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

Back to Wearable Technology

Wearables Predictions: Who to Watch for Prediction #9

Do you have your wearable-generated data?  Can you even get it?  If you can get it can you use it?  Can you sell your own data?  Can you control who uses your data?  The answer to all of these questions?  no. No. NO.  NO! NO!!

This is the ninth 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 #9:  The debate around ownership of wearables-generated data will continue.

Rachel Kalmar, Data Scientist at Misfit Wearables shared last August she has been wearing 10 different fitness trackers for months.  What does she have to say? “I can’t get my data!”  She makes the point of the value of time resolved data and this illustrates the point that wearable technology is creating data that not only do users not own, they cannot even access it!


Possession is nine-tenths of the law

Just in case you thought your data was yours, those privacy agreements take care of the final one-tenth of the law.   But, even though it seems like all hope is lost, the debate around ownership of wearables-generated data continues.  Here is look at some examples of things happening in this space

Value is the reason for the debate: Data is worth something

Is the Moves app really free?  Not if you value your data; your data is worth more than knowing how many steps you took (see prediction #1 for how Moves turns your phone into a wearable fitness tracker).  Moves was acquired by Facebook in April and then changed their privacy policy to enable data sharing with Facebook. Data can become insight, insight can trigger action, action that creates value and it is that value that companies are after, it is that value that made Moves an acquisition target in the first place and it is that value that some feel comes at the expense of their privacy.

The debate will continue and it may boil down to context vs privacy (more coming on context with the next prediction, see my thoughts on small town privacy here).  Wearable technology will generate more and more data.  All of it is worth something and when there is something worth fighting for in capitalistic free markets, expect a fight.

So goes Silicon Valley so goes Europe? 

Nope; at least not in the case of data privacy and ownership hence Europe’s right to be forgotten.

One European leader in this debate is the Qiy Foundation whose focus is on giving individuals control over their data, enabling them to share data with only those they trust.  I’m anxious to watch what will come from Qiy, particularly if the consortium can find a way that more value can be created when data is under the jurisdiction and ownership of the data generator.

The right to be forgotten is not necessarily the same thing as data ownership or privacy.  As will many well intentioned rules, it does create its own set of problems.  Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales called the right “deeply immoral.”  How could something well intended be deeply immoral?  People are losing the right and ability to access information.

The Debate Continues

Here are some interesting reads regarding what is happening in the debate; this is not a comprehensive list and each is just one small part of the picture.  Enjoy these and dig in further on your own searches around privacy topics.  The short of it is the debate continues.

Facebook Data Privacy Class Action Joined By 11,000 And Counting

Google Spotted Explicit Images Of A Child In A Man’s Email And Tipped Off The Authorities

How Safe is your Quantified Self (white paper by Symantec)

Americans want a better privacy balance

A bag of chips can be used against you

Five Things Privacy Experts Want You to Know About Wearables

Some humorous makeshift ‘wearables’ that take a creative approach to protecting your privacy

Next Prediction: Who to Watch For Prediction #10

Previous Prediction: Who to Watch for Prediction #8

Back to Wearable Technology

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

Previous Prediction: Who to Watch for Prediction #7

Back to Wearable Technology

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.