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Jan 9, 2019

Born To Be Wired

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When I was young and foolish, I used to commute into the center of London on a motorbike. It was a fast commute that involved silly speeds and very questionable riding decisions as I, and the many other motorcycle riders, rushed to get to work as quickly as possible. Bumper-to-bumper cars just added to the fun, as we all zipped through the gaps. I’d arrive with my adrenaline pumping, ready to take on the heady world of technology journalism… and a little smug thinking about the commuters stuck in traffic 20 miles back. It was a fun, and not very smart way to commute: somehow I’m still here to write about it.

Not to age myself too much, but this was the pre-smartphone world, and navigation involved hastily written down directions taped to the gas tank in front of me. When I veered off my usual route, I often found myself lost and confused. Perhaps, in hindsight, a slower pace would have meant more time to get the directions right.

A far older (but not necessarily much wiser) me decided to revisit my motorcycle ways earlier this week, choosing to spend the first full day in Vegas riding as far away from it as I could. Times have changed: I’m slower and a little more aware of my own mortality, and the “retro” Triumph Bonneville was far more advanced than my old bike in terms of performance and handling. But the most obvious change was just how great turn-by-turn navigation has become. With Google Maps’ navigation on, but the phone safely zipped away in a pocket, I used my Pixel Buds to get all the navigation I needed. And, 99 percent of the time, the directions were flawless (the one percent was completely user error), with the voice in my ear telling me what to do next, and with no sudden surprises. Of course, squeezing the helmet on without yanking the Buds out of my ears took some time and effort, but the pain was well worth it.

But while the navigation is a great improvement compared to 20 years ago, little else has changed. Or at least, I thought so till I started exploring CES. The industry, it appears, is on the cusp of some major technology revolution. A case in point is Harley Davidson showing off its new electric-powered “hog”. But the more subtle – and very useful – iteration appears to be with the helmets: a few vendors are starting to add better technology into the head gear, addressing navigation – and safety – issues. Skully Technology is leading this charge, with a helmet that has a camera in the back of it, and a small head-up display that shows you what is rushing up behind you, as well as directions and built-in headphones. As a result, you can now get the key features you need integrated into the helmet, rather than squeezing those Buds past the helmet’s padding. Skully is not alone in this quest, although it is first to market. Borderless Inc is at CES to show off its take on the connected helmet – the CrossHelmet – which has similar functionality and I’m sure I’m going to bump into one or two more as I crisscross the multitude of show floors here in Vegas.

Beyond meaning that I may be a little more aware on the road – and with even less chance of getting lost – these innovations demonstrate how the wearables market is truly starting to move beyond the old anchor products of fitness trackers and smartwatches. Sure, these two products still dwarf all others in the wearables space, but what we are seeing at CES is a resurgence of the wearables space into new categories. That means we are poised to see far more innovation within the space and I, for one, am excited to see where the road ahead lies.



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