Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - Page 14 News List

Tech firms show off wearable gear at CES trade expo

BY Rob Lever  /  AFP, LAS VEGAS

A woman jogs while wearing a Sensoria Fitness bra made by Heapsylon in a photograph made available by the company on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP / Courtesy of Heapsylon

There is a sensor in a bra, in a pair of socks, on a person’s wrist, attached to their chest and inside their ears — wearable tech is spreading all over the body.

The growing use of embedded wearable devices connected to a smartphone is spawning a massive industry geared to fitness, health and other goals, offering potential benefits to everyone from the newborn infant to the infirm elderly.

It was also one of the hottest sectors on display at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, the largest annual showcase of tech-related gear.

“Our vision is that the garment is the next computer,” Heapsylon LLC chief executive Davide Vigano said.

Heapsylon makes the Sensoria Fitness bra, T-shirt and socks, which connect to a smartphone designed for runners and others who want to monitor their health and improve workouts.

The company, which is participating in the show’s panels and displaying the products on the sidelines of the giant expo, said the items’ key features are “100 percent textile sensors” woven into fabric to be more comfortable and combine use of a transmitter on the socks with the chest monitor to more accurately track activity.

“We get a more accurate picture when the socks and bra work together,” Vigano said.

Like several new wearables coming on the market, Sensoria includes a “virtual coach” to help boost motivation and improve technique.

The fitness sector is one of the key areas in wearables, led by devices such as FitBit Inc’s eponymous activity tracker and Nike Inc’s +FuelBand. Smartwatches are another big segment, with offerings from the crowd-funded Pebble, giants such as Samsung Electronics Co and Qualcomm Inc, and others showing their wares in a new “wrist revolution” zone on the showroom floor, in addition to the large health and fitness section.

Several connected eyewear products are also being shown at the fair, even if Google Inc’s Glass is absent.

Juniper Research projects that the smart wearable-device market will reach US$19 billion by 2018 compared with US$1.4 billion last year, including segments such as fitness, health and security.

Intel Corp chief executive Brian Krzanich told the CES that the chipmaker is making a major push into wearable tech and showed off some of its products to be released this year, including a watch, earbuds which can monitor the wearer’s heart rate and a “onesie” for young infants that can allow parents to monitor a baby’s breathing, sleeping, temperature and positioning.

“We want to make everything smart. That’s what Intel does,” he said.

App makers are leveraging smartphone technology for medical purposes, such as monitoring blood pressure and glucose levels.

“The whole idea of allowing you to take control of your own health care is one of the great benefits of this technology,” Samsung vice president David Lowe told a show panel on Wednesday.

San Francisco-based Qardio Inc produces wearable heart and blood pressure monitors which allow people to keep an eye on their health on a smartphone or deliver the data to a doctor.

Qardio’s Rosario Iannella said the devices mean he can keep tabs on his elderly mother in Italy.

It also “allows doctors to give better care without spending more time with patients,” he said.

However, makers of wearable tech need to overcome the “geek factor,” or clumsy-looking devices which are unappealing, especially for women.

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