Smart Wearable Devices – 1st Cicor Innovation Insights Symposium

Rapidly developing smartphone and tablet technologies have leveraged further innovative breakthroughs. Smartwatches, fitness and training management solutions, data glasses and medical appliances which are worn directly on the body, so-called "wearables," continue to gain ground and show immense growth rates. Cicor Group, a leading international high-tech industrial group in the field of sophisticated microelectronics, substrates and electronic services, hosted the first Cicor Innovation Insights Symposium on January 29, 2015. Experts from industry and academia presented the current state of the art in smart wearable devices and showed what developments can be expected in this rapidly expanding market.

Discussion round-up

A high level of interest in the subject was evident from the packed room and prestigious participants. Pascal König, author of the "Smart Wearable Health Care Report 2014" and moderator of the event pointed out in his welcome address that despite having arranged for a larger venue, many prospective attendees needed to be turned away.

The opening presentation was given by Christian Stammel, founder and CEO of Wearable Technologies AG, a pioneer and world-leading innovation and market development platform for wearable electronics. He pointed out that although smartwatches have only been available for the past two years, they have spread rapidly within this very brief period. By now, almost every smartphone maker offers these devices in its range. With cloud solutions gaining in popularity, Stammel predicts even more intensive networking, particularly in the areas of sports, fitness, healthcare and information management. Considering that tomorrow's cars will be fully networked, Stammel sees the automotive industry as a major driver of developmental progress.

Moving on to present the findings of the "Smart Wearable Health Care Report 2014", Pascal König pointed to an interesting development in the area of smart wearable healthcare, namely that barely any development of smart wearables and their associated software is being done by traditional companies in the healthcare sector. Rather, it is the social networking and information technology specialists such as Google and Samsung who are pushing into this market. Pascal König also posed the question of legal consequences arising from market players collecting and exploiting data.
König identified which healthcare segments are particularly set to profit from continuing development in the field of smart wearables. Diabetes treatment is where the highest growth rates are currently being recorded. There is also major growth potential in sleep medicine: 600 million people worldwide suffer from severe sleep disturbances. Development from diagnosis through to treatment is expected in this area. The key challenge here is taking intelligent action when sleep disturbances occur. Pascal König also made clear the importance of ease-of-use. In the development of smart wearables, everything is subordinate to ease-of-use considerations. Older people especially are inexperienced or have reservations in dealing with smart electronics, whereas ease-of-use comes to the fore amongst the younger generation.

Dr. Anja Frei of the University of Zurich also took up the ease-of-use theme when she spoke about two studies conducted by the University of Zurich. The PROactive study created a 3-month activity program for 370 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and recorded the results. A pedometer coupled to a smartphone app specifically developed for the study acted as a tele-coach and gave patients ongoing feedback about their activities. Getting patients active in this way proved very successful: only one subject returned the pedometer after the study ended. All the others wished to continue counting on this support, since tele-coaching had noticeably improved their condition. Ease of use of the app and pedometer significantly impacted the subjects' regular participation.
The TOURIST study was designed to record risk behavior and determine tourists' awareness for avoiding health risks while traveling abroad. Unexpected difficulties arose with this study: certain subjects were unused to operating a touchscreen and handling a smartphone app. In other cases, transmission of results was not always guaranteed because Thai SIM cards were incompatible with the Swiss smartphones. Technical support was the biggest task facing researchers in this study. Nevertheless, the test distinctly showed the future possibility of using wearables to monitor health of at-risk persons even over great distances and at any time of day. Those participants who were able to use the app were appreciative. But how do you deal with the huge amount of data resulting from the use of wearables? This was the question addressed in a talk by Dr Stefan Rüping of the Fraunhofer Institute. He did not limit himself to the collection of such immense amounts of data, but also touched on data analysis, sharing and protection. He believes that apps are better suited to data collection than forms, because on the one hand data can be collected even as it is being entered into storage, from where it can be managed and evaluated, while on the other hand playful, straightforward handling encourages continuous data entry. But Dr Rüping also questioned how to handle the volume of data, and the way it is used. In so doing he referenced an issue that legislators worldwide have yet to resolve satisfactorily, owing to controversy in discussions about data protection in various states. One audience member also made an interesting observation in this regard, namely that data protection legislation could no longer keep pace with the breakneck speed of technical developments. This identified a conflict that will only intensify in future.

