Put your hand on your heart: have you ever had thoughts that wearable might turn out to be the next big bubble? Parallels to the dotcom and biotech bubble in the early 2000 don’t seem to be too far away: High expectations in the synergy effects of different and so far not connected disciplines and markets. Medtech meets consumer electronics meets sports where the medical industry dreams of high volumes; the consumer industry dreams of meaningful applications that literally can change lives; and the sports industry dreams of transforming all couch potatoes into fitness enthusiasts.
So do I believe in the success of wearable technologies? Yes, I do! I am absolutely convinced that wearable electronics will change the way people communicate, work and spend their free time. In fact the distinction between private and work life that has been changed by mobile electronics will become further obscured by wearable electronics. There is however still a long way to go before wearables will have that impact.
There are several obstacles that need to be solved in the wearable’s market before they really become the next big thing, or nothing less than the next smart phone.
The most obvious obstacle turns out to be the most restricting and the hardest to solve: Power. Yes - it is as simple as that. The level of integration of functionality comes to a natural end when the battery life drops below one day. At least this is the time scale engineers typically think of. However for a broad acceptance of a wearable device, e.g. a smart watch, even one day is at least a factor of 10 too short!
Will there be a technological breakthrough that boosts the battery capacity by a factor of 10? No - probably not in the next few years.
So what can we do about it? Again the answer is simple: save power. The engineers are challenged more than ever to design extremely low power systems.
The good news is sensors can contribute to extreme low power design two fold by:
- Reducing their own power consumption. Here Bosch Sensortec is pushing the limits from generation to generation by defining the state of the art power consumption per function in the community.
- Helping to reduce the total power consumption of the system by detecting the context of the user and reducing the active functions of the system accordingly to the absolute required minimum.
Let me highlight this with an example:
BMI160 is the first state of the art Inertial Measurement Unit (combining Accelerometer and Gyroscope) that runs below 1 mA in full operation mode. This opens up a wide variety of applications that were so far not possible due to power restrictions. At the same time the BMI160 implements step counting in hardware reducing the required power consumption to only 20uA.
The next big obstacle is the human machine interface which has diametrically opposite requirements: we want a small and lightweight device and at the same time the ability to read messages and to control complex functionalities. Is speech recognition the answer? It will definitely have its role in controlling devices but also its limitation: who is asking his watch for the nearest Victoria’s Secret in a crowded underground?
We need new concepts for HMIs and again sensors can play an important role here: Novel force sensors that add something like a third dimension to a touch screen or highly precise inertial sensors that recognize gestures etc. etc.
So yes: there are challenges for wearables to become the next big thing. As a sensor supplier Bosch Sensortec is committed to doing its share to provide solutions. I am confident that our customers will take advantage of these to design new wearable products that really bring meaningful applications in our life.