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Wearables at work – the personalisation of data

Dr. Andrew Fletcher  Director, Thomson Reuters Labs™ – London

Kate Boeckman  Product Manager, Wearable & Emerging Product Technologies, Applied Innovation

Dr. Andrew Fletcher  Director, Thomson Reuters Labs™ – London

Kate Boeckman  Product Manager, Wearable & Emerging Product Technologies, Applied Innovation

The most personal computer

The demise of the PC, more than a generation after its inception, is instead perhaps just a redefinition of what we mean by a ‘personal computer.’ Wearable technology sits as the culmination of an exponential rise in processing power and miniaturization of devices. Surely, wearables are making computing more personal than ever.

Wearables are not new. The Qing dynasty had the abacus ring for making calculations literally at your fingertips, but who has the time to take use such as a small device when the full size one did a much better job? It was purely a status symbol! Similarly the calcu-lighter (a tri-functional device: lighter, calculator and alarm clock) may have saved you carrying three devices around but its function was limited to occasional use.

For wearables to truly break into the mainstream today they have to be useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. The lack of usability might be obvious when we look at abacus ring or calcu-lighter, but it is even more important today when we think about the next generation of wearables.

The personalisation of data

Wearable tech is all about data. It is changing the ways in which we consume and respond to information; it truly becomes personal. That personalisation is easy to see when the outcome health or fitness. Thanks to recent advancements in sensors, we’re able to collect more information about ourselves than ever and use that data to make a personal difference.

For technology to reach a tipping point and achieve mainstream adoption it needs to fulfil a need – even if users didn’t know the need existed. Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, and other companies developing activity trackers have been successful in achieving mainstream adoption by meeting important needs in the health and fitness space. They successfully close the loop between our ability to collect our data and then use it to provide us with actionable insights to improve performance.

AcuPebble physical data collection and medical diagnostics
A doctor uses AcuPebble data to diagnose illness.

Companies like AcuPebble bring that same feedback loop into medical diagnosis; the potential for medical practitioners to make decisions informed by real monitoring over much longer periods than before gives the promise of being truly transformative. More relevant data equals better decisions.

The ability to gather data and provide actionable insights does not, however, automatically equate to a successful wearable. Functionality is only one component. Companies like Vinaya, a start-up designing smart jewelry, are all about designing technology that looks beautiful and integrates seamlessly into everyday life. It doesn’t look like you are wearing a gadget, but rather a beautiful bracelet, ring or necklace. Fashion and aesthetics are another key component to the ultimate success of a wearable device. If any device falls short in that regard, even if it’s functioning perfectly on a technical level, it will likely be tossed in a drawer and remain forever unused.

Altrius wearables from Vinaya combines form and function
Altrius wearable technology from Vinaya combines form and function.

Wearables at work

Beyond activity trackers, other wearable devices provide the user with relevant information in just the right place, and at just the right time. The Apple Watch, Samsung Gear S2, and smartwatches running Android Wear push personally-relevant alerts to the wrist in real time. The person wearing the watch can get the information at a glance and immediately move on. This is especially important for lawyers and finance professionals who rely upon the latest alerts and information to do their jobs. From the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed, they need to be connected. Mobile and wearable devices help to meet this need before and after the time they reach their desktop computer at the office. At Thomson Reuters we created a prototype called CLEAR in Context that enhances the situational awareness of law enforcement out in the field by providing them with real-time access to our data on wearable and mobile devices

Wearables also allow us to perform our jobs more effectively. Doppel (pictured at the top of this post) has produced a device designed to improve your mood and increase your focus by emitting a pulse to your wrist. In the workplace, a device like this could help place people in the right frame of mind and achieve maximum productivity and satisfaction levels.

Wearables used to be about status symbols. Today, as the devices advance both technically and aesthetically and enter the mainstream, it is crucial that we understand what data they are collecting and providing, as well as who owns and can access this data. Personalisation is key to wearables being successful. If a device is functional and beautiful to someone, it will get used. If it fails on either of those levels, all it will do is gather dust in a drawer.

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About the series

Data Science Insights is a series from Imperial College’s Data Science Institute, in partnership with Thomson Reuters. Through the series, guest presenters will share approaches and insights from data science in their organizations and how it makes an impact across the different markets that Thomson Reuters operates in. The events will vary depending on topic, ranging from guest presentations, to interviews and panel discussions.

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