Say Goodbye to Ugly, Nerdy WearableTech

To say design is important in wearable technology is an understatement; design is everything in wearable technology.  Why? Because people wear it and what people wear makes a statement about who they are.  This week I caught up with two entrepreneurs making it possible to make that statement with fashionable jewelry.

These gentlemen are leading teams creating fashionable wearable technology with designs that surpass any other fitness trackers on the market.  They are playing with a different set of rules.  Rather than working with materials and designs that easily accommodate technology, they are integrating technology into elegant designs and using materials that are figuratively and literally hard to work with.  Wireless signals cannot pass through precious metals; therefore, jewelry design involves tricks to making products that are beautiful and at the same time the design must allow for signals to be passed to and from a mobile device.

“We’ve been wearing jewelry for 75,000 years,” Gerald Wilmink, founder and CEO of WiseWear said.  What people haven’t been doing for those same years is wearing sensors.  Wearable technology entrepreneurs first attempts have been awkward and obtrusive resulting in gigantic rubber band like contraptions that have attempted to redefine what is acceptable to accessorize with.  The approach, however, is not well received by all consumers.  This is an opportunity for wearable technology to improve not just its capacity but its appeal.  “The next wave is truly integrating the sensors and electronics into everyday wear,” said Wilmink whose WiseWear Socialite collection provides fashionable selections through three different bracelet designs, the Calder, the Duchess and the Kingston.

Once wearable technology is integrated into everyday wear, it also needs to be made available to markets that will consume it.  “Career professionals are not going to buy a fashion accessory at an electronics store,” explained ViaWear Founder and CEO Ben Isaacson.  ViaWear’s Tyia bracelet line includes several different styles, finishes and bands and will be distributed in locations where jewelry is sold.  People who frequent jewelry stores and electronics stores aren’t typically the same demographic.  “The fashion forward demographic is waking up to smart jewelry,” Isaacson explained.

There is a relatively untapped market with needs that can be satisfied through beautiful wearable technology accessories and Isaacson and Wilmink are not alone in creating fashionable wearables for these customers.  Wearable fitness tracker maker Fitbit has partnered with luxury lifestyle brand Tory Burch to create Tory Burch for Fitbit.  When announcing their line of smart watches and bands last fall Apple boldly claimed, “There’s an Apple Watch for everyone.”   Others are also joining the race to make fashionable wearable technology in accessories and clothing.

Why make wearable technology fashionable?  Isaacson explains, “The fashion side is a given.  Nobody wants to wear something ugly anymore.”  To this point Wilmink also agrees, “We make sensors and electronics invisible.  You want the data but you don’t want to look like a nerd.”

Downtown App

Three cafes in Palo Alto have the coolest new payment app, Downtown.

I paid Coupa Cafe a visit Friday.  The app woke up and greeted me when I arrived:


You can see I sniff for beacons too and there are a lot of them here.  They are what makes the magic happen.  Not everybody appreciates the magic of these alerts which some consider obtrusive.  You can imagine the notifications you’d get during a walk through downtown Palo Alto when everyone is using Downtown.  But, forget that for now, lets focus on the magic.

I was at Coupa Cafe to meet someone and chat about innovation; using the app was appropriate for the conversation.  It also helped us bypass the line at the counter. We settled down at a table with a Bluetooth low energy beacon disguised in a plastic case with instructions on how to order with your phone.


The check out process was simple:


And I received a text message immediately confirming the order.


As promised, the order arrived at the table soon.  The meeting went great and I’m on to the next thing.



This is the magic of technology working for you.

