Smartwatches might be the most hyped Wearable category currently on the market, but connected devices that you carry with you all all day are going to appear in all shapes and sizes. Intel’s ‘Make it Wearable Challenge’ had a half million dollar, first prize winning device that you might find sitting on your wrist, but that was the last thing that this wearable had in common with a Smartwatch.
The range of Wearables we saw at the Intel event went from prosthetic 3D robotic limbs, right down to personal comfort devices. All of the entries are based on Intel’s Edison platform, a computer that fits into a SD card. The make it Wearable Challenge was first announced a year ago, with the 10 finalists flown in from around the world for 10 days of intensive incubation at UC Berkley before making their pitches to a star studded cast of Judges. Venus Williams, Pro Tennis Star turned Designer, Pauline Brown, Chairman of Louis Vuitton, Holly Hubert of Best Buy, Stefan Olander of Nike+, Uri Minkoff of fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, Brian Nohe of SMS Audio and of course the man whose passion for the space drove the challenge, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.
What I found particularly interesting about the judges panel was the high focus on fashion and athletics. Sincere integration of technology and fashion are needed if this new category of devices is going to provide value to the user.
First prize of the competition would get you half a million USD, second place got you $200,000 and third place was $100,000. Just for participating each team walked away with $50,000.
Nixie – Flying Wearable Camera
The Winner of Intel’s Make it Wearable Challenge was Nixie, a US-based team with a German founder. Nixie is a wrist worn flying wearable camera. This advanced Quad-copter will provide instant camera activation with the flick of your wrist enabling beautiful aerial photography. Their hope is that you’ll be able to capture more of life’s moments since you can activate the camera in just two seconds. Nixie will have several modes, boomerang which will take a photo and return to your or hover mode which will follow you autonomously. On top of patenting the wrist worn drone concept, they are working on making the gestures used to control the drone proprietary as well. When you flick your wrist to launch Nixie, the intensity of which you do it will indicate how far away you want the drone to be from you while taking the photo. The feature that we’re all waiting for though, is that upon returning you, instead of catching it with your hand, it will remount on your wrist like a falcon.
They were a clear favorite going into the competition, but what was surprising about their presentation was that they sassed the judges in the Q&A during their pitch. After winning the half a million dollars they then told the press they didn’t want any photos taken of the prototype. I guess when your promotional video hits 5 Million views in a week, you can do what you want. I just hope that they can live up to the hype, a half a million dollars isn’t a lot of money if you want to hire and grow your team in Silicon Valley.
Open Bionics – Printing Children Hands
Coming in Second was a company that 3D prints robotic hands for children. Prosthetic limbs cost around $200,000 and if you are a growing child you would need a new arm at least once a year. Open Bionics uses an iPad with a 3D camera to scan the limb, a 3D printer to customize the prosthesis and Edison to power the sensor array that controls the hand. There is a 1 second delay between the muscles activating and the hands movement.
Open Bionics is currently selling the limbs for $2,000 and hopes to get the price down to below $1000. They are looking to control the manufacturing process where it takes them 2 days to print a limb and eventually franchise the business. The entire project is open source and they have even made the hands for kids include LEDs so they can actually have the exact hand from Iron Man.
ProGlove – Creating Efficiency
ProGlove is all about efficiency and optimization so it’s no surprise that the team is from Germany. ProGlove is smart glove jam packed with sensors and is aimed at the enterprise market. The glove can improve ergonomics, optimize and check movements which generally works to cut over all production costs.
The glove incorporates several tools that allow it to scan items with the tip of the finger, or even scan the item my simply pointing at it. Previously they would have had a hand held machine they would have had to pass the item over of physically pick up a unit and scan the device. This change alone provides apparent benefits to the company in just 3 months. You can also analyze big data from the glove and its environment and enable early warning system to be recognized to prevent problems in the assembly line. The ProGlove has already generated a significant amount of buzz in terms of companies reaching out to query implementation in their facilities. Workers already wear gloves on the job, including sensors to detect heat and cold, or vibrations to generate intelligent feed back will make the worker and the business more intelligent.
There weren’t that many enterprise products in the competition, but since they have such a clear market, we’re going to follow with those and continue with some consumer focused products.
