Category Archives: Wearable Tech

Christmas Jumper Day

Christmas Jumper Day and the Gift of Wearables

Who doesn’t love wearing a cheesy Christmas jumper? And who doesn’t love giving to a worthy cause, particularly when the UK Government will match every donation? Well, what if you found out you could combine the two? I know, pretty awesome right?

Friday the 12th of December is Christmas Jumper Day, a day to spread joy and help improve the lives of children around the world with Save the Children. It’s pretty simple; wear your best (or ugliest) Christmas jumper and donate £2, or more if you can, to Save the Children. Make the world better with a sweater. Details on how to donate can be found here.

At Nitro we’re all getting in on the act, busting out our most festive woollies, digging deep and hoping to smash our total raised last year.

So, in keeping with the clothing theme, we’ve decided to take a look at clothing wearables. These can range from clever and cool to downright ridiculous, and here’s our top 6:

The D-Shirt

From French company Cityzen Sciences comes the ‘D-Shirt’, or Digital Shirt, specially designed to complement your workout. Made from lightweight, sensor-laced (and washable!) fabric, the shirt monitors your heart rate, speed, activity intensity, acceleration and altitude, and has built-in GPS. The shirt connects via Bluetooth to an app, tracking your activity and offering personalised coaching. You can ask the app questions, which responds, telling you how you’re doing and where you could improve. It maps your route and workout as you go, so you can share your activities with others, see how far you went and track your progress over time. You can also set running challenges.

Basically, it’s a must for any fitness fanatic. However, the product is currently in prototype phase and not yet available to buy, and you can bet it won’t be cheap. Nevertheless, the company are touting it as a ‘sports revolution’. We’ve yet to find out.

Ralph Lauren are also getting in on the smart-shirt act, and now even a playable Tetris t-shirt has graced our humble planet (thank God, right?)

Wi-Fi hotspot Onesie

Yes, you read that right. Dutch textile developer Borre Akkersdijk has created a knitted onesie that turns the wearer into a walking Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s called the BB.Suit, and was developed with help from the Eindhoven University of Technology. Unveiled at SXSW this year, the onesie also demonstrated its other handy festival capabilities; attendees could track it on Google Maps (anyone who’s been to festival knows you spend half your time fruitlessly searching for friends), and upload songs through it – creating a wandering human jukebox.

The suit is knitted in two layers using a special 3D technique, leaving space in between for a middle layer of copper wiring, which can house Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC (near field communication) connections.

This is also in the prototype phases, and although the onesie at the moment can survive a few washes, Akkersdijk admits there is an issue with wearables and laundry that he hopes to fix.

Although this may seem slightly ridiculous and there’s certainly a long way to go, Akkersdijk’s company, ByBorre, may be on the right track. They are dedicated to developing smart clothing, and the BB.Suit does demonstrate well what can be achieved when designers and computer scientists work together.

Snaptrax cap

Not quite a Christmas hat, but crammed with so many goodies its close enough. The Snaptrax hat looks like an ordinary snapback (hence the name) but there’s a lot more than meets the eye. You wouldn’t know it from the sleek design, but the hat is voice controlled, has integrated speakers and connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing the user to make and answer calls and texts, control and play music, search the web, navigate via GPS and much more. They’re kind of the non-nerdy version of Google Glass, and are set to have a much lower price tag.

The hat comes from Australian startup Headtrax Technology, who claim, “Wearing a Snaptrax baseball cap will offer the additional benefits of convenient, interruption-free mobility to access and use smart devices easily, more safely and with the added bonus of UV protection!”

They say they are solving the problem of our increasing dependence on smartphones that “are becoming more and more difficult to use on the go safely and effectively.”

The technology supports 22 languages and the Bluetooth device is actually removable, so you can fit it to your Christmas hat if you feel so inclined. The caps are weather-proofed, include radiation-reducing technology and come in four design variations of black and red.

There’s a countdown on their website until the official purchasing website is unveiled – it’s due to be launched New Year’s day 2015.


Moving from the hip to the life-saving, this shirt and cap combo from France-based Bioserenity is an epileptic seizure detector that instantly alerts a doctor when an attack occurs. Epilepsy is notoriously difficult to diagnose and manage, and this wearable strives to bring back some of the control the condition takes away.

Diagnosis of epilepsy traditionally has to take place over a 48 hour period in hospital while the patient is hooked up to an EEG (electroencephalograph) machine. Seizures are irregular, yet epilepsy cannot be diagnosed unless a patient has one whilst being monitored. Because of this, a large number of sufferers don’t receive adequate treatment. WEMU could change this.