FootLogger: Wearable Shoe Insoles That Sync & Charge Wirelessly

Check out my latest #WearableTech piece published on WearableWorldNews by clicking here


Audience raises hands indicating wearable ownership/use at #KOTRA2014 Connected Self Panel September 24, 2014 in Santa Clara, CA

Audience raises hands indicating wearable ownership/use at #KOTRA2014 Connected Self Panel September 24, 2014 in Santa Clara, CA


WorkTechWork Founder Josh Bradshaw with 3L Labs CEO Jinwook Lee in Santa Clara, CA September 25, 2014

WorkTechWork Founder Josh Bradshaw with 3L Labs CEO Jinwook Lee in Santa Clara, CA September 25, 2014



Shop Lifting at Apple Stores? I Tried it Out

People are shoplifting at Apple Stores with EasyPay and I tried it out.  I’ve actually wanted to do it for a long time.  Shoplift?  Nope – use EasyPay in the Apple Store app to scan the barcode on a product and pay with my phone only to then leave the Apple Store without interacting with a store employee.


I did it yesterday, it worked perfectly and no, I’m not writing from prison.  Apparently, though, faking it works until you get caught which is why former NBA player Rex Chapmen was arrested last week with charges of shoplifting more than $14,000 of merchandise in visits to the Apple Store where he apparently faked purchasing with EasyPay.  This is one instance where fake it until you make it just didn’t work out as planned.

Having heard about Chapman before my store visit, I wondered if there is some sort of security in place, particularly for large ticket items.  I went for the $199 Phillips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack.  The experience is actually easy.  Scan the code, enter the Apple ID password, confirm the credit card security code and the receipt was displayed on screen.


My thoughts were that at $200 price point, once it is scanned by the app, a store employee might be notified to come and assist as not everything can be purchased with EasyPay.  I wouldn’t find a friendly greeting creepy in the least.  Why?

Apple knows I am in store when I arrive.  They even warmly welcomed me to the store with their app. How did they know? Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) beacons.  Using multiple beacons in store and triangulation, we’re talking about high school math and not rocket science, Apple knows exactly where I am in the store while I’m there.  It would possible for a store employee to get an alert, walk over and say something like, “Thanks Mr. Bradshaw for purchasing Phillips Hue with EasyPay; would you like a bag?”

It didn’t happen and in reality it doesn’t need to happen.  This sort of technology should actually make it easier to get in and out of store and also reduce labor costs for Apple, among other benefits of BTLE.  Of course there are costs of adoption and there will undoubtedly be things put in place to work the kinks out that Chapman attempted to capitalize on.  I would’t be surprised, though, if BTLE is something that made it easier to find when Chapman had been in store so the right segments of security tape could be reviewed to find what he had taken.

Along with improvements to prevent theft, I’d like to see Apple’s cart be a bit more contextually aware.  Notice there is one item still in my cart after purchase.  I had placed the Hue kit in the cart before going to the store and then had to manually delete it.  Maybe the welcome message in the app when I walk in the store could be, “Welcome to Apple Store!  The X in your cart is strait ahead to your left.”

How Does Apple Watch Score Against @WorkTechWork Wearable Predictions?

Apple Watch does not get a perfect score on the WorkTechWork Wearable Predictions that were made in March.  Read on to find out why.  Each prediction is listed, with comments on Apple Watch and a link to more details from the recent industry watch.

1)      Wearables of the future will be more than fad devices; they will satisfy customer needs.

SCORE!  Apple Watch goes beyond tracking fitness and is more than a fad device.  “The list of features is a mile long,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said when introducing Apple Watch.  While not all of these features have been shared with the public, many of the features will satisfy real customer needs.  There is no doubt Apple understands wearable technology should enrich the lives and health of people and make a difference, a difference from technology working for people.

More on Prediction 1.

2)      Where wearables are silo solutions now, in the future they will be better integrated with other wearables and the wider Internet of Things.

SCORE!  Apple Watch integrates with Apple’s HealthKit, one of the platform announcements covered in the Wearables Industry Watch for this prediction.

More on Prediction 2.

3)      Companies that combine the information of multiple sensors in multiple wearable devices will create more value for their consumers than producers of single wearable devices.

SCORE! Apple Watch combines the information from sensors in the watch and sensors in the iPhone to create Wearable Alpha, value above the value a customer receives based on the use of just the watch or just the phone.



