2013 and 2014 have been called the year of wearables already with new devices seeing the light of day almost every week. There are smartwatches, rings, bracelets, belts or devices built into shoes and clothing. Here’s a small selection of the better known ones or newer ones:

 

  • Pebble (smartwatch with apps and notifications)
  • Galaxy gear (smartwatch with complete android)
  • Smarty ring (get notifications on your finger)
  • The Dash (earphones with tracking ability which also work as a headset)
  • Flyfit (fitness tracker for your ankle)
  • Atlas (smartwatch with fitness tracking abilities)
  • …and hundreds more

One thing that strikes me though is how inefficient and niche all of those devices still are. Not one company has the idea to build a more connected ecosystem. Here is a list of things that I think are wrong currently:

 

  1. do I need notifications on my wrist, my finger, my smartphone and my tablet? do I really need to be reminded 4 times that somebody commented on my facebook post?
  2. all of those devices need their own battery
  3. all of those devices need their own bluetooth 4 connection to your smartphone
  4. none of the data which is collected can be brought into context of one another. these devices are extremely selfish and only care about their own apps. Therefore the knowledge which can be gained through using them is extremely limited.

 

1. Functionality

So far all wearables implement the same functionality. There are notifications and some sort of fitness tracking using an accelerometer. Sometimes you can use apps but this is where the imagination of the creators stops.

I propose creating devices which are good for a single purpose only.

 

  • A watch which sends notifications and lets you interact with your smartphone
  • Or if you prefer notifications in a more unobtrusive format, it can be a ring too
  • A ring that only has an accelerometer and can do some precalculation of the data so it figures out certain movements on its own
  • A ring that measures your pulse or your blood pressure (having only one of those in one ring will make it smaller)
  • A chest strap that measures your pulse and heartrate

The benefits of having specialized devices will be that

  • they are smaller
  • more suited to their one task
  • the functionality I want can  be achieved by combining different devices

 

2. Power

The name wearable already says it. Those are devices worn on your body and their sole purpose is to track ones physique, movement, health and connect us to the digital world surrounding us. Once I take off that tracking ring it doesn’t need to stay on. Once I put away those headphones they don’t need any power. The watch only needs to be on when on my wrist, when I put it away for the night I probably have a bedside watch.

So the question which comes to my mind is, do they need their own battery? Wouldn’t it be much better if you had one large battery somewhere on your body and all devices would get power from there through skin conduction or some other means? They could have a tiny cell that would let them keep settings once disconnected from your body but that’s it.

The benefits:

 

  • I only have to charge 1 battery pack so I never have to worry about some of my 10 devices running out of juice
  • I could easily have a replacement pack which would work for all devices at the same time

I can imagine my morning to become something like this: Get up, strap on my power pack chest belt, put on my watch and rings and see them power up as soon as they touch my skin.

I can also imagine that a certain power signature coming from the central power pack would identify the wearer to the devices so they might be paired to me and work only when I put them on.

Sony has filed a patent already in 2006 for sound transmission through the body using electrical signals. I imagine that this can be modified easily to transmit power to devices.

 

3. Communication

With the central power pack we also have the ability to implement communication between devices through skin transfer or other means.

Interesting methods include:

 

I imagine that all those methods could be made quite small and low power, reducing the need for individual transfer of information through the air (using bluetooth or other wireless technologies)

With only skin related transfer, intercepting the data becomes much harder and requires at least touching somebody which we have a natural reflex of preventing already anyway.

 

Here is what it could look like:

Once central hub device facilitates communication and transfers power to the other devices
Once central hub device facilitates communication and transfers power to the other devices

 

  1. The central power pack and hub transfers power to all devices on the body and has a bluetooth or other wireless connection to the smartphone or computer which will facilitate an internet connection, for example for storing data in the cloud or other connected services. The hub can also have a large buffer for storing sensor data while not connected to the internet.
  2. There are two classes of devices, input and output.
  3. The ring, necklace and armband could be input devices, tracking movement data (ring and armband) and speech data (necklace)
  4. The wristwatch and earphones are output devices with the wristwatch being used primarily during the day for notifications and tracking feedback whereas the earphones could deliver spoken feedback when running or doing sports and the wristwatch is not used.

 

4. Central data repository

The last piece which is necessary to make all this data collection worthwhile is a large repository for the data which can also make sense of it. This will in most cases be a cloud service with analytics capabilities built in.

All data coming in could be analyzed and any feedback for reaching personal goals or making healthier choices could be fed back to the output devices of choice, whether it is earphones or wristwatches or just the smartphone.

What we need for this to work is a standard for storing personal data. One attempt at creating a protocol is called Tent. It’s a good start but at the moment too much focused on blog posts.

 

Conclusion

Now that we have the technical capabilities to create interesting sensors and wearables what we need is to open them up. All of the devices should work together seamlessly using standard protocols to communicate over the Body Area Network (BAN) and with the cloud storage service for personal data.

Once we get this, wearables will finally leave their niche and become a huge trend and thriving ecosystem.

At Keepzer I am working on creating the cloud solution for personal data. I would love to talk to more device makers about opening up the data to benefit all of us.

 

2 thoughts on “We need the body area network (BAN)

  1. Keepzer for Pebble - TechnicallyFeasible

    […] We need the body area network (BAN) […]

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