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Smart underwear… A step too far


I read a great newspaper article a few weeks ago on the world’s first digital/smart bra, which offers both moral as well as physical support.

What does a smart bra do? Measures your breathing and heart rate and transmits the data to an app on your phone.  You can measure live data which will help you to track and monitor how well you are doing when exercising. The smart bra was showcased at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the place to go if you want to see what new technological innovations are rolling out onto the market.

But I do wonder if smart underwear is a step too far on the daily treadmill of exercise?  My initial thoughts were ‘this is great’ but as I pondered all the potential applications of the data I got worried about what this might be, what is it useful for, and for whom, and who might actually see it.  The thought of my underwear size being out in the ‘cloud’ really did not sit comfortably with me.

I think we can agree that at first reading it is a good idea and that in the right context a potentially useful tool.  What was interesting was that the smart bra did get mixed reviews at the CES, no doubt once people got past all the sniggering. Another innovation was the smart fridge that takes ‘selfies’ – not my description – of the contents of your fridge and will send this to you so you can re-stock on your way home. Again, initially seemed a great idea but when reality kicked in I wondered about the cost benefit of installing this technology, maintaining it, and who else would then have knowledge of my fridge contents, all for the price of forgetting to buy a litre of milk.

Some of you might remember back in the day when Casio launched a wrist watch with a push button calculator on the face.  Great for us kids as our fingers were small enough to use it but no use to adults.  This was a great Christmas gift that I got, but they fell out of favour quite quickly simply due to the practicalities of them and declining costs of desktop calculators. I do wonder if we are close to technology over load in some areas? Are some technologies really new innovations or just applications for the sake of it, with no real long term viability?   Such is the fast pace of innovation and application of technologies these days do we just get caught up in the ‘wow’ factor, always looking for the next ‘wow’ to come along.  You might have seen recently that Apple is reducing production of their 6S and 6SPlus phones by 30% due to lack of take up. It is no surprise that Apple have not yet released sales figures of their smart phone, the market view being that sales have been well below expectations.  Combined with this is the decline in Apple App Store sales.

It is only one year ago that Kindle sales in January 2015 ‘fell off the cliff’ and in October 2015 Waterstones stopped selling the Kindle.  Again another great present from Christmas past. Fitbit ‘dominates’ the wearable technology market yet their January 2016 share price plunged 36% at the release of their new product….a type of smartwatch, but with less functionality than the Apple smart watch!  Again the markets are not convinced. I have to declare some bias here, I bought a Fitbit last Christmas as a present and the delighted recipient can’t find it now. This brings me onto the Internet of Things (IoT), in which some would have us believe that all connected devices and information will change and revolutionise our lives for the better. Smart home devices will connect everything and tell us everything we need to know and do.

But again the argument just doesn’t stack up; sales of smart home devices have still not taken hold and smart energy efficiency homes and renewables are still arguably 10 years off (according to feedback from one of the final presentations in last years The Apprentice). Why are these cool devices just not really taking off or not really being that useful? A recent Accenture report (Igniting Growth in Consumer Technology) highlights a number of good points about this new technology.  This includes the view that smart devices are just too difficult to use, concerns over security and who can view your data and that these enormous companies are gathering very intimate personal information and doing what with it? Other issues are the incompatibility of devices, the real long term value of such devices – they tell you what is going on but without support or calls to action.  As a final point the initial ‘wow’ factor disappears very quickly as another ‘wow’ comes along. To have all your devices connected brings another issue of technology overload and the problem of ‘device switching’.  What device becomes the ‘parent’ device?

In the good old days we had a TV remote.  Now we have one for the digital TV, one for the Virgin box (which is incompatible with other remotes, a common problem with them), one for the Apple TV box and one for the DVD player.  Four devices to just watch the TV!  Oh and by the way I can control my TV from my tablet and the Apple TV from the Ipad. If we connect all our devices do I really want my underwear connected to my phone, to my tablet and PC (yes I still have one) my TV and even my fridge?  Do I want a message from my underwear telling me to stop buying any more pies?

Call me paranoid but no I don’t.  I already know when I’ve drunk too much, eaten too much or not done enough exercise.  Relying on technology to point this out and solve it for me reminds me of the people following their sat nav off the edge of a pier. This brings me to my final point, paranoia, another issue that came out of the CES this year. Driverless cars, monitoring underwear, selfie fridges, no wonder the US military stopped experimenting with smart underwear in 2008 as the project was ‘no longer priority’.

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