The future: smart socks and online toothbrushes

Crazy or cool? Four inventions launched this week at the world’s biggest gadget show.

Las Vegas today is abuzz with excitement. So called ‘smart technology’ is taking over our lives in new and amazing ways. But is there such as thing as ‘bad smart’?

Smart socks that learn how you run and warn you when you will be injured. An internet-enabled toothbrush that informs an app if any teeth have been neglected. Full-body game controller suits. Jewellery that flashes when you receive a text message. Make-up that can transform your eyelid into a digital control mechanism. A pod that tells you when to have a glass of water and when to go to bed…

And these are just a few of the thousands of inventions being exposed to the harsh glare of publicity this week at the global mecca of gadgetry, the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Celebrities, TV crews, investors and mad scientists have converged in a volatile and excitable mix to worship at the shrine of technology. Much awe is expressed over the ingenuity of boffins and designers, many of whom have been working in darkened rooms for years over their brainchildren. ‘It’s a lab. A social hub. A marketplace. Over four days, those who shape the future gather in Las Vegas,’ proclaim the organisers.

Many experts, however, are pointing out that the one thing missing from the show is the most important person of all: the customer. Wearable technology and the so-called ‘internet of things’ have replaced smartphones and tablets as the big trend. But so far ‘only fitness trackers and connected cars have convinced consumers they need the internet everywhere,’ Shahid Khan, managing partner at Meridian Advisory Group, a technology consultancy told the Financial Times yesterday.

What is the ‘internet of things’? One writer has described it as ‘a world in which devices and appliances are so interconnected that they can communicate with each other. Your fridge, for example, could alert your online grocery account when you are running low on milk; your phone could turn on the central heating when you are heading home.’

‘Good smart’ and ‘bad smart’

Many technology pundits are now worried about where this is heading. They have coined the phrase ‘bad smart’ to describe gadgets that can easily become too controlling or bossy such as the ‘smart bench’, an art project by designers JooYoun Paek and David Jimison which aims to illustrate the dangers. It uses a timer and sensors to start tilting the bench after you have been sitting on it too long, eventually tipping you off onto the ground.

‘Good smart’ on the other hand leaves us in complete control of the situation and seeks to enhance our decision-making by providing more information. For example: a supermarket grocery trolley that can scan the barcodes of products we put into it, telling us their nutritional benefits and country of origin, simply gives us more choice rather than forcing anything on us.

You Decide

  1. Could you see yourself wearing technology in or on your clothes?
  2. Do technology companies make the right decisions when it comes to guessing consumers’ needs?

Activities

  1. Find out the latest wearable gadget that you would personally wear and explain why you think it’s a good idea or a nice product.
  2. Design a wearable technological product. For example it could be a mini Sat Nav planted in an earring that whispers directions, or even a belt that can make bank transactions. Go wild!

Some People Say...

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.’Aldous Huxley”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not that fussed about computers or technology.
Granted it can be a quite a niche market, but these consumer products are being aimed at the public. The iPhone and the computers we use at home all started somewhere – and soon we may all be using wearable technologies as well. There were a lot of people 40 years ago who said they weren’t fussed about the internet!
Won’t the price tag of these products be well out of my reach anyway?
Most likely, yes. The Google Glass is estimated to be at least $600 (£365) when it’s put on the market. Considering the volume of smartphone theft already befalling schoolchildren, whether having expensive technology displayed on the exterior of your clothes is a good idea is another debate to be had.

Word Watch

International Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
a global tradeshow which happens every January in Las Vegas, Nevada and has been running for over 40 years. Organisers say that more than 152,000 attendees will visit this year to see more than 3,200 exhibitors.
Wearable technology
sometimes referred to as ‘tech togs’ or ‘fashion electronics’, these clothes and accessories incorporate computer and advanced electronic devices.
The internet of things
where everyday physical objects will be connected to the internet and be able to identify themselves to other devices. Because an object can represent itself digitally it becomes something greater than the object by itself. No longer does the object relate just to you, but it is now connected to surrounding objects as well.

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