Canadians pioneer wearable technology

Slightly larger than an inch wide and an inch long, the multi-sensor activity tracker that Ali Nawab is wearing connects to his smartphone. It simplifies his daily activities.

“The Internet is almost everywhere now,” he said, “(and) the processing power of microchips (has) improved over the last few years so when you transport data to say a smartphone it has become a lot more efficient.”

What only existed in science fiction a couple of years ago is now on the verge of becoming reality. It’s wearable technology. And at least six devices from Canadian-grown companies will launch their wearable tech products in 2014. The gadgets range from a biometric shirt to a motion-sensor clip and even a brainwave-sensing headband.

Ali Nawab, founder of Toronto-based wearable tech company Kiwi Wearables, said the spike in wearable technology items is due to advancements making them more convenient to use.

Nawab explained that he can dictate his morning smoothie recipe to Kiwi Move and the apparatus will update his calorie log. Or if he were a soccer player, he could strap the device to his leg and analyze his workout data, and perhaps perfect his goal kick technique over time.

“Everyone is different and they use their devices in their own way,” Nawab said. “We wanted to develop a product … customised to (people’s) needs.”

Deloitte analysts predict that wearable technology will generate nearly $3 billion in 2014, the lion’s share of that coming from the smart glasses marketplace. It is expected to exceed $6 billion by 2016.

While wearable technology gradually gains acceptance, University of Toronto professor Steve Mann thinks more should be done to curb hostility against wearing such gadgets.

Mann explained that he was assaulted in a McDonald’s in Paris last July for wearing his EyeTap, an assistive computer device that sits in front of his right eye and is attached to his head by a thin aluminium band.

“These devices are not simply pieces of clothing or a variation on conventional eyewear,” Mann wrote in the MIT Technology Review. “They have profound effects on how we see, understand and remember the world.”

Mann is recognized as the father of wearable computers. He invented the EyeTap in the 1980s as a way to increase safety in industrial welding.

The EyeTap makes use of high dynamic range (HDR) photography, capturing the wearer’s environment at three different exposures and combining it in real time to provide a more detail-rich view of the world than can be seen by the naked human eye.

“My 6-year-old daughter once asked me, ‘Why do buildings and cars have the right to wear a camera at all times, but people don’t?’” Mann wrote. “Our society has decided that organizations and businesses always have the right to use a camera for security, but the right to wear a camera as an assistive device seems less assured.”