In the subsequent round of discussion, Christian Stammel, Dr Gery Colombo, co-founder of Hocoma AG, and Prof Dr Milo Puhan of the University of Zurich debated interaction between the healthcare industry and health authorities. Christian Stammel was convinced that a digital revolution is currently under way in the healthcare sector. In 10 years' time, data analysis will be sufficiently advanced to solve many medical problems. Moreover, the significance of prevention will gain massively as a result. To attain this progress, the FDA (US approval and licensing authority for medical devices) must undertake a major step towards simplification. It is incomprehensible that today a cell phone must be certified in order to be used in healthcare. Health insurers too would have to react faster and incorporate medical wearables in their catalog of services – all the more so since this could in part facilitate massive cost savings. All panelists agreed on the need for increased acceptance of wearables in policy and healthcare circles, and promotion of their use.

Smart wearables in the watch industry

Another key point was wearables in the watch industry, primarily smartwatches. Pascal König of Smart Watch Group pointed out areas where he sees the greatest development potential and impact on daily life. By his estimate, in 10 years 80% of the Western population will carry a wearable on their person, which they will use as a personal assistant to retrieve e-mails, access social media platforms, and for navigation. Wearables will also be taking on more and more tasks in personal safety, emergency services and communication. A striking example of the potential for smart wearables is a newly developed high-tech bracelet intended to protect the lives of human rights activists. How the device works is as simple as can be. An activist who feels himself in danger can, at the press of a button, send a distress signal with his geographical coordinates both to the headquarters of civil rights defenders in Stockholm, and to confidantes. Thus it is apparent where the person has been kidnapped, or is in distress. Local assistance can then be mobilized, while headquarters in Stockholm attempts through various channels to generate publicity and exert diplomatic pressure.

Concluding the series of presentations was Niclas Granqvist, R & D Director at Polar. He pointed to the opportunities and challenges, as well as the latest developments in Polar's portfolio. The Finnish specialists focus on measuring and evaluating the effects of exercise on the body, and assist users with achieving their sports, fitness and health goals. He sees opportunities for Polar in developing novel sensors and devices, progress towards the Internet of Things (IoT), analysis and services. A major challenge facing Polar as an independent producer is the adaptation of its software to various manufacturers' smartphone operating systems. Granqvist called on smartphone manufacturers to go more for "vertical silos" in future, thus facilitating applications designed to operate with various manufacturers' hardware. The challenge of motivating consumers to make use of wearables would be greatly eased if products were operable across all platforms.

Campaigning closing statements

Pascal König, Dr Gery Colombo, Christian Stammel, Niclas Granqvist and Dr Valentin Chapero Rueda of Valamero Holding AG again discussed the potential of wearables in the concluding panel discussion. On the customer benefits of a wearable, Dr Valentin Chapero Rueda opined that ultimately, pleasure in the device and its playful character would always be the business drivers. Dr Colombo added that it must always be asked what users are accustomed to, whether they are ready for a given development, and whether the interface is user-friendly. Christian Stammel is convinced that wearables will gain broad acceptance, and backed that conviction with a fine numerical example: An average user un-pockets his mobile phone 150 times a day to read e-mail or get other information. Thanks to wearables, a smartphone could in future remain pocketed while the most important information is read off the user's wrist. Despite widespread skepticism a decade ago, concluded the discussion, people have grown accustomed to operating smartphones and they have even become indispensable companions in everyday life. Now is the time to bring users a step further and get them used to the benefits and functionality of wearables.

The event drew to a close with an apéro riche, which participants at the Innovation Insights Symposium used for intensive exchange about the current state of the art and anticipated developments.

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