Wearable technology sets sail in Vancouver

Local startups developing innovative hardware and software

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      Vancouver entrepreneur Alex Moret has sailed halfway around the world, from the Caribbean to Australia. The University of British Columbia graduate was also a crew member on the Geronimo when the trimaran set the Sydney-to-Tahiti speed record by travelling 3,298 nautical miles in about 13 days.

      Moret told the Georgia Straight competitive sailing is very data-driven. Racers often lose valuable seconds looking at onboard instruments, according to him.

      “You’re doing 20 things at once when you’re driving a boat,” Moret said during an interview at his downtown office. “You’re looking at your crew. You’re looking at your wind. You’re looking at other people on the course. You’re seeing what your next position’s going to be, and you have to think 10 moves ahead.”

      Moret is the founder and president of Afterguard Marine, which is developing a racing system that will wirelessly transmit data to sailors’ sunglasses. Founded in 2013, Afterguard is one of several local startups helping to shape the future of wearable technology.

      A report published earlier this year by IDTechEx describes the two main types of wearable tech. One category—the main market for the next decade—is electronics attached to or constituting bodywear, such as smart glasses, shoes, and watches. The other, “emerging” category comprises electronics integrated with clothing, backpacks, and bandages.

      According to the report, the global market value of wearable electronic devices will rise from US$14 billion in 2014 to US$70 billion in 2024. In 10 years, IDTechEx predicts, the two largest sectors in this space will be health and fitness, and advanced infotainment.

      Mio Global is the company behind the heart-rate-monitoring Alpha watch.

      With its heart-rate-monitoring Alpha watch and Link wristband, Vancouver-based Mio Global is focused on the health-and-fitness segment. The company’s forthcoming Fuse sport watch, which is expected to be released in November, will also measure users’ speed, distance, pace, and steps.

      Liz Dickinson, founder and CEO of Mio, told the Straight these products can help people lose weight and improve their endurance. While activity-tracking wristbands, such as those from Fitbit, are popular, she believes their days are numbered.

      “What you’re going to see over time is the interest in activity trackers decline, and there’s going to be a surge and more of an interest in smart watches as their form factors become more aesthetically pleasing,” Dickinson said by phone from her office. “We’re starting to see some of that today.”

      On September 9, Apple unveiled its much-anticipated smart watch. Coming in three styles and two sizes, the Apple Watch will sell for US$349 and up when it’s released in early 2015.

      While consumer devices attract the most hype, Gonzalo Tudela, cofounder and CEO of North Vancouver–based Vandrico Solutions, told the Straight the workplace is where wearable tech will realize its full potential. Vandrico—which is working with Telus, Whistler Blackcomb, and other companies—sells its Canary platform to businesses interested in testing the use of wearables by their employees.

      Tudela observed people can’t tell the difference between notifications for Facebook and important work emails when their smartphones are in their pockets. He pointed out smart watches can be used to warn miners of blasting and confirm they aren’t on site.

      “What I have in my hand right now—this cellphone—is the summation of human knowledge and the access to anything,” Tudela said in a downtown coffee shop. “It’s a pretty powerful device. To filter some of this and give me the things that are going to save my life or that are going to make my life better and more productive at work, that’s something that excites me.”

      CommandWear Systems wants to see police officers outfitted with wearable tech.

      Shawn Griffin, product manager for Vancouver’s CommandWear Systems, envisions every police officer and first responder wearing a smart watch or smart glasses in the future. A major Canadian police force is running a pilot project with CommandWear Training Suite, which allows headquarters to exchange secure text messages with officers and track their locations.

      Griffin told the Straight the cloud-based platform is intended for use during emergencies and large events, not everyday patrolling. He asserted officers will notice an alert on a watch or glasses quicker than on a phone, which might be in a pocket outside of a bulletproof vest.

      “Especially initially, it’ll be a way to back up the radio system that’s out there, which is what everybody is used to,” Griffin said in a Gastown office. “Down the road, as people become more and more confident in the technology and they see its use and it’s proven, then it’ll start to supplant radio and we’ll go more to text messaging.”

      Afterguard’s system is designed for use by competitive sailors.

      In 2010, Vancouver-based Recon Instruments launched the world’s first consumer heads-up display. (While Google Glass was made available to developers in 2013, the smart glasses haven’t yet seen a general release.) Afterguard’s system pairs Recon’s technology with a central communications unit tied into a boat’s sensors.

      Moret explained skippers, tacticians, and bowmen wearing Afterguard sunglasses will look down to see a virtual screen projected five feet in front of them. Swiping their fingers along the side of the frame, they can toggle between three panels of data.

      Afterguard is being tested in the waters off Vancouver and San Francisco. Moret noted his company has pre-sold over 100 sunglasses and hopes to start shipping them in January 2015.

      “I think it’ll be on every racing sailboat in the world,” Moret said, “because it just gives you so much of an advantage.”

      Comments

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      2 Comments

      Lame Product

      Sep 16, 2014 at 4:16pm

      Right here. I consider myself a "thinking individual". I don't need flashing, stupid information attached to my retina. When will people stop being so gullible? "Look at me! I have the latest technology drilled right into my skull!"

      I forecast

      Sep 16, 2014 at 11:58pm

      An epidemic of brain cancer and other health issues in the future with all this wireless technology being worn on the body and particularly next to the brain