More on Prediction 3.

4)      Wearables will become more intelligent because of developments in sensor technology and the ability to translate data from these sensors into insight via analytics.

SCORE! The Apple Watch uses an accelerometer and gyroscope along with optical sensors that use both visible and infrared light.  No other wearable in the market does this.  Through the HealthKit integration Apple and app developers will be able to leverage analytics to derive insights.

More on Prediction 4.

5)      The cost of sensors will continue to go down, thus enabling more uses and innovation with sensors in wearable devices.

TBD: $349 is where pricing starts for the Apple Watch.  There is always a premium for Apple products, especially when they are new.  For now we have to wait to see what happens over time with both the price of the Apple Watch and the costs for the sensors inside.  Bluetooth, NFC and other sensor technologies in the watch have come down in recent years but the focus of the prediction is to look into the future, seeing the costs going down.

More on Prediction 5.

6)      Wearable devices will need less frequent charging because of better energy storage and lower energy consumption.

TBD: The jury is out still because Apple has not released specifics on the battery for the Apple Watch.  This prediction has two components, energy storage and energy consumption.

The storage question status is TBD but it will be answered soon enough (the battery will probably not benefit from 300% increased capacity from the battery life “Holy Grail” mentioned in the Industry Watch, but we can hope, right?).

Lower energy consumption comes through design, software and functionality that is wearable specific.  Apple did not shrink an iPhone and put a watch band on it; Apple Watch was designed as a wearable.  But, before I can really give Apple Watch a pass on this aspect, I need to get my hands on one and see how good the battery stands up after several full days of use.

More on Prediction 6.

7)      People are going to use wearable technology to make a statement about who they are.

SCORE!  From “There is an Apple Watch for everyone.”  With three different collections and multiple bands, Apple Watch provides smart watch shoppers with more options for customizing their smart watch than all of the existing smart watches on the market combined.  These options along with the millions of appearances possible for the digital face earn Apple Watch a coveted place as the leader in fashionable wearable products.

More on Prediction 7.

8)      People are going to use undetectable wearable technology by using wearable ultra-sensitive micro sensors, sensors smaller and more sensitive than the innovative seat belt microphone in Audi’s R8 Spyder that enables clear cell phone conversation with the top down at lightning speeds.

N/A – There could be ultra-sensitive micro sensors inside that we are not aware of yet but if you have the Apple Watch on, people are going to see it.

More on Prediction 8.

9)      The debate around ownership of wearables-generated data will continue.

SCORE!  Because the Apple Watch generates data and it integrates with Apple Pay, people are already asking tough questions about data security and privacy.  Apple, however, stands firm that it is in the hardware, not the data business.  As Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Charlie Rose last night, “I think people have a right to privacy. I think that’s going to be a very key topic over the next year or so, and we’ll reach higher and higher levels of urgency as more and more incidents happen.”

Here are some related links:

More on Prediction 9.

10) Contextual awareness will be enabled by wearable device adoption and become the next big thing in marketing and customer experience.

SCORE!  The Apple Watch is itself contextually aware; it knows when it is on or off your wrist or when your wrist is turned towards you to look at the watch face.  There will, no doubt, be the opportunity for apps and services to be developed that are aimed at enriching customer experiences.

More on Prediction 10.

Wearables Predictions: Who to Watch for Prediction #10

Skully Helmets captured my attention in January at the VLAB Young Entrepreneurs event.  That night Marcus Weller, Skully Helmet CEO, told an amazing story about his inspiration for the worlds smartest helmet.  Following an accident where he totaled his bike when the car in front of him slammed on its brakes while he was reading a street sign, Weller had a dream where he was reliving the accident.  “But I noticed something very different,” Weller said, “I had GPS navigation kind of floating in front of me like a hologram and I watched as the car hit the brakes and I went around it.”  When internet searches returned no results for the helmet, Weller built a team and product that, among other features, incorporates location based GPS navigation into a helmet.  Location is a form of context.  The point of sharing Weller’s story is to introduce context and the final industry watch for the 10th wearable prediction.

