Time Is on Your Side: Wearables Spell Opportunity for Speech Interface Designers

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Dick Tracy did it in 1946, Maxwell Smart in 1965. In 2015, millions of people in real-life scenarios will also be speaking into their watches. Smart watches may arguably be the best-known electronic devices raising awareness that wearable technology is more than just a cool idea for cartoons and TV shows but a growing part of present-day life. Indeed, many industry watchers credit the smart watch as being responsible for increasing consumer awareness that wearables not only have a gee-whiz factor, but are also practical and helpful.

Other personal wearable offerings range from smart glasses to ear gear to clothing with embedded sensors. Don't like Fitbit? Start-up firm Heapsylon makes smart socks that track movements using a magnetic anklet worn on the sock. The company's Sensoria Fitness socks offer advice using real-time audio.

Or how about a smart belt? Belty, from Paris-based start-up Emiota, features a pedometer, monitors activity levels, analyzes users' waistlines, and allows users to ask it to remind them to perform an activity. But what sets Belty apart from similar offerings is that it's made for comfort—the smart belt automatically adjusts how tightly or loosely it fits a user via an actuator.

If you think that sounds far out—but incredibly helpful after a large meal—how about brainy briefs? In 2010, University of California at San Diego scientists developed smart underwear. Using biosensors printed on the waistband of men's underwear, wearers' vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure, were tracked and monitored. In 2012, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command developed underwear that used sensors to likewise monitor health and track issues of soldiers, such as battle fatigue. Smart underwear for people with diabetes is also in development.

While these developments bode well for the future of wearables, it's the smart watches that are the most popular and accessible personal smart devices. Consumer adoption of these devices has raised awareness of the technology to a mass level.

"The smart watch and, really, any wrist-worn wearable at this point—even simpler ones like Fitbit—these are going to make up the majority of wearable devices going forward," says Ramon Llamas, research manager of wearables, mobile phones, and smartphones at IDC.

The debut of Apple's much anticipated smart watch in March was terrific, Llamas says, adding, "This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of shining a brighter light on the wearables market in general."

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