WEMU is a lightweight shirt that can be worn underneath another layer and uses biometric sensors to track heart activity and muscle contraction. It also comes with a hat to wear whilst sleeping or in the privacy of your own home which monitors brain activity. The monitored data is sent via Bluetooth to the patient’s smartphone and uploaded to a cloud system, so healthcare professionals can access the information. An alert is sent out when a seizure takes place, and a doctor can immediately call emergency services or contact the patient’s friends and family to give advice on how to help. The connected app also helps track diet and medication intake, to remind patients to take their pills or flag up a particular food that may be triggering attacks.

WEMU looks incredibly promising, both in terms of changing the lives of those who suffer from epilepsy for the better, and in terms of medical research. The stats the app collects will provide big data to help further research on the condition.


Another wearable with great healthcare potential is the iTBra. The bra comes from Cyrcadia Health, a US-based company, and although it’s not the most flattering item, you can’t really quibble on aesthetics when it might save your life.

After five years of development, over 500 patients have been successfully tested using the iTBra, the technology has an 87% match with verified clinical diagnoses of breast cancer and is designed to flag up any abnormalities early on and provide peace of mind to the wearer. It’s equipped with sensors embedded in the cups that pick up temperature changes in breast tissue – temperatures rise when cancers are forming. It is also able to detect signs of cancer in dense tissue, something mammograms currently struggle with.

The technology, similar to the WEMU, delivers results to your healthcare provider through a smartphone enabled interface, meaning both the user and their healthcare provider can be fully informed of the patient’s breast health. As well as that, the screening method is far more comfortable as it doesn’t involve any compression or X-rays. As we all know with cancer, early diagnosis is crucial, and this wearable looks set to really revolutionise the process.

The company are aiming for international product release by mid-2015.

Smarter Socks

And here’s the ridiculous I was talking about.

How often do you find yourself trembling, tears streaming down your face, surrounded by the hell that is your unsorted socks? Yeah, strangely enough I never have either. However, for the customers of gentlemen’s sock company Blacksocks this must be a chronic and hideous problem – because they’ve come up with a digital solution.

Enter Smarter Socks, “probably the smartest socks in the world.” For the low, low (insane) price of $189, you can forget about your sock sorting troubles (and food for the rest of the month). This *reasonable* price gets you 10 pairs of socks and a Sock Sorter. Honestly, I’d rather drop £3 at Primark and risk a mental breakdown, but whatever. Each sock, or ‘Plus+’ sock, has an inbuilt RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, which connects to the Sock Sorter, which in turn connects to your smartphone through the Blacksocks app. Each sock will then forever be paired with only one other sock, and the app will keep track of how many washes your socks experience, and how many they have left before they start to look un-gentlemanly. It’s important stuff, guys.

The app also includes the originally named ‘blackometer,’ which uses your smartphone’s camera to scan your socks and measure how black they are. Seriously.

So if you’re the type of person that feels they need this utterly pointless technology, good on you – check out the ad / proof this is an actual thing, here. If you’re not this type of person, which is perhaps more likely, check out the ad anyway, if for nothing else to enjoy the faintly sexist humour: “Some cynical woman may claim this is the only way a man could sort his own socks.”


. . . and here comes the breakdown.

A cringey end note. . .

Or of course you could combine awful wearables and a vague Christmas spirit with this disaster from this years series of The Apprentice.

Merry Christmas!

Health Technology Solutions and Wearables–Extending the Reach

The last year has been focused on—if not bombarded by— ‘wearable technology.’ The majority of the products and ideas have centered on healthcare and tracking. Even though notably absent as a primary point from the presentations delivered on Tuesday ( delivered a piece on the issue), the Apple Watch will take on some of the health tracking output that we have come to expect in our devices. There are a number of apps and devices now readily available (for a small fee, of course) to track, analyze, and monitor all of our activity from food consumer to running a lap on the local track.

Should health technology solutions be disruptive?

The interesting aspect of all of this is the way the solutions can be categorized. The majority of solutions (mostly devices) have aligned with an attempt to integrate more naturally into the user’s life such as using a watch, alarm app, bracelet (Jawbone Up Band and Fitbit), or ring to capture and integrate with data and content. These pieces of technology have centered on NOT being disruptive to the lifestyle of their users in an effort to seamlessly become a part of their day.  But why, when we have spent so much time integrating our smartphones into our daily lives, do we now choose to ignore them for the sake of a new watch, bracelet or ring?

