CES 2013: Ready for the wearable tech revolution

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Media captionWearable tech gains momentum at CES

Welcome to the future, where your body is technology's new frontier.

The sensors and computing power we've become accustomed to in our smartphones are starting to migrate to body-worn devices used for new purposes.

Google has stoked excitement for the category after teasing its forthcoming Project Glass headset, but it already faces competition from Vuzix which has been showing off its own Android-powered eyewear at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Image caption Mr Travers believes smart headsets may replace many users' phones within the next decade

The lightweight kit places a tiny widescreen colour monitor in front of the user's right eye so that it appears to hover towards the top of their field of vision.

Users control it by pressing buttons placed close to their ear, or via a smartphone paired via Bluetooth.

Initial features are set to include the ability to stream and record video - but the US company's boss suggests developers will soon exploit the hardware for other uses.

"You like Guinness and you are in New York city - you could say to your glasses 'Is there stout around here?'," chief executive Paul Travers gives as an example.

"The app kicks in, the camera feeds out and you see an arrow showing which way to go.

"Another possibility would be: you are in France, you go into a restaurant and look at the menu and the glasses translates it for you."

The public will have to wait to see if it fulfils its potential when the M100 headset launches this summer.

Runner's readout

In the meantime another heads-up display has just gone on sale in the US.

Image caption Sports visor Screeneye X is designed to measure athletic activity

O-synce's Screeneye X is a sports visor with a built-in display that shows two numbers in green in the style of a digital watch. They can be set to represent a runner's speed, heart rate, lap time, distance travelled or other data measured by sensors connected to the visor by a radio link.

Professional athletes have trained with computers for years, but Stephen Maris - the man in charge of the launch - says it's social media that has helped make the innovation ready to be pitched to the public.

"People like to share what they're doing and by getting it digitised they can do that very easily via sites like Strava," he says.

"You can then use this data to compare your performance to your friends' and anyone who has done the same routes."

Smart watch

It's early days but this kind of product could become big business.

Tech consultancy iSuppli suggests that by 2016 more than 92 million wearable technology devices will be sold a year.

Image caption Nearly 70,000 people backed the Pebble watch on Kickstarter

It's not just about headsets.

Pebble Technology is also at CES to publicise the impending release of its smart watch. The wrist-worn computer will run apps on its e-paper display - a feature chosen to ensure it can be read in sunlight - and go a week without recharge,

It appears there is demand for such a device. When the developers turned to crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise $100,000 (£62,000) they ended up with over $10m.

"We've seen firsthand that there is a huge demand for mobile companions that make email notifications, messages, alerts and more easily accessible," says chief executive Eric Migicovsky.

"I am confident that smart watches and similar wearable devices will grow to be an important part of our daily lives."

Studying skateboarders

Over at Xsens' booth a model wearing 15 sensors on different parts of her body strikes a pose.

Image caption Xsens's tech tracks accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer sensors

On a screen behind her a computer animated figure made up of small dots matches her moves.

The kit and software are a spin-off of the Netherlands-based firm's motion capture technology, originally developed for movies including The Avengers and Ted.

The idea is to offer consumers a chance to digitise their actions and play them back as 3D graphics to help perfect their skills.

One ready-made market, suggests chief technology officer Per Slycke, would be new skateboarders and other extreme sports enthusiasts.

He's at CES to find third-parties wishing to license the tech and use it to take advantage of the growing number of products built with activity trackers inside.

"They're in helmets, watches, bracelets and sports shoes," he says.

"With our software you can add intelligence to data that is already being collected. The challenge is to present it to the user in a meaningful way."

Lost and found

One sign that a technology is going mainstream is when it starts targeting pets and children.

That's the case with StickNFind - circular stickers the size of a few 10p pieces stuck together which contain a Bluetooth chip, temperature sensor and battery.

They are designed to be used with a smartphone app which shows a radar image covering a 200ft (61m) radius.

Image caption Cats wearing a Sticknfind sticker should find it harder to hide from their owners

Stick it on the cat's collar, the company suggests, and it becomes much easier to locate the moggy when trying to lock up a house.

Perhaps more usefully it can also be used by parents to keep track of their kids in public by sending an alert if they are wander off.

Co-founder Jimmy Buchheim says the innovation was inspired by an incident involving his eldest daughter.

"When she was three years old, she decided to play hide-and-seek in a department store," he says. "She hid behind some boxes.

"They had to close the section down and everyone was looking for her. Imagine if I had had this sticker - I would have found her immediately."

If the launches and previews at CES are anything to go by, the wearable tech revolution is just getting under way.

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