SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — The digital domain is creeping off our desktops and onto our bodies. There are music players that match your tunes to your heart beat and mood sweaters that change color depending on your emotional state.
Tech entrepreneur Manish Chandra said anything that makes our lives simpler and brings the interaction closer is going to succeed. He spoke to hundreds of engineers, designers and developers Monday at a wearable technology conference and fashion show in San Francisco.
This year Google’s glasses and rumors of Apple’s iWatch are popularizing the field. Analyst Shane Walker at IHS Global Insights said last year the market for wearable totaled almost $9 billion. That should climb to $30 billion by 2018.
“Everyone agrees the race is just beginning, and I think we’re going to see some very, very big leaps in just the next year,” Chandra said.
Humans have been wearing technology for centuries, from strapped-on compasses to pocket watches. The current surging industry is centered throughout Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, where mostly smaller startups design their products locally and have them manufactured in Asia to take advantage of cheap labor. Monday’s conference was one of several focusing exclusively on wearable technology, which has long been a sideshow to mainstream laptops and smartphones.
As wearable technologies proliferate, humans will need to adapt, said Georgia Tech professor Thad Starner. He advises Google on its glasses, which are lightweight frames equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display that responds to voice commands. Starner has worn his for several years.
“We’re talking about paradigm changing devices,” said Starner. “Capabilities that people haven’t thought of before.”
He said that, unlike computers and tablets that people engage with, wearable computers are designed to be in the background, secondary to the wearer’s attention.
“It seems like a paradox, but when you pull the technology closer to your body, there’s a seamless interaction, it’s more an extension of yourself,” he said.
But there are sure to be cultural and social issues. Google Glass – and some emerging competitors – have raised concerns of people who don’t want to be surreptitiously videoed or photographed. And what about interacting?
At Monday’s conference, attendees slipped on monitors that measured their heart rates and temperatures to reflect whether they really were enjoying a movie, and shot photos through their Google Glasses of Vibease, the world’s first wearable vibrator controlled by smartphones, promising long distance intimacy.
“Do you really want a touch screen on the front of your t-shirt? Is it socially acceptable to be poked all over your body for somebody to use your wearable computer?” asked Geneviève Dion, who directs a fashion and technology lab at Drexel University.
The answer, for some, is no.
In a newly released survey from Cornerstone OnDemand, 42 percent of workers said they would not be willing to strap on wearable tech for their jobs, with older and more traditional employees more reluctant than their counterparts. The survey polled 1,029 Americans aged 18 and over in August, and had a 3.1 percent margin of error.
And then there’s an issue of bandwidth, said Ritch Blasi, a consultant with SVP-Comunicano who researches the wearable technology market. At this point, there simply isn’t enough network service to support universal and constant wireless use, he said. But that too will catch up.
“It almost makes you think everyone is going to turn into a cyborg,” he said, referring to a fictional, prosthetic-laden high tech comic book superhero.
And will they?
“When you look at the world and everything people are doing?” said Blasi, pausing for a moment. “I think the answer to that is yes.”
(© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)