Disruption for healthy fun

Actually, we haven’t. Something new (well, relatively new) has started to take hold of the notable health-tracking playing field. For those of us on the iOS platform we are a little late to the game as it was just released in July of this year, but Android users have been embracing the game-changer, Ingress, since the general release in December 2013. Downloaded over 5 million times, the Ingress game has driven users off the couch to go capture “portals” in the live world. Portals are housed at various places deemed worthy; interesting stores, unique architecture, hyper-local spots, or a community gathering place, for example. The game is extremely addictive and new users beware: you may find yourself needing extra time to make it to your destination as you eagerly seek new portals on your walk.

This innovative application has targeted a new strategy for user interaction: be as disruptive as possible. Yet, it may just end up being the strongest motivator for inspiring to get moving and tracking their progress. Though not an original objective for the game, the possibilities are vast, and finding that critical way to combine intense interest and healthy habits could lead to greater success stories.

Another example of this type of health solution is the app “Superhero Workout.” The idea is that you are interacting with your smartphone throughout your workout, not just turning it on to monitor progress and provide an output of the results upon completion of the activity. Your device will act as your inspiration and motivation to get better, faster, stronger through active engagement and fun (and the possibility of achieving Superhero greatness, of course).

So, what health technology solutions should we be delivering?

The most critical element at play here is a simple one and hasn’t really changed over time. Give the user what they want and they will integrate into their life. Whatever the medium or the output (device/app/wearable), if it is something users want to embrace then they will ensure it is seamlessly or disruptively part of their everyday. We just need to deliver effective (and fun) solutions that will meet the demand.


Google X and the Baseline Study

No, it’s not a new hipster-esque band name, Google X is the research arm of Google, responsible for projects like Google Glass, driverless cars and Google contact lens. The Baseline Study is their latest and greatest project, tackling one of the major mysteries of the human world: the human body.

Gray area?

Gray’s Anatomyconsidered to be one of the most influential books in the study of the human body, could be considered as the beta version of this particular Google project. Through this book, people could see anatomically correct drawings and explanations of parts of the human body. It was initially written as a cheaper and more accessible text book for students, but is now, in its 40th edition, revered as not only a piece of history, but still a very relevant text book—it’s been updated throughout the years— for students and professionals alike.

While this book gave a huge insight into how the human body looks on the inside, Google’s aim is to show us not just how the human body looks, but also how it works for  both healthy humans and for humans with ‘unhealthy’ conditions and diseases, giving us a huge insight into just how the body is affected by these things.

Shoot for the moon

Hailed by some as one of Google’s most difficult projects ever undertaken, others see this project (known as a ‘moonshot’) as a step backwards for a company that is largely about the development of technology. However, the aim of this study is prevention rather than a cure; that is, we should know what a body in perfect working order looks like so that indicators (or biomarkers) of potential problems can be found ahead of any likely issues. ‘If we really wanted to be proactive, what would we need to know? You need to know what the fixed, well-running thing should look like,’ says Dr Conrad, who is running the early stages of the project.

Ten things you should know about the Baseline Study:

  1. They’re starting with a small test group of 175 people, later moving on to thousands of people.
  2. The initial tests involve samples of blood, saliva, urine and tears.
  3. When the pilot study is complete, the main study will contain details like genetic history, how food is metabolised and how the heart beats under stress.
  4. The study is completely anonymous, so no personal information will be attached to the body data.
  5. This is not an overnight project, it will take a long time to get to anywhere near a complete stage.
  6. It is likely that participants will wear the Google contact lens to measure blood glucose levels.
  7. Google is developing wearable technology to complement this study so they can monitor the subjects effectively.
  8. The same study failed 10 years ago because the costs were too high, sequencing the human genome did cost $100 million but now comes in at around $10,00: bargain!
  9. This project isn’t about commercial gain, but about Google’s main mission, i.e. ‘organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful. . . .’
  10. A miniaturised man in a space ship is not going to be injected into the subjects, like in 1987 movie Innerspace (although that would be kind of cool).

The collection and study of body data is not a new concept and one that life sciences and pharma companies, as well as hospitals and universities, are chasing. The possibilities for research and development are huge and will inform best practice for treatment and management of conditions and hold a more complete picture of the body as a whole, not just the parts affected by illness.

Google can probably take a lot more for this project from the ‘self quantifiers’ than they may think; many individuals seem keen to share their vital stats through apps and their health/sickness experiences through forums and blogs, so there are probably a lot of clues to indicators for currently existing and newfound conditions. Regardless, this is an exciting project with endless possibilities; if Google don’t use this for commercial gain as they claim, then maybe they aren’t a force for evil, as some may think.

