As digital trends go, wearable, connected objects and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) appear to be reaching maximum volume 11 on the hype scale these days. The promise of a world where everything is somehow tethered to the Internet—thus controllable via any and all connected devices—has a certain Utopian appeal, for sure, but the reality is somewhat more mixed. While some reports indicate a steady and rapid rise in IoT technologies over the next decade or so, that unabashed enthusiasm increasingly has been tempered by more skeptical points of view.
An oft-cited report from Gartner that indicated the growth of IoT objects to 26 billion units by 2020 certainly added interest to the conversation, but skeptics would claim that some other positive stats are merely adding to the hype machine for more self-serving purposes, since hardware, software, and infrastructure providers have the most to gain (or to lose) in our all-things-connected future.
The truth about the future of IoT may lie somewhere in the middle, where connected objects are gaining traction, but primarily in specialized sectors such as healthcare and sports. In the healthcare arena, the application of smart technologies that utilize Internet connectivity seems to have already yielded advancements, improving quality of care and the ability to more effectively monitor everything from insulin levels to diaper usage.
But in no other consumer category has IoT technologies taken as strong a hold on public imagination and interest than in sports, particularly in personal fitness. Indeed, in a category that is already inherently preoccupied with stats and data, sports and fitness activities are ripe for the kind of monitoring and statistical information gathering and sharing that connected objects can provide. Consumer wearable devices ranging from from Fitbit to Jawbone UP to Misfit Wearables track a variety of activities from steps taken to sleep (had or not). For more serious athletic activities, a new crop of devices and applications from makers such as Under Armour and Simbionics promise to take personal fitness monitoring to the next level by providing biometric data and feedback.
Taking the concept of wearable tech literally to the clothes that athletes wear, this summer, OMsignal will introduce a line of biometric smartwear, a compression shirt made from a smart textile that connects to a monitor that tracks fitness activities and delivers data to users’ smartphones. This follows the introduction of GPSports’ connected compression vest—which looks like a kind of smart sports bra for men—that’s already been seen on Australian rugby players, and may soon make appearances on football and soccer players worldwide.
Currently, a Kickstarter campaign for a new wearable wristband hopes to do for tennis what Fitbit has done for walking and running. Created by Australian product designer and self-proclaimed “tennis tragic” Rob Crowder, the Smash band is a wearable band that promises to not only monitor your performance on the tennis court, but also provide feedback to help improve your game—a virtual tennis coach on users’ wrists. The funding period concludes on July 10, and, thus far, it has reach about 30% of its fundraising goal.
While wearable tech may seem like the flavor du jour among mostly tech cognoscenti, there’s no denying that it’s more than simply a trend. In fact, wearable tech can claim a history that goes back more than 50 years. Separating the hype from reality can be a fool’s errand, but when it comes to sports and connected objects, it seems that the Internet of Things may have already found a playing field in which it can win.