We’ve got an epic recap of a great wearable tech event–you’re not going to want to miss this one.
On Thursday, Wearable Technologies—the global conference that has already made waves in San Francisco and Munich — touched down in Toronto for its first Canadian edition at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
“Canada is an important player in wearable technology, so we figured it would be a good idea to have a presence here” said conference founder and CEO Christian Stammel.
Stammel opened with remarks highlighting how wearable technology is spreading across industries like wildfire. “Wearable tech will be everywhere in our future lives” he said, gesturing to gaming, to health, to fitness and more.
Tom Fowler, Chief Marketing Officer of Recon Instruments (acquired by Intel earlier this summer), provided the opening keynote, explaining how wearables will outpace mobile in the next three to five years. While he admits that Recon was developed for health and fitness, he imagines a world of possibilities opening up for wearables in both the consumer and enterprise space.
“The future of wearables is apps,” Fowler asserted, which, as the name suggests, can provide specific applications for hardware. “Imagine an emergency service provider who can arrive at the scene of a crisis and assess a patient’s vital signs and heart rate within moments using a heads-up display.”
The keynote was followed by three presentations from companies that are enabling wearables. Colin McCarthy of Massachusetts-based WiTricity demonstrated how his company harnesses wireless electric power transfer technology to transform surfaces into energy sources. Imagine, for example, being able to place your laptop or smartphone on your desk to charge rather than fumbling with wires.
McCarthy says it’s not long before such devices can be fitted inside our clothing. He said his company is already looking at how they can put repeaters (read: charging stations) in purses and backpacks (fashion companies take note!)
Next, Wolf Richter showed us how the world around us is full of energy that can be leveraged to enable the internet of things. His company, Vancouver-based EPIC Semiconductors, wants to make the internet of things (ioT) cheaper, battery free, versatile, compatible, and user-friendly.
Cindy Soo from Flex (formerly Flextronics) pointed out that what’s missing from wearable technology today is emotion. As a part of the second largest consumer electronics manufacturing company in the world, her team helps clients with big ideas or great prototypes understand their customer intimately—Who are they? What do they have for breakfast? What are their pain points?
The afternoon closed with a series of elevator pitches from recurring characters on the Canadian wearable scene, such as Ashlyn Bird, Co-Founder of Biosensive Technologies, the company behind Ear-O-Smart, the world’s first smart earring. Bird used her stage time to announce their company is awaiting patent approval for a universal earring backing that can be applied to anything from your $10 pair of earrings all the way to your diamonds or pearls.
Dylan Horvath presented Cloud DX, a multi-function virtual medical device and cloud diagnostics software application. The goal here is to turn your computer into a window to your heart.
Michael Kravshik explained how his company GestureLogic is “popping the hood” in understanding human health. They’re differentiating themselves from other wearables by focusing on the cycling community.
Lyssa Neel championed Wearables for Kids with her company Linkitz Systems. “Kids want to be like adults” she says, “and kid’s toys prepare them for adult roles” (think an easy-bake oven or miniature kitchen set). Linkitz is a developer’s kit (a set of modular links) targeted towards young girls that enables them to build their own wearables. Kids can make walkie-talkies, light systems that interact with their friends, and more.
From kids to elders, the next elevator pitch looked at how we can use wearables to tackle alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Lew Lim of Vielight discussed how he has been using intranasal light therapy to improve mental health for the past fifteen years.
Vlad Dascalu of Pinch VR made the case for a middle-market when it comes to virtual reality headsets. His company raised 128% of its goal on Indiegogo in January 2015. Dascalu explained that we can learn a lot about the adoption of VR by looking at the camera industry: While disposable cameras and high-end DSLRs have long occupied opposite ends of the camera spectrum in terms of pricepoint, image-sharing really took off when point-and-shoots and smartphone cameras became readily available for the average consumer. “Mobile VR is the key to virtual reality for the masses” Dascalu said.
We then heard from Hani Abidi, co-founder of Ollinfit, a wearable fitness band that’s focused on form. The hardware is simple Abidi admits (a few sensors that read your body’s activity), but what differentiates Ollinfit from other fitness products is its software’s ability to provide real-time feedback, much like a personal trainer. For example, if you’re using your shoulders to lift weight rather than your core, Ollinfit will alert you in real-time and make suggestions for improvement.
