Companies rushing to cash in on wearable devices

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Companies rushing to cash in on wearable devices

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From left to right: Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Gear smartwatch displaying a remote control function for BMW’s i3 electric car; Panasonic’s latest wearable camera equipment; Sony’s wearable device that records data on activities and movements; Sensible Baby’s SmartOne, which sends information and alerts to parents’ mobile devices. [XINHUA/NEWSIS], [REUTERS/NEWS1]

A rosy picture of an imminent wearable computing era is proving to be not rosy at all, with many companies and countries scrambling to turn sci-fi-like devices into reality.

According to Gartner, a data collector in information and telecommunication industry, the wearable computing device market accounted for only 3 percent of the global IT device market in 2012, but grew in a single year to 13 percent. Gartner said it will take off this year.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcased a slew of wearable computing devices that already came out or will hit the market in very near future.

On Wednesday, a demonstrator at Samsung Electronics booth at the world’s largest tech fair held up the company’s smart watch, the Galaxy Gear, and whispered on it, “Find the car.” Then unmanned BMW’s i3, an electric car, responded to the voice with honk. The person again spoke onto the wrist device, “Turn on the heater,” and three minutes later, heated air came out from within the car.

At Mercedes-Benz booth on the same day, a demonstrator wearing Google Glass put on “Mercedes-Benz” app on the glass and determined a destination on navigation mode, and then the glass showed navigation of the destination immediately. An official of the German carmaker said the app makes driving safer as it rids the need for the driver to turn his head to see a navigation device.

May electronic companies displayed new wearable devices during the CES, such as Lifeband from LG Electronics, with which the carrier can measure the amount of physical activity and the calorie he burnt. Sony unveiled Smart Eyeglass, a glass-like device that displays information of the players or the rules of the sports as they watch sports events. Sony is planning to commercialize the product before the opening of the FIFA World Cup to be held in Brazil in June.

Intel unveiled Edison, a SD Card-sized small computer. It was built on Quark, an ultra small processor used in smart watch and smart glasses. Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel, said that the company will experiment with various products to churn out more innovative wearable devices. Epson also unveiled activity-measuring Pulsense wrist band. Lumus Vision, an Israeli firm, displayed Android-powered eyewear.

“Wearable computers are changing the lives of the people,” said Kwon Ki-duk, a head researcher at Samsung Economic Research Institute. “The global IT companies are betting their future on wearable devices and expanding their foray into the market.

“As a result, a trend in smart device is changing from carrying it to wearing it,” he said.

The outcome of research and development in wearable devices is already visible in healthcare industry. In September, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center live broadcast a knee surgery, in which a surgeon conducted a remote consultation with colleagues using Google Glass. The head-mounted computer, equipped with a camera, enables the users to search information, take photo or video, and send electronic mails, without using the hands.

Automakers are also moving quickly to capitalize on an emerging boom of wearable devices. Tesla, the world’s leading maker of electricity car, rolled out the application for Google Glass, which informs the wearers of general information of the car they were driving in such as how much electricity was charged and how humid or hot it is inside the car.

The IMS Research, a UK-based research agency, expected that the wearable market will reach $6 billion in size by 2016. The sales of related devices stood at 14 million in 2012, but it will grow to 170 million in 2016, the agency forecast. The governments of many countries are assisting their companies’ projects to develop wearable computers. In the U.S., for example, the size of research and development to be injected into the projects is estimated to be $130 billion, according to a study. In Europe, it will be about $80 billion this year.

But, there are many obstacles to overcome before a mass production of wearable computing devices.

Convenience is one of them, said Bae Eun-joon, a researcher at LG Economic Research Institute. “They need to maximize convenience of the devices in a way that makes the consumers feel no resistance in wearing and using them,” he said. Bae also said the battery charging capacity also needs to be much strengthened from the current levels.



BY KIM SUNG-HEE, CHO HYE-KYUNG, MOON GWANG-LIP [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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