Wearable and sensor technology: 5 things you need to know

This originally appeared in Puget Sound Business Journal. Article by Rachel Lerman. Spending in the trendy wearable technology market is expected to hit $19 billion in 2019, and local companies are in the forefront of developing the sensor technology. At a Washington Technology Industry Association panel on wearables and sensors, I heard from executives from LimeadeSynapse and Snupi Technologies about the market that’s just revving up and where it’s going to go. 1. The market just went through a big shift. It has moved from individual devices that people wore for small amounts of time to devices that will live on our bodies longer. “That represents a major shift from a device that’s session-based to something that’s more ubiquitous in your life that lives with you and lives on you,” said Jeff Hebert, vice president of engineering at Synapse, a company that creates products for companies such as Nike. 2. The market is getting crowded. Google has the famous Google Glass and acquired Nest; Apple and Microsoft are rumored to be creating smartwatches; and panelists said they wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon joins the game soon. “We’re in the same place we were when the automobile was first introduced to this country,” said Jeremy Jaech, CEO of Snupi Technologies, which makes sensor-technology products with long battery lives that keep an eye on mold and other thing around your home. “There were 100 automakers at the time. Through consolidation and through failure it evolved down to the few players that dominate today.” 3. Data will begin to be aggregated. Right now, a lot of devices are just collecting data. One singular data point that sensors collect is not very helpful, but bringing data together to get a bigger picture will be. It will benefit consumers and medical patients to be able to track things more easily, said Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, which makes software to track employees’ health and wellness and allows employers to cut down on health care costs. The challenge will be figuring out who controls which data and how they will be shared. 4. Wearables will be culturally relevant. Don’t worry — no one is going to make ugly, bulky headbands to measure your running times. Instead, wearables will continually replace things we already use, Hebert said. We’ll see smartwatches that look like dress watches and sensors in earrings. 5. Privacy issues will be huge. People will start asking, “Do we want to be quantified, and do we want to share that data with all these organizations?” Hebert said. The panelists agreed: It is easier to get people to give data if they are getting something in return. Maybe Geico will use sensors to watch your driving habits and give you an insurance break if you don’t speed. Limeade provides a way for employers to give their employees vacation days if they track and meet their health goals. It will also run into compliance issues with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other regulations. And of course it depends which companies control which data. You may give information to one company, but if it is acquired by a bigger firm, all that information is, as well. “We’re embedding small chips in your spine on the way out,” Albrecht joked.