All Articles, Health, Innovation

Examining the Future of Wearable Health Trackers

With a projected annual growth of 55% in the technology industry, comes a society entirely equipped with wearable technology. 
By: Nolan Kim

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Initial glimpses of a wearable device trace back to 1472 as Leonardo da Vinci sketched a tool used to calculate the distance troops covered by foot. His outline formed the conceptual basis of the pedometer, yet this mechanism was only formally introduced by Thomas Jefferson three centuries later. Today, those same steps now relay data able to diagnose disease, enhance sport biomechanics, and even provide human identification. Ground-breaking methods of health data acquisition, formerly restricted within advanced research facilities, are now seamlessly available to individuals wherever they go.

Expectedly, the frontrunners of wearable technology were Nike & Apple who popularized the idea through a collaboration aimed to build a sports chip capable of measuring calories lost and distance traveled. Eleven years later, Apple was appointed by Fortune Magazine as driver of the market’s overall growth due to the success of their upscale smartwatches. As both a pioneer and a leader of the industry, Apple has publicized wearable health monitors in strong association to fitness and recreation. Although less advertised to mainstream society in comparison to its recreational use, the applications of wearables in healthcare are undoubtedly the concept’s leader in innovation.

​A research team led by South Korean Professor Kyung-In Jang of Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology looks to advance the highly-popular technology of wearable health monitors. Their development labeled as ‘electronic skin’ takes form of a self-adhesive silicone patch able to track metrics such as heart rate, respiration, and muscle movement. This microsystem, spanning a mere diameter of four centimeters, allows data from the body’s electrical activity to be wirelessly transmitted onto a smartphone. This device grants effortless portability and accessibility to an entire medical system of comprehensible, personalized biometric data. By constructing a wireless biosensor, Kyung-in’s team aims to extend its applications to support outlying communities devoid of modern medical services, providing interactive telemedicine and treatment systems.

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To a degree, it seems as if users have been granted a customized doctor at their convenience, and perhaps the continued advancement of personal health trackers would render frequent physical inspections obsolete. Carrying similar ambitions as Kyung-in and her work towards telemedicine, GOQii, a California-based startup, intends to become the forerunners of ‘fitness bands paired with remote personalized coaching’. With such rapid rise of wearable technology, soon even trackers designated for ‘recreation’ will display health analytics parallel to those given during a physician’s examination. Instantaneous access to extensive health metrics coupled with remote diagnosis would drastically alter the current system, possibly eliminating traditional methods of visiting an office to assess one’s physical condition.

Heightened access to information subsequently provokes greater risk of intrusion and challenges boundaries of privacy. How far does the sharing of personal health expand? Is data exclusive to the individual or will widespread usage of wearables prompt virtually unquestioned accessibility for companies? Modeling the philosophy of car insurance, private healthcare companies could perhaps raise insurance premiums in response to irresponsible infractions to one’s health. With technology that already exists, companies could effortlessly link an employee’s recent visit to the ER with data reflecting their reckless escapade of binge drinking the night before and consequently strike their insurance payments. Luckily, rather than seeking to expose tendencies of prioritizing mental pleasure over physical well-being on the weekends, companies have initiated employee programs promoting the latter. BP distributed complimentary wearable health monitors to workers in return for their resulting fitness analysis. The company’s display of commendable physical activity was rewarded with lower insurance premiums. Devices meant to grant us greater awareness of our well-being may very well begin to exert unexpected control over our behavior.

Autonomous or ‘smart’ wearables are projected to exhibit sales surpassing those of laptops as well as televisions and is estimated to become a $27 billion industry by 2018. Accessory health monitors, originally designed as a wristband, have diversified their structure to eyewear, hearables, jewelry, contact lenses, and footwear. The dominance of wearable technology is undeniable, but rather the magnitude of its disruption to society is what is placed in question.

Work Cited

DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology). “‘Electronic skin’ takes wearable health monitors to the next level: A soft, stick-on patch collects, analyzes and wirelessly transmits a variety of health metrics from the body to a smartphone.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170821094309.htm>.
Each Step You Take. “Who Invented the Pedometer?.” Each Step You Take, Pedometer Reviews, 29 Apr. 2014, eachstepyoutake.com/who-invented-the-pedometer/.
FHI Editorial Team . “Infographic: The History of Wearables.” Infographic: The History of Wearables Comments, Future Health Index, 19 Sept. 2016, http://www.futurehealthindex.com/2016/09/29/infographic-history-wearables/.
Grace College. “The Past, Present and Future of Wearable Technology.” Grace College Online, Grace College , 17 Nov. 2016, online.grace.edu/news/business/the-past-present-future-of-wearable-technology/.
Tsekleves, Emmanuel, and Researcher at Lancaster University. “Beware a Future Where Health Monitoring by Wearables Is the Norm.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 June 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2015/jun/04/health-monitoring-wearables-technology-norm.

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