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Ubiquitous Connectivity

Rick Nelson, Executive Editor

The world is moving ever closer toward ubiquitous connectivity, as evidenced by news related to wearables and nearables—the later term might take some getting used to if it catches on.
With regard to wearables, Apple recently introduced its Apple Watch. I hadn’t planned to be an early adopter, but Christopher Mims in his Keywords column in the Wall Street Journal is enthusiastic about what he calls the wrist-top computer.

Apple Watch and its competitors will have a place in the apps and hardware ecosystem that will make them indispensable, he writes. He cites wearables such as pressure-sensor-laden socks that can help runners minimize their chance of injury and shirts that can measure heart rate. Such a shirt could be used as part of a payment authentication system that would match the wearer’s heart-beat pattern with, for example, your heart-beat pattern stored in the cloud. My concern about any biometric data is that if it’s stored in the cloud, it could be hacked.

As for a nearable, you might ask, what is that? It’s any object nearby to which you might attach a Bluetooth Smart-enabled sticker or beacon. Nordic Semiconductor, a maker of ultra-low-power RF SoCs, announced that Estimote is employing Nordic’s SoCs to provide Bluetooth Smart wireless connectivity in its newly launched Estimote stickers.

Estimote stickers are small (approximately 3 mm thin), low cost (sub-$10) beacons with built-in accelerometers and temperature sensors. (The stickers build on Estimote’s previously launched beacons, which also employ Nordic technology.) Estimote stickers then can be used to provide microlocation and contextual data about nearables to any Bluetooth Smart-ready device. If your “nearable” is a bicycle, for example, an Estimote sticker can help track your route or let you know if someone is moving your bike without your permission. If your “nearable” is a backpack, a sticker can let your cellphone know if you’ve left it behind. And retailers can affix the stickers to merchandise to provide customers context-sensitive information and to monitor what items customers most interact with.

Nordic also announced that Polish startup Kontakt.io has specified Nordic SoCs to provide Bluetooth Smart wireless connectivity in Kontakt.io’s Cloud Beacon pre-integrated hardware platform. Kontakt.io says its Cloud Beacon platform eventually will include a wearable rubber wristband option for tracking people such as children out on a school day trip.

Kontakt.io said its Cloud Beacon platform also can aid navigation within public facilities. An ongoing project aims to “beaconify”—another term that will take some getting used to—the San Francisco airport. And it offers many marketing opportunities. For example, a merchant could detect you are driving past and offer you a free parking space.

The possibilities are endless, but endless data may represent too much of a good thing. New York Times reporter and former physician Elisabeth Rosenthal quotes Ian T. Clark, chief executive of Genentech, as saying of wearable healthcare technology, “I don’t doubt the wearable piece is going to be a productive business model for people. I just don’t know whether it’s going to bend the curve in health outcomes.”

And beyond healthcare, do we really need endless context-sensitive marketing messages and a beaconified airport constantly exhorting us not to leave our luggage unattended?

It may be too late. I guess I need a smartwatch that can alert me when I’ve left my beaconified smartphone behind. As Mims in the Journal concludes, “These devices will be the way we connect ourselves—directly—to all the technology that surrounds us. And opting out simply won’t be an option.”

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