Becoming Superhuman: Intel Inspires Next-Generation Wearables

Neil Harbisson eyeborg

Theo Forbath is the global vice president of the Innovation Strategy Group at frog design and one of the forces behind Intel’s 2014 Make It Wearable challenge. This yearlong product innovation campaign aims to generate never-thought-of-before ideas for wearable technology, with incentives of more than $1.3 million in cash awards for devices that will help computing become more personal and connected.

“This is one of the largest design challenges in the world,” Forbath says. “We know that there is creative innovation happening all over the globe, and Intel wants to help accelerate that.”

Forbath has been a strategic consultant for Intel since the 1990s and says that the company wants to play a significant role in the future of wearable technology. This program is in part designed to elicit innovative ideas from individuals he calls the “digital natives,” the people who have grown up on mobile devices and on Facebook.

Lauren Jones, an Intel marketing manager that is in charge of this project, adds that the company hopes to bring ideas from garages and basements and make them into real products. “We are looking for people to solve problems with technology in new ways,” Jones says.

To inspire people, Intel has created a series of YouTube videos. In one video, “Becoming Superhuman“, cyborg artist Neil Harbisson describes how his headset—dubbed the eyeborg—helps him overcome color blindness by “hearing” color. And Craig Hutto, who lost his lower leg to a shark, describes how motors in the knee and ankle of his prosthetic leg act as muscles that can propel him up slopes.

An initial Visionary track of the Make It Wearable campaign, called “Dream It”, ended recently. One winning idea was for a social monitor with voice-analyzing software to gauge a child’s wellbeing. Another was an invisible tattoo that contains health information such as blood type, medical problems, and prescriptions.

The campaign’s Development track is arguably more challenging and winners are determined solely based on skill, with requirements for competency in product design and computer engineering. Preliminary judging is now under way, with the results to be publicized in November. The big winner here gets a $500,000 cash prize, plus the ability to work with mentors to see product ideas come to life.

“The innovation coming out of both tracks for this challenge is broad, intriguing, and exciting,” Forbath notes.

As to the future of wearable technology, Forbath sees it evolving faster in enterprise markets than the consumer ones. “I believe wearable technology will have a broad application in industries such as transportation, logistics, or on the manufacturing floor, where information needs to be shared quickly,” Forbath says.

“The next generation of engineers will be expected to work on equipment that was put in place before they were born. Imagine if they had Google Glass so they could share what they were experiencing with an expert who was located somewhere else. A similar application could take place in operating rooms where a surgeon could consult with a colleague,” Forbath says.

Forbath also envisions fabric or clothing that tracks aspects of body temperature or other vitals that may put soldiers in the military in danger. “This kind of wearable could alert soldiers for the need to take care of themselves if they are overly fatigued, overheated, or haven’t eaten.”

From Forbath’s perspective, three key factors can determine whether a wearable innovation will be successful. “Companies must create an amazing user experience, use technology that is new and innovative, and get the business model right,” he says.

“When all three of these are working together, that’s when the disruption occurs. Two of three of these conditions must be leading edge, and you need all three working in tandem to pull it off.”

Image courtesy of Intel and The Creators Project

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