According to the Global Wellness Institute, the spend on "proactive healthy choices"—in other words, wellness—will continue to comprise a more significant percentage of massive multi-trillion industries into the future, of which the wireless tech sector is one.
Until 2020 became the year we will remember for the COVID-19 pandemic, a powerful movement already underway was focused on our collective health – the wellness industry.
Often viewed suspiciously because of profiteers and marketers hijacking the term wellness and trying to sell us pseudo-scientific cure-alls, wellness is merely maintaining health by practicing good exercise, nutrition, sleep, and social contact habits.
And, quite aside from the racketeers selling healing crystals, it is now big business.
Beyond counting steps
Wearable tech, a technology barely ten years old, is now huge business. According to consumer data firm Statista, the number of connected wearable devices worldwide more than doubled in the three years between 2016 and 2019, increasing from 325 million to 722 million. By 2022, that number is expected to pass one billion.
And as demand for personalized wearable wellness has risen dramatically, so too has the sophistication of these devices. Counting steps is all well and good, but people now want solutions that monitor not only their activity levels but also their fitness, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, muscle oxygen, sleep, as well as emotional and mental health.
According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) research, consumers expect their wearable devices to help them live longer (70 percent), maintain a healthy weight (63 percent), and reduce their health insurance premium (62 percent). Fortunately, technology is keeping pace with demand.
Sensors power next-gen wearables
A broad range of sensors is already widely available. They can capture measurements that, combined with sophisticated machine learning algorithms, can be presented to the user as actionable health and activity data. Beyond accelerometers and gyroscopes for tracking our movement, modern wearables can, for example, be embedded with biosensors to track brain and heart activity, and galvanic skin response sensors to measure sweat gland activity and, therefore, an individual's stress levels.
Other sensors monitor heart rate and oximetry to measure fitness or identify a poor respiratory response to exercise.
As the sensors have become more sophisticated, so by necessity, have the Systems-on-Chip (SoCs) that both power them and provide them with smartphone connectivity. The sensors continuously churn data and demand the services of a processor capable of rapid Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and Floating Point (FP) arithmetic to transform it into accurate information for the user.
For example, Nordic's high-end nRF5340 SoC features a dual-processor hardware architecture with a dedicated application processor to meet the next generation of sophisticated wearables' complex computational requirements. It also has a network processor optimized for low power radio operation to look after the wireless connectivity.
Eat clean and move
While wireless SoC makers such as Nordic have extended their solutions' capabilities, developers of wearables for health and wellness have not stood still either.
For example, Nordic customers have recently developed sophisticated products that, beyond fitness, help users eat clean, de-stress, sleep better, and even recover from injury.
U.K.-based DnaNudge launched its DnaBand that uses a combination of the user's DNA and wireless technology to help people make healthier food choices. With the user's genetic profile loaded onto the wearable, they can scan the barcodes of approximately half a million food products and instantly have the device determine if the food is suitable for them based on their unique genetic traits and activity levels.
Sleep well and de-stress
While DnaNudge is designed to address two key wellness factors in nutrition and exercise, New York-based MDCN Technologies has developed a solution that targets two others.
The company's NeoRhythm headband is designed to stimulate brainwaves to help the user sleep better and de-stress. Five magnetic field-generating inverted coils target specific areas in the brain or spinal cord. Generating specific dominant rhythms, they mirror the mind's naturally-occurring frequencies humans associate with particular activities. The wearer then selects from a range of stimulation programs, such as improved sleep, relaxation, meditation, or pain control.
These are two examples of many. In the coming months and years, we expect to see more innovative examples of wearable wellness-tech emerge, hopefully long after COVID-19 has become a distant memory.
Of course, wearables are only part of the wellness solution. They can't do exercise, healthy eating, and sleeping for you. But they can act as a powerful enabler, supported by ever more sophisticated sensors and wireless technology.