Whether you’re an enthusiastic technophile or just secretly terrified of the cyborg revolution, there’s no escaping the rise in popularity of wearable tech. In a society where your mobile devices are as much of a fashion accessory as your Ray-Bans or your Rolex, it somehow makes perfect sense that we’d eventually start putting them on. And while VR glasses and calculator-watches were once the clunky possessions of tech-geeks and math-nerds, their modern counterparts have already started to make their way into the mainstream – as well as our workplaces.
According to a recent survey from Trend Micro, nearly 80% of European organisations are already using some form of wearable technology, and 77% are actively encouraging their employees to use them. We took a look at a few of the workplace ‘wearables’ that might be making their way into your business.
1. The ID badge that measures your happiness
In an attempt to do away with old-fashioned employee questionnaires, Japanese firm, Hitachi, has developed a wearable sensor that measures “organization activation level”, a quantity that they say is strongly correlated with productivity.
Using previous data and models that were able to “quantify the collective happiness of a group from distinctive patterns in physical movements” the new technology can effectively measure how happy and engaged each employee is based on how they move their bodies. It then collects this data to make conclusions about the happiness of the overall organisation. It’s hoped that by eliminating both the inefficiency of traditional measuring methods, and the subjectivity of human analysis, they’ll be better able to understand how their management policies and working environments can affect the happiness and productivity of their workforce.
2. The headset that augments your surroundings
Earlier this year, Microsoft stunned audiences when it unveiled the HoloLens, a headset that can project three-dimensional images onto your surroundings. A wall or a table could suddenly become your interactive desktop, and you could turn video-conferencing into a full-bodied, sci-fi experience.
It’s an idea that could prove especially useful to manufacturers or architects: those working remotely could collaborate over a virtual model of a computer component or a proposed building, or even lay their virtual models directly over the ones in the real world.
Of course, for the more basic office functions, it might not replace the trusted flat-screen on a daily basis. But when it comes to immersive training or remote presentations, it could add a whole new level of detail and – ironically – realism.
3. The wristwatch that knows when you’re slacking
The Apple Watch is finally here. And while it’s probably the closest union between technology and fashion we’ve seen so far, it could also be the most invasive item you’ve ever owned. Mobile devices and 4G connectivity have already made it hard for some professionals to ever really separate their work and home lives, and strapping a device that receives e-mails to your body probably isn’t going to make that much easier.
Once you start to add performance tracking apps into the mix, the latest way to be “always-on” just might be a step too far for some people.
4. The earpiece that gives you a nudge
We’ve all had days when we’re just about ready to nod off at our desks. For some of us, that’s just about every day. But with the Vigo energy gauge, you might be able to keep those embarrassing keyboard imprints off your face.
This small earpiece “tracks patterns in your blinks and in your body’s movement to quantify how alert you are in real time”. Through a combination of an infrared sensor, an accelerometer and an advanced algorithm, Vigo claims to be able to tell you that you’re drowsy before you even know it yourself. When you’ve spent too long doing nothing, or your alertness starts to dip, the gadget can play a song, vibrate, or flash an LED to bring you back to reality.
It can also track your patterns of dopiness over the course of the day and the week – which means you can analyse your habits and levels of alertness, so you can make sure you’re taking breaks at the most appropriate times.
5. The patch that sends signals to your brain
Performance tracking software may be invasive, and augmented reality might be a bit overwhelming – but this is surely the most boundary-crossing piece of wearable tech so far. Thync, a start-up based in the US, has developed a piece of headgear that uses the science of neurosignaling, “stimulating nerves on your head and face using low level electrical pulses to signal specific areas of the brain”.
So what does that mean? Essentially, you’ll be able to program your mood on demand with a choice of two settings. ‘Calm Vibes’ can “help you settle down and overcome anxious moments”, while ‘Energy Vibes’ can “invigorate you for peak performance”. So when you can’t take the stress of an impending interview, or you need to pull an all-nighter to get to the end of a project, you could one day just dial in an appropriate state of mind!
If that sounds a little scary, you’re probably not the only one who thinks so. But it’s an idea that’s already received plenty of support: Thync has reportedly raised US$13 million dollars for their altered-state headpiece, and according to journalists, it really does work. And given the fact that plenty of employees are perfectly happy imbibing an energy drink or a lunch-time beer to get the effects they desire, it might not turn out to be such an alien idea – once you get used to it.