearer’s heart rate and location data. Note that the device is blended into Adidas miCoach system, which provides applications that improve the wearer’s training and performance.
  • FitBit’s Flex (https://www.fitbit.com/), which is a sleek wristband that provides real-time statistics on a user’s daily fitness activity.
  • Google’s Google Glass (https://www.google.com/glass/start/), which is a head-mounted wearable computer that projects a transparent screen in front of the user’s field of vision.
  • Nike’s Nike+ Sportwatch (http://www.nikeplus.com.br/), which is a wearable device that measures the distance traveled as well as the pace and speed of the wearer’s run.
  • Samsung’s Galaxy Gear (http://www.samsung.com/uk/consumer/mobile-devices/wearables/), an Android-based smart watch that synchronizes with a cellphone to achieve smartphone-like capabilities.
  • Sony’s Sony Core (http://www.sonymobile.com/global-en/products/smartwear/), a wrist-worn waterproof wearable smart band with a built-in sensor, which records activity levels throughout the day.

IoT and Wearables Convergence
During recent years, the above-listed wearable devices are becoming part of wider platforms and ecosystems that are provided by their vendors. Google and Apple are prominent examples of vendors that link their wearable products with wider wearables ecosystems. The latter are not limited to device level innovations, since they also include complete programming environments and related support services, which enable solution integrators and service providers to develop and provide a wide range of user-centred context-aware applications. These emerging wearable ecosystems enable the interaction of devices with people and other internet connected devices, thus empowering the convergence of wearable computing with the Internet-of-Things (IoT) paradigm.

The IoT and wearables convergence is the next evolutionary step in the development and deployment of added-value user-centric services based on wearables devices. This convergence will enable the development of secure, scalable, cost-effective and easy to deploy applications that leverage data and services from multiple wearable devices regardless of their vendor and/or their IoT ecosystems. It will also shift the value proposition from the proposition of the wearable vendor’s product (i.e. “best product”) to the provision of added-value services for end-users, notably services that combine data from multiple devices (i.e. “best IoT service”). To this end, there will be a need for interconnecting diverse ecosystems, taking into account a wide range of technical, technological, societal, business and regulatory issues. At the technological forefront there are already solutions for interconnecting ecosystems in a secure and (semantically) interoperable way, as we have discussed in an earlier chapter of this tutorial dealing with semantic interoperability. However, these solutions have not been customized and validated based on the needs of the wearables industry. Furthermore, no efforts have been undertaken towards resolving the associated business issues (including viable business models) and regulatory issues including the ever important security, privacy and data protection challenges.


An overview of the challenges and limitations that currently hinder the wider penetration and uptake of IoT wearables technologies follows.
Challenges for End-Users:

  • Vendor Lock-in: Once end-users purchase a wearable device and associated services, they suffer from vendor lock-in which tights them to the ecosystem of their device vendor. End-users have no way of switching to another vendor’s device (and associated ecosystem) without essentially disrupting the operation of the service(s) that are offered to them.
  • Repurpose devices for other contexts and applications: Most wearables are currently deployed in order to deliver services in a specific application area (e.g., fitness or healthcare). There is no easy way to repurpose and reuse the data and/or the services provided by a wearable device in other contexts, which restricts the use and limits end-users’ Return-on-Investment (ROI) on wearable devices.
  • Empower users to control their data: End-user data represent the most precious resources in a wearables technology context, while at the same time being a main vehicle for personalizing applications and services. However, users are currently forced to abide by predetermined and rather inflexible agreements with services providers and vendors regarding the sharing and use of their data (in-line with available laws and regulations). Likewise, they are not offered with flexibility in controlling their data and are not empowered to selectively share them in exchange of appropriate incentives.
  • Provide user-friendly and engaging applications: The interaction with the devices and application must be intuitive so end-users can easily know how to use their wearables and how to personalize all of that interaction. Most of current devices and applications overload end-users with functionalities and data without considering their individual competence level and preferences.

Challenges for IoT Applications Developers:

  • Open and Device Independent development: Wearables application developers are currently tied to specific ecosystems, since their applications are bound to specific devices and APIs. While this boosts specialization, it also results in a fragmentation of knowledge and skills, which can be a serious setback to wearables innovation in an IoT context, where applications are likely to comprise multiple devices from more than one vendors.
  • Increased Reuse of IoT services in a wearables context: IoT applications involving wearable devices should be able to benefit from the proliferating number of services on IoT data (such as IoT analytics). The reuse of such services could facilitate the rapid bootstrapping of the development of novel wearables applications, while at the same time facilitate a best-of-breed blending between the IoT and wearables worlds.
  • Increased user-acceptance: Integration of human-centred (e.g., such as artistic) aspects are key prerequisites for the acceptance of wearables devices and associated IoT applications by end users. However, these aspects have not still received adequate attention by vendors and integrators.
  • Simplified data management (including security, privacy and data protection): Developers’ have nowadays no easy ways to manage end-users data, especially when it comes to dealing with devices and services from multiple wearables devices and ecosystems.

Challenges for Wearables Vendors and Producers

  • Enrich the wearable services ecosystem: Wearables vendors’ business opportunities are currently limited to their own ecosystems (including devices and associated programming environments). Vendors could benefit from additional business opportunities stemming from a richer ecosystem, which will enable IoT applications deploying multi-vendor wearables.
  • Improved Design and End-User Acceptance: Wearables vendors’ participation in an IoT ecosystem that combines wearable devices from multiple vendors will provide opportunities for improved design of devices and increased end-user acceptance. The latter will be highly based on the delivery of the above-listed benefits to end-users, such as control over their data and opportunities for data control and repurposing.
  • Enable vendors’ and producers participation in an open innovation ecosystem: Wearables innovation is nowadays constrained in the realm of specific vendors and their ecosystem. An additional wave of open innovation applications will generate more business and market opportunities.

Wearables and Interoperability
Interoperability across wearables devices, services and ecosystems is a key to alleviating several of above-listed limitations (e.g., cross-ecosystem development, vendor lock-in the more). In particular interoperability at multiple levels is required including:

  • Interoperability across different wearables devices, towards enabling machine-to-machine (M2M) communication between them. This requires interoperability in communication protocols and devices, as needed in order to enable direct (M2M) communication between two or more different devices.
  • Interoperability in terms of different data formats, through adherence to a well-defined syntax and encoding. This will facilitate consistent data field level interpretation regardless of wearable vendor, API and software drivers used to access wearables data. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a popular format used
  • Interoperability regarding the meaning of the data of each wearable device, towards facilitating a common interpretation (i.e. semantic interoperability).

All these interoperability levels can be addressed on the basis of the technical, syntactic and semantic interoperability techniques for IoT, which have been discussed in earlier chapters of this tutorial.

Overall, wearable technologies enable a host of new opportunities for novel IoT services, which are expected to go far beyond the standards set of services that come with the devices we purchase nowadays. Blended with wearables, IoT will boost a shift from the “Best Wearable Product” to the “Best IoT Wearables Service”. End-user’s ability to access such services will provide a strong incentives for end-users to overcome existing concerns about wearable adoption, such as concerns associated with privacy and data protection, vulnerability to security breaches and the use of too many electronic devices.

Acknowledgements

I acknowledge help and valuable contribution from my former student Ms Athina Klaoudatou (currently ICT Presales Engineer at Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation) for providing an analysis of the wearables market.