Last but not least, Kibaya Njenga of Sulon Technologies closed the elevator pitch series. Njenga highlighted how Sulon Cortex blends virtual and augmented reality, making the cortex specially aware of your surroundings.
The afternoon session opened with a keynote from Jocelyn Dunn, Chief Scientist of HI-SEAS Mission III. Dunn discussed how wearable technology is being used to further space exploration by sharing her first-hand experience simulating a Mars voyage in Hawaii with five other scientists.
What would a wearable technology conference in Toronto be without Tom Emrich? Emrich, Founder of Meetup Group We Are Wearables, moderated a segment on best-in-class products and new areas of application.
The first presentation in this segment was given by Mark Tanner, founder of New York-based Movo, a company focused on making technology simple, stylish, and accessible. Following the example of Livestrong, Movo believes that people love wearing their affinities on their wrist, and that even wrist-based wearable technology communicates information about style and sensibility. Movo offers customizable wrist-based wearable tech for large groups, such as corporate wellness programs, at one-fifth of the cost of a FitBit per unit.
Next we met Brian Wynne, Founder of SharkStopper, a company that’s developing both a personal device worn on the wrist as well as a “wearable” for boats. Both inventions are designed to repel sharks by playing a secret sauce of sound that sharks can’t stand.
At the intersection of fashion and innovation was Pawel Karczewski of UBirds, a company that wants to use flexible electronics to turn any watch into a smart watch. They offer a custom, handmade leather band that can be programmed with the features you like, such as NFC technology, gesture recognition, notifications, and loss prevention. The company is even aiming to solve mobile payments and password pain-points.
From figurative pain-points to literal ones, John Ralston presented how his Seattle-based company X2 Biosystems wants to help detect, manage, and prevent concussions. Their accelerometer- and gyroscope-equipped device called the xPatch is worn behind the ear and is already being tested by the women’s lacrosse team at Stanford.
The afternoon wrapped with a look at the greater wearable ecosystem and beyond: Andreas Freitag presented Cobi of America, a connected biking system aiming to make cycling more connected and intelligent.
Next we heard from Ben S Cooper of VF Corporation. While you may not know VF Corporation by name, you certainly know their brands, which include Vans, The Northface, Timberland and more.
Cooper discussed the differences between fashion and technology not only in terms of materials but also manufacturing processes. He points out the hurdles of hardware in clothing, such as size, power demands, sensing, connectivity, laundering and fit. Of all these challenges, Cooper underscored fit as king. “If a garment doesn’t feel right, people won’t buy it” he said. He also noted how there’s a real-estate war going on over the wrist, but warned that the potentials of wrist-based wearables are limited. Instead, he says, we should be focused on another ‘w’—the wardrobe. (We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on VF Corporation’s brands for our future fashion dream wardrobe, including climate-controlled jackets for winter.)
Zayn Jaffer, Director of Merchandising and Emerging Business at Best Buy Canada, discussed how the company is aiming to be the go-to destination for Canadians shopping for wearable tech. Some stores will include more than 100 feet of wearable tech products offered, including clothing (earlier this summer, the company announced they’ll be carrying a Canadian smart shirt Hexoskin.)
Finally, we heard from Chris MacDonlad of TÜV SÜD, an international service corporation focusing on consulting, testing, certification and training. MacDonlad emphasized the importance of product testing throughout the development process, and suggested that brands think about safety and certification while creating their products rather than as an afterthought.
From a fashion tech perspective, Canada seems strongly focused on hardware and health at the moment, with style being secondary. The problems our wearables are tackling are not small by any stretch of the imagination—from alzheimer’s disease to payments and passwords. That said, if WT Canada was any indication of what’s to come, we can see how the groundwork is being laid for the future of fashion. Imagine, for example, when wristwatches and earrings from companies like Ear-O-Smart and UBirds don’t have to announce themselves as “smart,” or when repeaters from a company like WiTricity can be planted in pockets and purses.
Technologies from the north may be niche-specific or even early stage, but we can see how they’re establishing the building blocks for a brave new world of wearables.
This post was written by Amanda Rebecca Cosco, who has joined Third Wave Fashion as our features writer.
Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.