As technology moves beyond the desktop to ubiquitous mobile computing and the Internet of Things, wearable IT is entering the mainstream.
Use of body-worn sensors is forecast to grow rapidly in the short term, due to a range of factors, from wireless protocol standardization and new mobile technology to social networking application capabilities. The market for wearable devices was worth $800 million in 2012, but mobile industry analyst Juniper Research predicts 2014 will be a watershed year, with it almost doubling to $1.5 billion. A separate prediction from IMS Research puts the market at $6 billion by 2016.
Google Glass and Nike+ FuelBand are leading the way in the consumer space, with sports-related monitors forecast to be one of the largest growth areas of wearable technology. A compound annual growth rate of 46% between 2010 and 2016 is anticipated, reaching just under 80 million device sales globally in 2016, according to ABI Research.
Nitin Bhas, a senior analyst at Juniper Research, says: “With consumers embracing new technologies and form factors, wearable devices ranging from fitness accessories to heads-up displays will be more prevalent in the consumer market. While fitness and entertainment will have the greatest demand from consumers, within an enterprise environment the demand for wearable devices will be greatest from the aviation and warehouse sectors.”
This growth in wearable IT will present both opportunities and challenges for the enterprise. As well as more immediate benefits, such as enhanced employee mobility, there will be an explosion in data transmitted by these devices that will need to be stored, secured and analyzed, but also the chance to exploit this by streamlining processes, cutting costs and identifying new revenue streams.Wireless medical monitors
One of the biggest growth areas in wearable technology, and one with the potential to have a massive impact on society, is the medical and health sector. Current gadgets include continuous glucose monitors for diabetes sufferers, but medical devices are predicted to become increasingly sophisticated, ranging from brainwave-measuring headsets to smart clothes with embedded medical sensors.
The goal for clinical professionals is prevention of health problems and better outcomes through earlier detection — something that can both save lives and cut the longer-term cost of treatment. The growth in these devices will lead to an increase in patient data, however, and that will pose security challenges for healthcare IT professionals and doctors alike. More than 100 million wearable wireless medical devices will be sold annually by 2016, according to analyst ABI Research.
Palm vein security
As big data becomes more valuable, it will become the target of increasingly sophisticated security threats. Therefore, as Dr. Joseph Reger, CTO of Global Business at Fujitsu, puts it: “Big data requires big security.”
One solution is palm vein recognition, which works by using an infrared light to map — and subsequently recognize — the unique vein pattern beneath a person’s palm. Fujitsu is a leader in this sector, and has been supplying palm vein security solutions to banks in Japan for nearly a decade. The challenge for the future is to make this technology cheaper and more portable. Fujitsu Laboratories, the company’s R&D unit, has developed the world’s smallest palm vein authentication sensor, with a thickness of just 5mm, paving the way for widespread inclusion in mobile devices. Fujitsu says it delivers the same high degree of accuracy as its existing PalmSecure products, which have false rejection rates of 0.01% and false acceptance rates of 0.00008%.
Smart clothing/intelligent textiles
Although power supply and cost are currently still significant barriers to the mainstream adoption of smart clothing technology, some 300 million body-worn wireless sensor-based gadgets will be on the market by 2016, with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology having a major impact, according to analyst firm Smithers Apex. The scope for smart clothing and e-textiles is vast, ranging from the fashion industry to health and the military.
Current examples include garments that incorporate smartphones and sportswear that features sensors to track performance. In the near future we are likely to see sensors in shirt sleeves that can identify a bleeding wound and tighten the fabric into a tourniquet, anti-infection polymers added to fibers, and military uniforms that communicate with satellites.