Tens of thousands of people descended on the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas for CES 2017 in January. Among the many product categories they could explore at the formerly named Consumer Electronics Show — which included everything from augmented reality to drones — was wearable technology.
Indeed, it’s such a growing sector that CES debuted a new program this year: the Wearable Technology Summit, which included an exhibition on the main show ﬂoor spotlighting 25 vendors in the wearables space, and a half-day conference with sessions such as “Wearables At Work and Play” and “Your Body: The Next Habitat for Tech-Humanity.”
More people than expected turned out — 375 attendees in all. “We had to bring in 150 extra chairs for the conference because there was such interest,” said Robin Raskin, founder of Living In Digital Times, which produced the program for CES.
Among the companies demonstrating new wearable technology was Carnival Cruise Line, which unveiled an all-in-one access pass. “They give you a necklace or medallion when you’re a guest, and that does everything for you,” Raskin said. “It gets you into your room, it’s your money at the bar, it’s the full experience just from a wearable.”
But the new tech isn’t just convenient for guests; Carnival also can learn from the data it collects, helping inform things like crowd control, purchasing, and inventory. That’s the true value-add of most wearable technology — gathering information that helps companies and organizations, including event producers, operate less wastefully and more purposefully. “Wearables are starting to play a big part in under-standing patterns of data,” Raskin said.
“These companies are using the back end to collect data on all sorts of things, from helping to lower your blood pressure to how to better walk your dog.”
In a Wearable Technology Summit session on “The Science of New Retail Behavior,” futurist Anne Marie Stephen discussed the wearable-tech company Qualcomm’s partnership with United Healthcare, through which users save money on health care by living an active lifestyle. “We’re talking about a sports-wear company that sees themselves as a data company,” Stephen said during the session. “That’s a big deal. There’s utility in saying, ‘If I count your steps and you do 10,000 steps a day, at the end of the year, you get your deductible completely paid off.’ You start to create a relationship with that consumer.”
CES organizers themselves made use of wearable technology to collect data, including attendees’ job titles, home country and city, product category, and buying power. When entering a session, attendees scanned their badge and received information sent directly to their smartphone or other device. “We trialed a new beacon technology this year called BOB, short for ‘Beacon on a Badge’ — a two-way communications device that allows you to discover and network with those around you at the show,” said Sarah Brown, senior manager of event communications for the Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES. “After the show, attendees were able to download BOB data for a record of their CES journey.”
With more automated ways to help users and collect data, wearable tech frees up attendees and organizers alike to do more when they’re on site. “Every-thing now can be visualized as data and analyzed,” Andy Hobsbawm, founder of the software company EVRYTHING, said during a session at the Wearable Technology Summit. “Even on a basic level, if a staff person is looking for a coat that should have been in the inventory, or they have to check the expiration dates of food, or do markdowns, all of those things take them away from customers, so if the technology could facilitate a more effective organization and service delivery of product itself, it frees up this human capital to do what humans can do a lot better than machines, which is empathy and forming relationships and connecting on a human level.”
In addition to an exhibition and panel discussions, the first-ever Wearable Technology Summit featured a smart fashion show. Models strutted down the run-way wearing backpacks that can charge a phone, bicycle shirts that can signal a rider’s direction, and rings that act as a credit card. “I’m wearing one right now,” said Living In Digital Times’ Robin Raskin. “It has an NFC [near-field communication] antenna in it, and anything I could pay for with a phone or anything that has NFC, like Starbucks, I just tap my ring on the register and it debits my account.”
Despite a decreasing price point on most popular wearables, including Fitbits, the new technology still faces a number of obstacles, including consumer mistrust. “It’s always a trade-off of giving information and getting service,” Raskin said. “That’s the overarching issue in wearables now. A lot of these things aren’t particularly secure, they weren’t built with security in mind, and so now they’re really starting to think about security and personal information.”
In addition, some smart fabrics can be difficult to wash, wearables tend to run through battery life quickly, and education for consumers is limited. Hence the importance of the Wearable Technology Summit. “There are a lot of behaviors that have to change, from the retail environment to the consumer,” Raskin said. “People need to know ho w. they can integrate it into their lives.”