 Josh Bradshaw with Marcus WellerJosh Bradshaw of with Marcus Weller, Skully Helmets CEO August 14, 2014

 Prediction # 10:  Contextual awareness will be enabled by wearable device adoption and become the next big thing in marketing and customer experience.

This is the tenth and final post in a Wearable Industry Watch Series for each of the 10 Wearables Predictions.  Visit the Wearable Industry Watch Series for details.

Weller’s contextually aware helmet is one example of a person’s location context being used to generate value for the wearer.  The wearer’s experience is enriched with information.  My first introduction to technology enabled contextual awareness came through Jeff Stevens, Founder & CEO of ContextM.  Stevens rightfully demoted content from its place as king in the world of mobile marketing and claims that in mobile marketing “Context is king, and content is queen.”

How so?  Enabled by computational power and data from data warehouses, social streams and wearable devices, marketers can go beyond targeting based on generalized segmentation:  relevant messages can be sent to a person by creating a complete understanding of several different forms of a person’s context.  These include but are not limited to a person’s location, who a person is with, where a person has come from, and, with the power of predictive analytics, where the person might be going next.  (For those interested in privacy, check out Who To Watch for Prediction #9 and Small Towns and Connected-World Privacy.)

Enrich Customer Experiences With Wearable Data

Context is about more than targeted marketing based on ambient intelligence; context is also about enriching customer experiences.  Customer experiences can be enriched in many ways which means there are applications of context out there yet to be discovered in the world of wearables.  Context can also be built in such a way that a device can understand its own context as well as the context of the user.

Sensor Platforms, which was recently acquired by Audience, developed FreeMotion™ Library, a software solution that enables sensor enabled device applications to better understand both the contexts and, where possible, the intent of a user engaging with a device.  For the purposes of this discussion we can consider smart phones as wearables because of their numerous sensors (and decorative cases people use to make a statement about who they are; see Who to Watch for Prediction #7).

FreeMotion™ enabled applications can understand various device contexts such as whether the phone is in a pocket, in a hand or sitting on a flat surface.  Similar to other fitness tracking wearables and the Moves App, user contexts can be derived from sensing current motion in the device.  Combined with location or other forms of context, the device can respond differently because sitting on the sofa at home is quite a different context from sitting in a train or sitting in a meeting at work.  As sensors consume energy, a focus on resource management is also made in order to improve energy consumption on the device (learn more about energy consumption in Who to Watch for Prediction #6).

Vehicles, Wearables & Context

No one is going to wear a car, but the car is becoming contextually aware.  Vehicles are now able to detect and communicate with phones and soon will be able to interact with other wearable devices.   We can look at contextual aware cars such as Google’s self-driving car, which has to be acutely aware of its own environment, for inspiration on context with wearables.

Lane assist technologies and automatic braking such as those  demonstrated in this stunt video by Hyundai are becoming available in a number of vehicles.

Mercedez Benz is developing amazing innovations for their smart cars.  Check out this Mercedes Benz contextual car demo with Robert Scoble, Startup Liaison Officer for Rackspace

And when it comes to amazing, a return to Weller and the contextually aware smart helmet is in order.  People are willing to support contextually aware innovation.  Only a few days into an Indiegogo campaign, Weller and his team have exceeded their $250k goal for the AR-1 by an astonishing 466% with over $1.1 million raised.  I tested it out at their offices yesterday and it is better than all the hype.Josh Bradshaw with AR-1

This is the last post in the Wearable Industry Watch.  For more details click here.

Back to the 1st Prediction: Who to Watch For Prediction #1

Previous Prediction: Who to Watch for Prediction #9

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Wearables Predictions: Who to Watch for Prediction #8

Prediction # 8: People are going to use undetectable wearable technology by using wearable ultra-sensitive micro sensors, sensors smaller and more sensitive than the innovative seat belt microphone in Audi’s R8 Spyder that enables clear cell phone conversation with the top down at lightning speeds.

