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The Quantified Self: Wearable Technology

It’s called wearable technology, but it’s not as Tron as you might think. Much has been said about Google Glass, which displays digital data on an eyeglass lens, and Apple iPods you can wear on your wrist. But what about a smart garment that tracks precision movements in golf, Pilates and physical therapy; a ring that monitors your heart rate; or a waistband that alerts you to spine-troubling posture? These body-tracking gadgets are part of the “quantified self” trend that emerged as a predominant theme at the recent South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas.

In a SXSW session called “Wearing Your Health on Your Sleeve (Literally),” BodyMedia (which was recently acquired by Jawbone) CEO Christine Robins explained how the company’s skin-sensor armband has surpassed being a mere activity tracker to becoming a comprehensive health management tool. “The real shift happens when [the armband] is worn on the skin, pressed up against the largest organ in the human body,” Robins says.

The armband’s sensors collect 5,000 data points per minute, including skin temperature, heat flux (the rate at which heat leaves the body), electrical conductivity and motion. These measurements are converted into more useful information such as calories burned, sleep quality and metabolic efficiency.

Many of the gadgets showcased at SXSW also enable users to share data and, in the case of the company higi, to compete against others with it. The idea is to share and to motivate each other, and conference-goers seemed to like it as they crowded around portable higi stations to provide health and lifestyle information to get their higi scores, which were used to compete with their friends via a social leaderboard. The quantified self competes with others, so maybe it’s like Tron after all.

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