Needles Are Old News

With six different names for phobias of needles/blood tests or vaccinations, it’s no surprise that 3.5 % – 10% of the population suffer from one or more of these phobias, and that 20% of that percentage often avoid necessary medical treatment as a result of their fear.

However, with developments over the last few years it is becoming increasingly clear that injections (certainly for long term medication delivery) could become a thing of the past. Medicated patches (transdermal) that continuously deliver medicine, whether it’s for a nicotine fix or to treat back pain, have been around for a little while now, but more advances have been made in the use of patches recently.

Stick to it!

One of the harder to solve problems is creating a patch that can administer medication when it is needed, not all the time, otherwise medication is being delivered continuously, even when not required. Biomedical engineers in South Korea may have this problem all sewn up with nanoparticles, activated by heat that can detect a patient’s muscle activity and release medication when it is needed. The future aspirations of this project are to be able to connect wirelessly to the patch so that doctors can diagnose and dispense medication, but this could be up to five years away.

Medication administration without needles has other benefits too; a shockingly large number of patients forget to take their medication or don’t fill their prescriptions. On average only 50% of patients with a chronic illness take their medications regularly and as instructed; correctly taking one’s medication is known as patient compliance or adherence. But patches could be the advance needed to prevent the extra unnecessary yearly hospital admissions or the death caused by non adherence.

An eye for change

However, a more recent advancement in the administration of drugs and diagnosis comes in the form of the Alcon (Novartis) Google partnership that we reported on recently.

Their initial targets are to develop the capabilities of testing blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and to help people with Presbyopia (a condition that affects the ability to focus on objects nearby). However, the possibilities don’t end there. In tears there is a chemical called lacryglobin which is a biomarker for some cancers, so the lenses could be used to detect levels in patients in remission.

It is also hoped that some medicines could be delivered through a contact lens with work started back in 2009 by Eyenovations, a MIT 100k Entrepreneurship competition finalist. Their goal was to create a contact lens that could deliver treatment for 30 days or more for conditions like dry eye or glaucoma and to deliver longer term medication to people in more remote areas. However, it is not as easy as it might sound to develop something like this, and the company has been very quiet since 2010. However, technological advances have moved rapidly in the last four years, so some other company will probably pick up where they left off.

The lesser of two evils

So, while ‘needleless’ medication delivery is on the horizon, the question is, would you choose putting something in your eye over having an injection?

A Vision of the Future

An exciting new partnership between pharma giant Novartis and tech giant Google was announced this week. The Alcon branch of Novartis, which produces some of the most used contact lens brands in the world, are licensing Google smart lens to get it developed for medical use.

Initially developed by Google Research with a focus on the diabetic market (the idea is to monitor blood glucose levels with tears, with the information sent in real time to an app), Alcon hopes to open this to the wider ocular health market. This includes vision correction for people with presbyopia, a condition that makes it difficult to focus on nearby objects, although no detail on how they will achieve this has yet been released. The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturised electronics which are embedded in the contact lens.

Jeff George, Alcon’s division head, said that the company’s aim is to ‘unlock a new frontier to jointly address the unmet medical needs of millions of eye care patients around the world.’


Eye health is not a new string to the bow of technological innovation though. A team of ophthalmologists, engineers, business experts and software developers at Peekvision have targeted ocular health in the developing world, creating an app and add-on for smartphones to take high res retinal images and then diagnose conditions remotely. With 80% of the world’s blindness being avoidable, they are going a long way to improving that figure and are already implementing it across other locations globally.

Clunky, but effective

Another piece of eye health news that hit the web recently is glasses developed by Oxford University which help people with severe sight loss to see again. While many individuals rely on guide dogs to avoid obstacles and guide them to their destination, their furry companion cannot convey information about other items of potential interest in the environment to his/her human companion. Using this technology would improve the lives of millions, making many independent again. The headset is currently the size of a usual prototype (clunky and cumbersome), but with the speed of technological advances, we would be surprised if this weren’t out before long.

Dr Stephen Hicks of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford says: ‘We eventually want to have a product that will look like a regular pair of glasses and cost no more than a few hundred pounds—about the same as a smartphone.’

As with all technology, it takes time for prototypes to be developed into fully fledged, saleable products, but we are excited for the new developments to come.

Self-care in the Digital Age

Hosted by dallas (delivering assisted living lifestyles at scale) and The King’s Fund, Self-Care in the Digital Age, an event held at the end of June, brought together healthcare professionals and digital health innovators to discuss self-care and the future of digital innovation/integration.