This is the eighth post in a Wearable Industry Watch Series for each of the 10 Wearables Predictions.  Follow this blog or Twitter handle @WorkTechWork to be notified of each part of the series. To view all predictions and links to the other parts of the series, visit the Wearable Industry Watch Series.

Where the last prediction focuses on people making a statement with wearable technology, this prediction is almost the opposite, highlighting that people will put technology to work by using wearable technology and no one will know about it.  The assumption is people will be able to do this because ultra-small, ultra-sensitive sensors will be easy to hide and thus go undetected.  The devices with these sensors may even consume less energy on account of their size so not even the battery will need to be big (see prediction #6).

Micro Sensors

It is fascinating how small sensors are becoming.  mCube, which recently raised $37 million in Series C funding, provides MEMS motion sensors that are as small as a grain of sand.  While their sensors are small, the benefits for wearable technology are huge!  Another example of small sensors with huge impact is Bosch Senortec GmbH who, among other MEMS sensors, has developed a microphone that is 700 square microns which is barely visible to the naked eye.

Wearing Sensors and People Don’t Know

The Dash by Bragi is a pair of Bluetooth operated ear buds.  These are not quite undetectable wearables, but people aren’t going to know that you’re wearing anything more than a fancy pair of wireless earphones.  The Dash ear buds are chock full of small electronics capable of measuring heart rate and oxygen levels and include an ear bone microphone enabling conversation in noisy situations by reducing ambient noise.  (Check out Who to Watch for Prediction #1 where Dash is included as an example for both of the two reasons why all single-purpose wrist-worn fitness trackers will become fad devices.)  Ear bone microphones are also utilized in TEA’s Invisio headsets which are designed for defense and security uses, although in these cases the wearer isn’t really hiding anything.

While we’re on the topic of defense and security, lets touch on spying, which is a very technology enabled business.  No, I do not envision a future where the majority of the population tracking every word and move of the people with whom they interact by using devices you can hardly see.  Some people think there is enough of tracking going on by big companies and governments and there will be more on this on that in the next post Who to Watch for Prediction #9.  That said, we are going to see more person on person spying than we have in the past.  Spy-enabling technology is simple, relatively inexpensive and available for anyone to use.  Parents are even sending children to school wearing wires and documenting instances of verbal and even physical abuse.  There will undoubtedly be more court cases as a result of spying by using undetectable wearable technology.

Discreet Medical Sensing

People do not necessarily want the world to know about their medical conditions.  The prediction that people will use undetectable wearable technology may actually come to fruition in instances where the device enriches someone’s life without having to let the world know what is going on.

The hearing impaired have benefited from smaller and smaller sensors and now hearing aids can be made so small they are completely hidden; no one has to know someone is wearing a sensor to amplify sound.  Of course, the innovation in hidden hearing aids occurred well before this prediction was made.  We will see new hidden wearable devices for people to monitor their hearts, blood sugar and a myriad of other physical indicators discreetly.   We will also see miraculous advancements in bionics with touch sensitive sensors enabling someone missing a limb to sense the world around them in such a way they can do it without anyone detecting they are missing a limb.

Next Prediction: Who to Watch For Prediction #9

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Wearables Predictions: Who to Watch for Prediction #6

This is the sixth post in a Wearable Industry Watch Series for each of the 10 Wearables Predictions.  Follow this blog or Twitter handle @WorkTechWork to be notified of each part of the series. To view all predictions and links to the other parts of the series, visit the Wearable Industry Watch Series.

Prediction #6: Wearable devices will need less frequent charging because of better energy storage and lower energy consumption.

For an intro to this topic as well as an introduction to Imprint Energy,  a company creating flexible batteries, check out this piece from Wearable World News: The Battery Bottleneck in Wearable Tech.

