Friday, 4 April 2014

Wearable Tech, Google Glass and Contextual Computing and QNX

BYOD means employees carrying their own smartphones, tablets and laptops into the workplace. In the near future, BYOD could be worn on your face.
Virgin Atlantic trialling Google Glass

Google Glass, is an Android-powered computer embedded in a pair of eyeglasses, it is probably the most interesting device in the new wave of consumer wearable technologies, which include smart watches and health and fitness monitors. By taking in the sights and sounds around users, Google Glass aims to provide real-time, relevant information as people go about their lives. This approach to wearable tech is called contextual computing and carries significant financial promise for Google advertising. 
How does Google Glass work?
Like any modern device, it has a built-in microphone and camera, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. What's different is that instead of a traditional screen, it displays information right in front of users' eyes, and it's controlled by voice commands and a touchpad on its frames. Users can perform traditional tasks such as Web browsing, but the big advancement is the line of apps called Glassware that take advantage of the device's contextual computing capabilities.
Google Glass Explorer Edition

Monetising contextual computing will be relatively simple
Android already supports the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol, which means Google Glass and other mobile devices could interact with products like the Estimote Beacon without draining the battery. When a user enters a store, the Beacon interacts with the device to provide "micro-location capability” If a customer passes the Beacon located in the makeup aisle, a retailer can send a coupon to the mobile device. And as contextual computing collects more Data, it won't be a coupon for just any product. Retailers will know that this particular customer "liked" AVON” makeup twice in the last month and purchased a jar of anti-wrinkle cream in the last 60 days, and that people who buy anti-wrinkle cream also tend to buy other anti-aging products so the coupon pushed to the customer will be highly personalized.

Contextual computing in the Enterprise
There are some interesting developments being discussed regarding contextual computing in the workplace.  One simple example is of  your work device looking at your calendar, recognising that you have a meeting with “Mr. Wiley Fox of  ACME Whistles” and the device then proceeds to mine data about the company based on your requirements, if you are in sales you might want to find out credit information, product range and information about the person you are meeting Facebook, LinkedIn Google+ etc.).  This type of intelligence is a powerful tool and in the hands of the right sales person and can make a huge difference in a meeting.  Of course successful people already carry out this type of intelligence gathering but they could be far more effective if they had a “slave” device do it for them.  The downside is that used in the wrong way mining personal information about clients could be considered creepy.  Imagine meeting with a woman purchasing manager and beginning the meeting by talking about her FaceBook holiday snaps or pictures of her children on Pinterest...
The other super cool futuristic use for enterprise wearables was shown in the movie The Matrix Reloaded.  The dock control "tower" operator was connected to a headset that presented her with virtual multiple monitors, input devices and readouts.  It was a really cool concept at the time
The Virtual Office

In reality she was in a scruffy room control and everything was controlled with a direct brain to device interface.

The money we could save on hardware and office cleaners

Where did the idea of wearable technology originate
Nowadays most people think of wearable technology as either a device slaved to a smartphone, medical monitoring devices or the previously mentioned Google Glass concept. However wearable technology has been with us for thousands of years.  For most of that time it obviously didn’t have a processor inside or involve electricity but was used to mechanically enhance our ability.  Historically most wearable tech was developed by the military to either augment a soldier’s ability or to protect him from harm.  Helmets, armour, swords, bows, pistols were all worn in order to make the person wearing them more effective.

Medieval Wearable Technology

Modern Military Wearable Tech
Today wearable Military technology is a multibillion dollar industry and includes GPS, Battlefield mapping, Real time video capture, night vision capability and wearable antennas and a host of other top secret gadgets.
Whether these wearable technologies are of military or civilian origin, to be successful they all must have the same aim and that is to augment our abilities or enhance our experiences.  There are always first adapters who will leap towards any new technology but the vast majority of consumers will ask difficult questions before they hand over their hard earned cash. 
If consumers don’t see a distinct benefit they will not buy!  So before anyone runs out to develop the next great smart watch they need to ask themselves the same difficult questions.  How will this device make my life better, enhance my experiences or make me more productive.   

RIM Dabbled in Wearable Tech apparently

What’s next? Atomic Level Computing?

Intel's chief futurist Steve Brown believes that technology, and computing specifically becoming smaller and smaller is "the key thing that is now allowing us now to think about computers becoming wearable."
Speaking at the first ever London Wearable Technology Conference, Brown believes we will soon be talking about computing at an atomic level.
Intel's current transistor technology, the Tri-Gate transistor, is built on a 22 nanometre (nm) process, but the company is already working on 14nm, 10nm, 7nm and 5nm technology and this is the point when "you start to mess with atoms.  So when computers get small enough what’s next?

The Next Stage:  Implanted Tech? , I Robot

Wearable technology, like all other technology is on a journey and one of the directions that journey will take is improved implanted or embedded technology.  This type of technology was pioneered by  engineer Earl Bakken in 1958 when he designed the first wearable external pacemaker.  This was made possible by the advent of the transistor, before this there where pacemakes but the were so large they were immobile. Implantable pacemakers constructed by engineer Wilson Greatbatch entered use in humans from April 1960.  They eventually became reliable in the 1970s and there have been over 500,000 fitted to date.

A hint of what more may come was supplied by Professor Kevin Warwick and his team at the department of Cybernetics in the University of Reading, England.  On Monday 24th August 1998, Kevin underwent an operation to surgically implant a silicon chip transponder in his forearm.  This experiment allowed a computer to monitor Kevin as he moved through halls and offices of the University. Using a unique identifying signal emitted by the implanted chip. He could operate doors, lights, heaters and other computers without lifting a finger 
In 2002 Warwick moved on to phase two. A more sophisticated operation placed microchip implants onto his and his wife’s nervous systems, linking them to a nearby computer and to each other. Using the technology, Warwick was able to control a robotic hand as well as an electric chair, and get a sense of when his wife felt pain or pleasure. “the idea being, we’re interconnected, so we’ll each feel what we’re doing to the other,” he says. “The possibilities are mind-blowing! 

QNX and the Ultimate Goal?
One of Warwick’s dreams is to connect people together, literally!  He imagines people communicating without using phones, accessing data without a computer device, operating machinery using embedded tech.    To me this appears very much like the combination of cybernetics and the IOE (internet of everything).  When we consider that QNX is already at the centre of connected technology (IOE) and is the certified operating system for such critical and esoteric medical equipment as the ODM hemodynamic monitor, Anesthesia monitors etc. Then we can see the huge opportunity ahead for BlackBerry and QNX.  

A few years ago BlackBerry made the world smaller and more effective by introducing reliable mobile email.  Imagine if BlackBerry could once again leap ahead of the crowd and put in place a system of linking everyone to everyone else...without a mobile phone.

It is one thing to consider a billion machines all connected together in the IOE but imagine 7 billion people connected and communicating together.
Imagine embedded tech powered by the heat and movement of our own bodies.  Imagine being able to feel another person’s hunger, cold, fear or hate.  
The world would quickly become a very different place and not at all like the FaceBook  and Google vision of contextual advertising for the masses.
Time will tell.
Professor Warwick is an incredibly engaging individual and I was lucky enough to hear him speak on a couple of occasions.  If you find the topic of Cybernetics interesting I would recommend you have a look at one of his videos here