It’s been the basis of science fiction literature for decades, but the notion of people merging with machines is jumping from fantasy to reality, thanks to media. It’s just not happening the way sci-fi writers envisioned it. Instead of literally fusing our bodies with technology, a new generation of wearable media are simply sensing and transmitting data about ourselves to seamlessly augment how we experience the world around us, including brands. How this will ultimately change relationships between consumers and brands isn’t yet clear, but scientists are already working on the next generation of technology that will accelerate it.
Darren Lipomi is one of them. In his lab in the Department of Nanoengineering at University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Lipomi is developing self-repairing sensors made of organic stretchable materials -- similar to a second skin -- that are capable of transmitting signals.
Instead of carrying wearable tech like an Apple or Samsung watch, Google Glass, or other device, Lipomi is working with a team at UCSD to develop pliable electronics, organic semiconductors, molecular structures that enable conductive materials to function when bent in any shape or direction.
The material is so thin, he says, that it appears as a layer of skin. Its main purpose, he says, would be to relay data and from the person wearing it.
"It is my intention to use the materials that my lab is developing in wearable and implantable devices," he says.
Lipomi’s prototypes are among the latest in a progression of rapidly accelerating advancements in wearable human technology, and while much of the focus has been on things like mobility, applications, and even fashion, the big changes will be in how they leverage data to augment what we experience media, and the ways in which we experience it.
Time magazine's Sept. 10, story "How Apple Is Invading Our Bodies" highlights how Apple's Watch "represents a redrawing of the map that locates technology in one place and our bodies in another," but the smartwatch merely becomes a stepping stone to the way humans will transmit data.
Earlier this year, Lipomi published "The Chemistry of Materials," a paper that describing applications for consumer devices and textiles, systems for energy conversion and storage, and biomedicine, such as implantable sensors, artificial retinas, artificial skin for prostheses, and sensors for soft robotics.
When embedded in the body, the second skin transmits data about one’s self to doctors through conductive materials. Eventually, the data could become available to brands as part of the Internet of Things. The task faces challenges, Lipomi notes, emphasizing the need for collaboration between device engineers, materials scientists, synthetic chemists, and theorists specializing in electronic structure calculations and the mechanical behavior of soft materials to make the transition.
Wearable electronics and smartwatches from Apple, Google, Samsung, Sony and others will become the bridge to flexible conductors that will become a second skin for humans. We can see the trend toward crossing mobility with information by looking back to personal digital assistants (PDAs) that led to cellular and smartphones, and mainframe and desktop personal computers that led to laptops and tablets.
Small mobile devices embedded in clothing and the human body will require great content. Engineers at Google and Bing know this. We also can see it in the search model's transition through search algorithms like Hummingbird, as well as technology like Google Knowledge Graph and Microsoft Bing Santori, which links entities rather than keywords.
The industry's lexicon will change and marketing and advertising will revert back to the days of product placement in early television. Advertising will become less like the Interactive Advertising Bureau ad units seen today on publisher sites. Messages will become part of the experience, rather than about experiencing the messages.
The transition to second-skin conductive materials no longer seems absurd or science fiction. It began becoming a regulatory reality as early as 2004, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the implantation of the semiconductor chip, radio frequency identification (RFID), in human bodies. Although the concept has not caught on, for the exception of a few instances, veterinarians use the technology to track cattle and other livestock, along with domestic dogs and cats, the concept of half man, half machine, where the human body transmits and receives data becomes very real.
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