Better Energy Storage

Battery life is one of the common complaints of Google Glass which has a 570 mAh lithium-polymer battery.  While it does look bulky on the side of an Explorer’s head, the relatively small size does make it possible to charge in two hours.  Speedy recharge time, however, is not what this part of the prediction is about.  Wearable users need better energy storage.

Breakthroughs in energy storage are rare on account of the challenges associated with increasing energy density or storage capacity.  Increasing storage capacity generally negatively impacts charge efficiency, the ability to maintain storage capacity after many cycles of use, recharge, repeat, repeat, repeat…  A small battery with lots of energy that can only be used a few times is no good.

Scott Elrod, Vice President and Director of the Hardware Systems Laboratory research organization at Xerox’s PARC and a team of researchers have found a way to increase energy density 30% by using print technology.  Learn more in this video interview by Robert Scoble, Startup Liaison Officer for Rackspace:



A 30% improvement on the battery life of Google Glass will get you about 20 more minutes of video recording.  It still isn’t enough.  What if we could get 10x that?

Researchers at Stanford University’s Department of Chemical Engineering published an article July 27, 2014 covering research findings that both improve storage capacity and charge efficiency.   Forbes contributor Gordon Kelly writes in his piece Battery Life ‘Holy Grail’ Discovered. Phones May Last 300% Longer, “In future it would also allow batteries to become smaller (for example, half the size of a current battery but with twice the capacity).”

Size does matter in wearable devices and half the size is certainly something wearable device designers will be interested in as batteries are usually the largest components in wearable devices.

A copy of the research article can be purchased from the journal Nature here:  Interconnected hollow carbon nanospheres for stable lithium metal anodes 

I look forward to seeing this and other improvements in storage capacity and charge efficiency implemented in wearable devices.

Lower Energy Consumption

There are many creative solutions for lower energy consumption.  We’re more likely to see solutions on the market for lower energy consumption prolonging battery life in the near future than we are to see 300% improvement in battery storage capacity.  Lower energy consumption is going to come about because of energy conservation through multiple methods, methods that when combined can provide energy savings that keep wearable devices going longer and longer.

One of the key enablers of wearable device adoption is Bluetooth Low Energy.  With its lower energy consumption, wearable devices can sync with other IoT devices while consuming less power than classical Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

In Kane Fulton’s TechRadar article covering an interview of Noel Hurley, Deputy GM of ARM’s CPU Group, three key energy consumption solutions caught my eye.

  1. Chips specifically designed for particular use cases rather than off-the-shelf chips
  2. Software improvement that reduces CPU usage over new processor design
  3. Stripping functionality of systems down to only elements used in the wearable

ARM is not alone in the battle to reduce energy consumption.  PsiKick is well on its way to completely changing sensing technology by combining ultra-low-power system-on-chip (SoC) design and Sub-Threshold processing, processing that occurs using the energy that leaks through a digital switch even when the switch is off.  PsiKick can then use several different energy harvesting techniques to supply this energy, resulting in endless operation without a battery.  If this technology interests you, visit the PsiKick website or read this article: A Batteryless Sensor Chip for the Internet of Things.

These advancements in wearable energy technology are exciting and I’d love to hear more about efforts to reduce the frequency wearable devices need charging.  Please comment below or reach out and lets chat.

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Small Towns and Connected-World Privacy

I grew up in a small town, a town with more animals than people and with not even one traffic light until well after I moved away.  Families have lived there for generations.  Everyone knows everyone, their business, their religion, their background.  Those who chose to live in small towns chose to concede privacy for the benefit of community, community safe for business and for family; knowing everyone around you in a small town network is a tremendous safety net.  Image

Our family ran an auto parts businesses.  In small towns you can serve customers in ways unheard of in densely populated areas because you do know everything about your customer.  In some cases frequent customers from town could walk in, say they are changing their oil and my dad or uncles could walk to a shelf and grab the right oil filter for their vehicle without asking more questions.  Along the way they could generate conversation about other maintenance areas for their vehicle that might need to be addressed.  That’s small town personalized service and people love it.  People in small towns can rely on it in more than just an auto parts business, every small town business can personalize their customer experience because they know you, your family, your habits, where you live, where you work, if and where you worship, where you went to school, where you like to fish and on and on.  Small town business owners understand a customer’s context!


