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Imagining Technology Futures – part 3

Another area that is enabled by wireless technology and miniaturization is wearable computing.

Already we are seeing wearable computing in daily life with integrated wearable technology beginning to be commercially available. Nike Plus and Adidas adiStar Fusion running shoes are already on the market which can deliver data on distance and pace via an iPod.

Another example of pre-commercial applications of wearable technology is currently being researched at Georgia Tech University. The researchers have developed a way to weave textile fibres covered with zinc oxide nano-wires into cloth so that a wearer’s body movement can generate electricity to power electronic devices. Professor Zhong Lin Wang says they are working on improving the nano-generator’s power output and finding ways to store the energy (PDF report available here). His current estimate on a commercially viable product is approximately five years from now.

But the real growth of wearable computing will come in response to our medical and family needs. Our rapidly ageing population will see a real focus on technology in relation to health care. One example is the possibility that the majority of the baby boomers will want to delay moving out of their own accommodation and into nursing homes with a large number of this population frail or in need of specialised care.

We will see the development of unobtrusive health monitoring solutions, enabling the aged to retain their independence, while providing peace of mind for their families in case anything untoward happens. The other area of application is providing robotic prosthetic devices to assist the disabled.

Spin-offs of this technology will also be focused on reducing cognitive load on our busy lives. With technology that is contextually aware using sensor technology and decision engines to make our lives easier by automation of routine processes.