BABYBE – Helping Premature Baby’s Get Better Faster
BABYBE from Germany and Chile is a bionic mattress that allows mothers to have contact with their premature babies who are in artificial incubation units in a Neo Intensive Care Units (NICU). BABYBE is based on Kangaroo Mother care which mimics the way that adults hold their babies skin to skin on their belly. The bionic mattress delivers haptic feedback in real time by filling the mattress with air to simulate breathing or the mothers touch. BABYBE works to bridge the gap and keep parents and babies connected during their baby’s time in the incubator. They are already rolling out in hospitals in Chile, with hospitals welcoming the decreased time infants have to spend in the NICU since it does allow them to care for more patients.
First Vision – Making Sports More Personal
First Vision could be a consumer product but right now this chest mounted point of view camera for professional athletes is aimed at sporting leagues as an extra camera to replay big moments giving the audience a new perspective during game play. This Spanish company is already working towards integration in the Spanish Football league and will monetize their product by renting the camera to sporting leagues who have already worked out the media rights for distribution.
Snowcookie – A Powder Junkies Dream Gadget
Diving into pure consumer wearables let’s start with SnowCookie from Poland. This hockey puck size sensor comes in pairs and mounts on the tops of both your skis. It can analyze the data giving you suggestions in real time to improve your form. Snowcookie can also predict if you’ve got enough energy for one last run, and if you’re a skier you’ll know hitting the slopes with muscle fatigue is when you tend to have the big nasty falls. If you do end up down on the slopes, it can notify ski patrol to get you assistance.
Wristify – A Personal Heater or AC on your wrist
Wristify has a very unique and innovative concept, Embr labs was founded by 4 MIT students around the goal of creating a personal comfort device. Always find your office cold? Crowded on a Subway make you too hot? Wristify can adjust your comfort level in the same way that dipping your toes in cool water makes you feel less hot or wrapping your hands around a cup of tea can warm you up. Both of these actions don’t actually change your core body temperature but they do make you feel more comfortable. This is the concept around the algorithms in Wristify.
The temperature changes are only 2-3 degrees but the blood is close to the surface on your wrist and from trying it out, the cooling sensation was apparent. The device will be able to learn over time and predict when you will be uncomfortable. There are also larger savings to be had, offices could save on heating an cooling costs by allowing employees to regulate their own temperature. Wristify should cost you $199 when it launches next year.
Arc Pendant – Keeping Your Eyes on the Road
Arc Pendant is something that I can relate to, it’s for the Urban Cyclist. Getting directions when you’re riding a bike is hard since you don’t have a free hand to check the screen on your phone.
The Arc Pendant has 6 sensors around the necklace that will vibrate to give you directions to the left or right. The UK team has even figured out that you can give 16 different directions with this sensor configuration. You can also talk to the pendant which pairs with your smartphone for intelligence.
Blocks – The Modular Smartwatch
Blocks is the only smartwatch in the competition and it’s an interesting take since the entire thing is modular. Each block can be built intelligently to offer things like NFC payment, which Barclay’s bank is doing. If you’re into fitness you could get different sensor package set ups. If you wanted a different watch face you can swap out that panel. A new processor gets released, since it’s modular you can just replace that one component.
The concept is not unlike Project Aria that Google has announced which is also a modular smartphone. Allowing consumers to create a wearable that is exactly what they are after seems like an obvious solution since it’s going on your body it should reflect your specific needs.
BabyGuard – Monitoring Your Unborn Baby
BabyGuard was my least favorite from all the entrants since the wearable device constantly monitors the health status of the baby. It will tell you if your baby is in distress or just having the hiccups. It has been proven that at home sonograms were a bad idea as it increased the stress of the baby.
BabyGuard has not done any research as to whether or not the baby will also experience increased levels of stress when constantly being monitored. If they came out with some studies around the science of the device, I might get back on board.
Intel – Make it Wearable Challenge
Intel did a great job of having a strong representation from female participants, and not just in marketing or business development roles. UX designers, mechanical engineers and programers all graced the stage. In a new segment that has yet to have a rock star product that validates the entire category, Intel has cast a wide net showing the various form factors that are possible when envisioning the future of wearable computing.
Let’s be honest, imagining the next generation of device integration, having one strapped to your body in a design that is over 200 years old seems pretty counter intuitive. Smartwatches are just one way that we can interact with information, the industry shouldn’t forget that it’s OK to play around and try new things. It’s refreshing to see how humble and forward thinking Intel is being. They don’t know fashion, and devices that are meant to be worn need to offer as much in form as they do in function.
Last week I wrote a piece entitled “Will.i.am and Intel – The only ones who Get Wearables for Women?” Take a look if you want to learn more about some of the out-of-the-box concepts that Intel is working on outside of the “Make it Wearable Challenge”.