I came to the Bay Area in 1997.  Community is different in a metropolitan area.  Most people don’t even know their neighbors, let alone their neighbor’s oil filter.  Yes, there is a lot of privacy but there is also a lot of mistrust.  People don’t know everyone they interact with and connections and service are not as personalized; that small town familiarity just doesn’t happen.  Not only that, even though humanity has survived for thousands of years with small town familiar type relationships, it seems that sort of familiarity in today’s metropolitan areas is unwelcome.  This presents a service challenge as businesses have grown into large chains with operators who cannot know their customers at a familiar level.

Of course, businesses have tried to scale small town-like personalization because they know of the benefits; that’s why Ritz Carlton tracked which candy bar wrappers were in the garbage in guest rooms on 3×5 cards long before databases could store long-tailed customer data.  When people started buying with credit cards, things started to get easier.  Marketers could get to know their customers by accessing info through data brokers.  Loyalty cards brought more change and insight.  Businesses could analyze a basket of goods and anticipate future behavior.

But then Target determined a daughter’s pregnancy before her father knew and then people became concerned about privacy because they thought marketers were getting too familiar for their own good.  It gets more interesting, though, if you look at the game changing role of the internet and networks.  Why?  Because in order for a network to work, it needed everything to have a unique identifier and MAC addresses were introduced for every electronic device.  Flash to the small town: everybody knowing everybody is a network of people and businesses where one’s identity is akin to a MAC address, all nodes are known to the network.


Here is a snapshot of the available Wi-Fi signals inside the Walgreens around the corner from my place.  There are five and all five are full strength. They are all secured so this is not Walgreens providing superb free internet to its shoppers.  Having a great connection for staff and registers is no justification for five either; the whole store could be covered with one, maybe two.  There are five because of a little known fact that your phone’s Wi-Fi broadcasts its MAC address and, while I have no insider information on this from Walgreens, my guess is that Walgreens is using MAC address tracking on every MAC address emitting device that comes in range.  There are more than enough points for triangulation through some basic trigonometry, the same math taught in my small town high school, for Walgreens track every Wi-Fi enabled device is as it moves around the store.  With this information Walgreens can not only analyze the basket of goods at purchase but how that basket of goods was constructed.  There could be huge marketing benefits for both the business and the consumer because of that type of analysis at scale.

BUT wait, isn’t this an invasion of privacy knowing how someone walks up and down the aisles in a store and connecting it to what is in the basket at the end of the purchase?!?!?!  Well, go back to the small town stores example.   You might also think about small boutique shops.  In more personal, intimate shopping experiences the shop keeper watches you, interacts with you, knows you and provides you with better service; they know how the basket of goods is constructed and they know to a certain level how it might fit into your life.  Walgreens understanding how their customers construct their baskets of goods is not that different from the thousands of small town store owners who understand how their customers shop in their stores.

Of course, Apple’s announcement that it will randomize MAC addresses affects what Walgreens might be able to do.  However, there are still other ways to circumvent the randomization if a customer ops in.  For example, Walgreens has an app and if a user agrees to install it and use it in store, MAC randomization does not matter because a customer tells Walgreens who they are regardless of MAC randomization so they can know the customer, their loyalty card and so forth.  Wi-Fi also isn’t the only way to detect a phone and Walgreens could partner with ProxToMe and use Bluetooth Low Energy to go beyond simple tracking as I discuss here.

