Science Interviews


Mon, 27th Apr 2015

Why wearable technology is big business

Peter Cowley, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, Cambridge

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Wearable technologies are, according to Wikipedia, "clothing andWearable technology accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies for practical functions and features". People are claiming that this is set to become the next big thing. Here to give us his critical opinion is business entrepreneur Peter Cowley, who is also the UK’s business Angel Investor of the year...

Peter - There have been wearable technologies around for many years and some of our listeners will have actually got fitness devices on them, which is approximately measuring the calorific usage of the body. Possibly, people have heard of Google glass. It was around and now has been withdrawn from the market temporarily. The Oculus Rift, which is a gaming device, a gaming headset; there's various forms of clothing actually coming in with technology in them. I'm actually an investor in a manufacture of boxing gloves which have got technology in them as well.

Chris - Boxing gloves, so you can tell how hard you socked the opposition?

Peter - Not just how hard, but also, the direction that you're actually socking the chin of the other person. So, you can train from that. You can work out, give points to the direction and location. So, it may well get used by the media to provide better feedback to how well the boxers are hitting each other.

Chris - You went down to see the launch of Apple’s watch last Friday. Were you impressed?

Peter - I'm very impressed with the product. My concern at the moment is the battery life’s its got is short. So, in the old days of course, the battery would last forever. We’re used to charging our phones every day, so we’re obviously going to have to get to the point where we have to charge our watch every day as well. But the user interface is absolutely gorgeous.

Chris - Would you find yourself actually using one?

Peter - I do use one. I've got it on me at the moment. I've got one that I bought a couple of years ago which is on the very early smart watches. There are a number of these cases which really worked for me:, things like it vibrating 10 minutes before an appointment; incoming phone call appear on my wrist and then can make a decision whether to sneak out to the meeting or answer the call.

Chris - So, that's a yes from you for that sort of technology. What other sorts of things are in this landscape? What's on the horizon for wearable technologies?

Peter - Huge amounts. We’re just really waiting for a number of things. Battery life as I said earlier on will be an issue and battery is a technology that’s moving on rather slowly. But this device I saw in Vienna recently, which is called a MYO, which is an armband that sits on the lower arm which measures not just the accelerometer and position of the arm, but it also monitors the electrical currents passing through the muscles so it knows where the hand is. So, in fact, you’ve got something that will detect not just arm position but finger positions as well. The Google Glass itself, there's a little trackpad available that sits over the thumb at the moment so you can actually use your mouse just with the forefinger and the thumb.

Chris - So, you just pinch finger and thumb together and that’s effectively…

Peter - Yeah, run it from the top of your thumb. Exactly, yeah. There's even here in Cambridge, which has got some jewellery, which emits scents depending on mood and stress levels in order hopefully to get feedback to reduce amount of stress.

Chris - What does it emit or release to calm people down in a tense radio studio environment?

Peter - I couldn’t say. I'm not a chemist. You should be able to tell me that Chris.

Chris - What about the story about Google and contact lenses? What's that all about?

Peter - Yeah, that’s very interesting. There was some technology that Google has been working for some time and this is a contact lens that will have a sensor that will measure a level of a chemical, which will tell – in time, with clinical evidence – whether somebody has got potentially diabetes. But presumably also, the power has been generated from something in the eye, on the eye, the fluids on the eye.

Chris - So, your take on this is that this is definitely here to stay, this sort of technology and it’s only going to get bigger.

Peter - Yeah. I mean, the figures that are floating around are about 40 million devices were sold last year and it’s going to be about 300 million in 3 years' time. They won't all be watches. They’ll be all kinds of other devices.


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