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Moving beyond the wearable future hype

On March 8th, the Chinese American Semiconductor Professionals Association (CASPA) held a symposium titled “The Wearable Future: Moving Beyond the Hype; the Search for the Holy Grail and Practical Use Cases.”

As SemiWiki’s Daniel Nenni notes in a recent blog post, the symposium, hosted at the Intel HQ Auditorium in Santa Clara, was standing room only. Dr. Reza Kazerounian, SVP & GM, Microcontroller Business Unit of Atmel, delivered a keynote speech at the event. 

According to Dr. Kazerounian, the Internet of Things (IoT) is opening up fresh horizons for a new generation of intelligent systems that leverage contextual computing and sensing platforms, effectively creating new markets.

“One of these platforms is the wearable category of devices, where the combination of sensors using low-power sensor fusion platforms, and short-range wireless connectivity, are giving rise to a variety of exciting end markets. From self-quantification to a variety of location-based applications, to remote health monitoring, wearables are becoming the harbinger for a whole host of services,” he explained.

“With the right set of biometric sensors combined with local fast data analytics, wearables have the potential to revolutionize the health care industry. These devices can provide real-time data and contextual information along with all the health care requirements, improving the quality of care and lowering the overall cost of care.”

Indeed, as we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, sports and healthcare functionality currently dominates shipments and is expected to drive future wearable device adoption. 

According to analysts at ABI Research, the most popular device functionality is heart rate monitoring – with close to 12 million devices shipped in 2013. These single function devices are designed to communicate with nearby hubs such as smartphones or activity sports watches. 
Pedometers and activity trackers were the next two most popular devices, accounting for around 16 million devices combined in 2013.

“The market for wearable computing devices is driven by a growing range of wireless connected wearable sports, fitness and wellbeing devices,” confirmed Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research.

“Heart rate and activity monitors will outpace shipments of smart watches and glasses for some years to come, and they will provide the essential foundation for the development of the broader wearable market.”

Collins also noted that wearable devices will increasingly move into healthcare services over the next five years.

“Sports, fitness and wellness devices will increasingly be augmented by connectivity to the emerging number of smart watches and glasses devices that become available over the next five years,” he said. “Likewise, general use wearable devices will increasingly support aspects of health monitoring. The interplay between health monitoring and wearable devices will be crucial in the development of both these markets.”

Canalys analyst Daniel Matte expressed similar sentiments about a related space in late 2013 when he confirmed that wearable bands represented a massive opportunity in the medical and wellness segment.

“The wearable band market is really about the consumerization of health… There will be exciting innovations that disrupt the medical industry this year. With the increased awareness about personal well-being they will bring to users, having a computer on your wrist will become increasingly common,” he added.

Atmel’s AvantCar concept is on SemiWiki

Writing for SemiWiki, Don Dingee says the full potential for smaller, curved displays “jumps out” in the context of wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT).

According to Dingee, flexible displays present a challenge well beyond the simplistic knobs-and-sliders, or even the science of multi-touch that allows swiping and other gestures. 

Indeed, abandoning the relative ease of planar coordinates implies not only smarter touch sensors, but sophisticated algorithms that can handle the challenges of projecting capacitance into curved space.

“Atmel fully appreciates the magnitude of this revolution, and through a combination of serendipity and good planning is in the right place at the right time to make curved touchscreens for wearables and the IoT happen,” he explains.

“With CES becoming an almost-auto show, it was the logical place to showcase the AvantCar proof of concept, illustrating just what curves can do for touch-enabled displays in consumer design.”

As Dignee notes, the metal mesh technology in XSense – “fine line metal” or FLM – means the touch sensor is fabricated on a flexible PET film, as it is capable of conforming to flat or reasonably curved displays up to 12 inches.

“XSense uses mutual capacitance, with electrodes in an orthogonal matrix, really an array of small touchscreens within a larger display,” he continues.

“This removes ambiguity in the reported multiple touch coordinates by reporting points independently, and coincidentally enables better handling of polar coordinates following the curve of a display using Atmel’s maxTouch micro controllers (MCUs).”

Dingee also asks his reader to imagine Atmel’s XSense concept outside of a next-gen vehicle, extending to a myriad of IoT and wearable devices.

“Gone are the clunky elastomeric buttons of the typical appliance, replaced by a shaped display with configurable interfaces depending on context. Free of the need for flat surfaces and mechanical switches in designs, touch displays can be integrated into many more wearable and everyday consumer devices,” he adds.

“The same revolution created by projected capacitance for touch in smartphones and tablets can now impact all kinds of smaller devices, a boon for user experience designers looking for more attractive and creative ways to present interfaces.”

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s AvantCar concept? You can check out our detailed coverage of the futuristic demo here.