By Robert (Bob) Schoenfield, VP Worldwide Sales and Marketing, QuickLogic
Wearable technology (which includes such items as smartwatches, medical devices, smart clothing, fitness trackers, and smart eyewear) has already become a big business. Market research firm IDTechEx estimates that the total market for these devices will be worth over $30 billion in 2016. While wearable technology products already deliver an incredible amount of functionality at very reasonable prices, new capabilities and features will create substantial market growth over the next ten years. IDTechEx, for example, estimates that the total market will grow another five times to reach over $150 billion by 2026.
The future of wearables will be driven by three main forces: simplifying user interactivity and making it more intuitive, increasing the sophistication of sensor data interpretation, and increasing battery life. Let’s examine each of these forces in a little more detail.
User interactivity is already starting to become quite sophisticated for wearable devices. Wrist-mounted devices often use gesture detection (such as “tap-to-wake” or “raise-hand-to-view”) to initiate actions on behalf of the user. In the future, gesture detection is likely to become more context-aware and to take action based on the user context. For example, a device display might react differently to a particular gesture if the device “knows” that the user is running versus lying down versus riding a bicycle.
Voice-driven command support, which already exists for many devices today through cloud-connected technology, will become more independent and more capable. Today, in cases in which we speak to our devices, we must do it slowly and carefully and even then our words are often misinterpreted. In the future, we will be able to speak in a natural voice and give complex directions without having to repeat ourselves or speak unnaturally.
User interactivity is closely tied to the next driving force, which is increasing sophistication of sensor data interpretation. Already many wearable devices include a constellation of sensor types and these will further proliferate as they become less expensive to integrate. More sensors will mean more data being collected about the user and their environment which in turn will mean more data interpretation. Not only will this allow user interactivity to become more sophisticated, but it will also allow the devices to take on a degree of autonomy. This autonomy will enable new generations of functionality including examples such as exercise and fitness feedback and guidance, automated emergency reporting, and medical condition alerts.
The third driving force will be increased battery life. Having more user functionality for long periods of time will also enable whole new generations of applications previously unimaginable. Devices will be able to constantly monitor the conditions of our bodies as well as our immediate and extended environments while simultaneously supporting multi-channel communications with the rest of the world.
These forces will be enabled by new sensor hub platforms at the heart of the wearable technology which deliver greater hardware and software processing power, more capable algorithms exploiting that processing power, and more efficient function partitioning and implementation. As some of these advanced platforms are shipping now, the future has already begun to unfold and the next few years promise to be amazing.
MEMS and Sensors Industry Group is the trade association advancing MEMS and sensors across global markets.