|GPS ankle monitor: Looks uncomfortable|
It's not hard to imagine useful implications in different industries for wearable tech, but as a distinct consumer market, many observers view the field as a disappointment. The Guardian recently asked, "Wearable technology hasn't taken off the way it was expected to - why not?" A few serious, local startups are working on exercise or health-related wearable apps, but consumers haven't bitten beyond a few kids in light-up tennis shoes or cheap club gear. At this point, your refrigerator and thermostat are more likely to talk to your computer than your clothes.
What you don't see in any of the business tech press about wearables are analyses of wearable tech in the law enforcement and corrections industries, though that may be their biggest field of success so far. The use of GPS trackers on probationers and pretrial defendants out on bail has become so ubiquitous that larger departments suffer from data overload. In treatment courts, but also in some jurisdictions for regular DWI probationers, so-called SCRAM technology - an anklet with a sensor that measures alcohol in one's perspiration - are so popular that Texas courts can't afford nearly all of them that judges would like to use. (I'm waiting for the day probationers' anklet can talk to them; the tech already exists.)
|Awkward police 'body cam'|
For quite some time, cops and crooks arguably have been the biggest markets for "wearable tech," even if it's seldom discussed in that frame. That will remain true for the near future, with much room for expansion in that market in the near term. There's even a (perhaps overly optimistic) argument to be made that wearable corrections tech could "make it possible to replace the system of large-scale imprisonment," that manufacturers in that market contribute to progressive de-incarceration goals.
I'd love to see a company like Adafruit take on wearable tech for law enforcement - somebody that cares if the product is ugly, if it's elegant, well-designed, comfortable, if it works as advertised. If Adafruit started re-imagining police body cams and alcohol sensors for probationers, IMO they'd leave Taser and SCRAM in the dust. Those folks have forgotten more about wearable tech than the other two companies likely know.
The wearable market so far has pigeon-holed itself largely into areas - exercise and health - where people themselves use generated data, or fashion, where sensor data may trigger an accessory but not necessarily a paper trail. In corrections fields, though, it's police management, probation officers, or pretrial services divisions that make use of the data, not the wearer themselves. Those sorts of institutional customers with significant baseline demand constitute a captive market, if you'll pardon the pun. While it may seem distasteful to design technologies of control, it's better if highly skilled engineers sensitive to the wearers' experience create this tech. Either way, somebody's going to profit from it. Bet on that.
|Zocalo, Mexico City, a great place for light-up garb at night|
AN ASIDE: Just for fun, we took some light-up garb with us to Mexico City to the zocalo after dark: The granddaughter's hoodie with EL Wire stitched around the edges, a few dozen small glow sticks, a couple of balloons with flashing RGB LEDs inside them, and three battery operated EL Wire strands long enough to use as a jump rope, one of which ended up lining a hat. Folks approached in gaggles wanting to buy one or the other of the light-up goodies, with somebody offering five times for a strand of EL Wire what I'd paid for it. We gave away glow-stick bracelets to the kids and referred would-be customers to the websites where I'd bought them. (This was a great way to meet families with kids, btw.) When it was bed time, the young'un gave away the balloons with flashing LEDs to a couple of little girls in the square and distributed the last of the glowsticks to a passel of teenagers before she turned, hoodie flashing, and we walked back through the seemingly ever-present multitude to our hotel. SEE MORE from a kid-centric vacation here.