Offering a contextual recommendation or coupon on a smart phone relevant to an individual and their location inside a Walgreens in my book can be just as helpful as an attentive shop clerk in a small town who knows their customer and offers contextually relevant recommendations.  And as far as privacy goes, even if Walgreens knows my detailed purchase history and shopping pattern, it isn’t the same as the small town drug store pharmacist knowing me and knowing what goes in my basket of goods for whatever medical ailments people in my household might have because to Walgreens I’m a number (maybe even a MAC address) and to the small town pharmacist, I’m a neighbor (at one point the pharmacist lived across the street).  There are some things your neighbor ought not to know so go ahead Walgreens, be innovative and partner with entrepreneurs and put technology to work offering contextually aware products and services without telling or being the neighbor.

Ambient IQ : Intelligence Anywhere & Everywhere

Can things around us really be intelligent?  Can they learn our habits and make our lives easier by doing things automatically for us?  Can the information be turned into actionable insight that if followed will save people time and money?  The answer is a conditional yes.


The VLAB Ambient IQ event March 18, 2014 brought together entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the field of ambient intelligence.  These people work to solve challenging problems associated with understanding our behavior within our environment.  They work to understand how to make decisions with regards to multiple facets of our lives based on intelligence created by aggregating information from multiple sensors.  This is no easy task.

Some of the solutions that were discussed are absolutely intriguing.  I’m going to touch on a few of them, which will lay a strong argument to answer a strong yes to the questions above.  But don’t worry, I’ll wrap it up with a good explanation for my conditional yes position.

First, let’s take a look at Automatic which produces a device that connects your car and smart phone.  Automatic allows you to understand how you are driving and make better driving decisions that improve fuel economy.  It helps you keep your vehicle well maintained.  It remembers where you parked.  It even notifies authorities if the vehicle is involved in a collision.  I want to try it out.

Electric Imp allows you to connect many devices to the internet via a cloud service and hardware platform.  Turning on or off power to devices via a mobile phone and knowing how many eggs are in the fridge are some of the things that become possible with Imp-enabled devices.  The applications of a platform such as this are essentially limitless, particularly because the platform serves as an enabler.  For example, the platform can enable a connection between Automatic and an Imp-connected power strip.  You drive home at night and your Automatic-connected car lets your Electric Imp connected lamp know to turn on the light in the dark living room.  Electric Imp is promising technology that can make life easier.

The conditional yes above, though, comes because the technology is not easy enough to use yet.  Sure there are many cool things that ambient IQ can become, but the solutions are not fully integrated and they are not easy for the average consumer to use.  Knowing ahead of time that Automatic would be at the event, I decided to test out the Bluetooth connection from my iPhone to the car I purchased last month.  I ran into trouble because while whoever I called with the car could hear me, I could not hear them.  I gave up troubleshooting after a few minutes because of other obligations plus I know that between now and the time I figure it out, my iPhone has other solutions that enable conversation while in motion.

It would take a person hours and a great deal of expertise and determination to connect a Wally home wireless sensor network, FitBit fitness monitor, Nest thermostat, WeMo switch, Lockitron locks, Automatic enabled car, Hiku shopping scanner and Iro sprinkler system.  Along the way they would run into bumps similar to my Bluetooth phone issue.  But, early adopters are persistent and will pave the way for people to benefit from these technologies in the future.  If you think this is a far-fetched idea, think back a decade to the process of setting up a home computer network.  It was a challenge and nearly impossible for the average Joe.  Now, however, even the computer illiterate can go to Fry’s, pick up a wireless router, and have the internet connected to their wireless devices in a matter of minutes.  The user interfaces are simpler.  The instructions are clearer (with nice pictures).  The process is easier for the consumer.

Over the next decade it is obvious that advances will be made with connected devices and that ambient IQ will increase.  These will help change my conditional yes to a yes.  Solutions that are easier for the consumer will make my conditional yes an absolute yes.  I would love to try to connect every internet enabled device on the market and work to make the process easy for the user, the consumer, the person, the friend or the family member who benefits when their life is just a little bit easier.