The dallas programme, developed by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board and joint funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Scottish Government, tasked four groups with running a huge scale innovation programme and testing it in their communities throughout the UK.

The four groups funded by dallas

Year Zero – a group dedicated to developing personal health records for everyone and creating a suite of health and care planning tools for people with long term health conditions.
Living it Up – supports better health, well-being and active lifestyles in Scotland and creating personalised health care experiences while keeping people connected.
Mi (More Independent) – helping people in Liverpool to live more independent lifestyles using technology.
i-focus – supporting the other three groups with interoperability and best practice while also integrating home sensor technologies into older people’s homes to notify their relatives or friends if, for example, the temperature in the house gets too low, or if an appliance that would normally be used regularly (such as a kettle) doesn’t appear to have been used. It would also send messages to the friends and family to let them know that their loved one is up and about and alright.

These groups also had the opportunity to talk about their work and any teething problems they’ve had in the development process. The biggest challenge that Mi was faced with from their ‘consumers’ was that they were more concerned with safety and security than with their own health. Meanwhile, Living it Up have created community driven content, and have developed a platform with information that is important to them, not what an individual has decided is important to them, while Year Zero has brought together experts from media, technology, design and healthcare to develop person-centred tools.

The conference

The format of the conference involved the assembled group of healthcare professionals and key opinion leaders being asked questions relating to self-care and digital technologies to generate a debate, talk about their success stories (or hindrances), ask questions of other members of the group and find out what work is already being done in the field. But not before watching this.

What they all found (including members of the audience) was that one of the barriers of self-care is that the general public sometimes think that tech is impersonal, they also find the lack of human interaction disconcerting and also that 17% of people don’t use technology because they’re scared of it but they don’t want to learn how to use it either. Perhaps the people who would benefit most from this kind of technology are the ones more resistant to it. The key thing to remember is that people buy outcomes not technology, so in order for it to work, they have to understand how it will help them and, in turn, the developers of this tech and apps must also understand the needs of an individual, not just create a sparkly piece of tech.

Going back to the video of Terry, the overriding theme or question of the event was why wait until 2034 for technology to be used in self-care? Why can’t it be used now? In many cases a lot of local authorities and NHS trusts are already experimenting with developments like these, mostly with great success. But it did lead me to question how ready the ‘current’ older generation are for technology like this, when you think of the current age of uptake of digital devices and apps and health trackers, they are probably the future ‘Terrys’. Another concern expressed was what happens to the data, and who reviews the health data filters it and adds it to a patients notes, wouldn’t this drive costs up? The answer is to build it into the resource. By integrating it early on it will become a standard rather than an add on.

Design your old age

Right now we are being given the opportunity to redesign old age; maybe we won’t be so reliant on nursing homes and hospitals, because the older generation will have greater independence by making technology work for them.  Maybe being so connected will mean that people don’t wait weeks for a doctor’s appointment, but they get the diagnosis they need in a day and get treatment faster, meaning their condition doesn’t get worse. It’s important to remember that there are a growing number of individuals who have decided not to have children, so for this childless generation, who is going to take care of them? Being able to self-care is going to be vital in the future, otherwise they will be incredibly dependent on care banks that are over stretched even now.

The tech is already beginning to appear; for example, Cue is a device that essentially brings a hospital lab into your home, but takes up only 3 x 3 inches of space. Using a swab to collect a sample, the user puts this into a specific cartridge and into a machine, which then relays the information to your mobile phone.  The further future plan is that information (such as flu, as an example) is then easy to send on to your doctor, who can review the information and get a prescription ready for collection all at a few touches of a button. At the moment they only offer test cartridges for flu, inflammation, testosterone, fertility and vitamin D, but the plan is to have a much larger suite of tests available in the future.

A lot of the negative comments arose from the price of development and implementation; however, cost effectiveness of apps is one thing, but it left me questioning why can some trusts create apps and others not? Why is there no standardisation, or examples of trusts working together to save money and draw on larger scale data collection to improve services? Although perhaps before data management is tackled in apps and self-care, surely the ability to transfer patient records efficiently should be top of agenda?

At the end of the conference we were asked ‘What are you going to do differently?’ The conference made me think a lot about what I could do to help expedite the process, improving self-care for future generations. I know in my heart our current older population will never fully embrace technology (not all of them, anyway), So surely rather than putting in ‘place holders’ for those who will never use the technology we already have, we develop what is already available and fulfil ideas so they reach their full potential, so people like ‘Terry’ have a far more user friendly, user driven and practical—not gimmicky—old age.

If you want to watch a video of the conference, click here.