UK – Body surveillance tech trend comes with concerns
By Julie Jammot
France Media Agency
LAS VEGAS – A shimmering ring on display at the Consumer Electronics Show, but it’s not just a piece of jewelry – it’s packed with sensors that can detect body temperature, breathing and more.
Startups at the annual gadget extravaganza in Las Vegas touted tech-enhanced accessories designed to look attractive on the outside while peering into what’s going on inside the wearers.
“We want to democratize personal health,” said Amaury Kosman, founder of the French startup that created the Circular Ring.
While that goal was shared by a range of exhibitors, some experts worried that a tendency to constantly track steps, time spent sitting, heart rate and more could lead to stress and addiction risks.
The circular ring provides the user with a daily “energy score” based on the intensity of their activity, taking into account heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen levels and other data, according to Kosman.
“At night it goes on, we’re tracking sleep stages, how long it takes you to fall asleep, if you’re aligned with your circadian rhythm, etc,” he said of the ring, which will cost less than 300 euros ($340) when it hits the market later this year.
“And in the morning, it vibrates to wake you up at the right time.”
A ring-synced mobile app is designed to make personalized lifestyle recommendations to improve health based on collected data, according to the founder.
Strong demand for wearables
Demand for body-tracking ‘wearables’ is strong: CES organizers predict more than $14 billion will be spent this year in a category that includes sports tech, health monitoring devices, activity trackers physics, connected exercise equipment and smartwatches.
This figure is more than double what was spent on the category in 2018.
Growth has been driven by smartwatches such as those made by giants Apple and Samsung, as well as internet-connected sports equipment – which has exploded during the pandemic – and personal tracking devices.
Companies are also scrambling to meet a need for instruments that provide reliable data amid a pandemic trend of remote healthcare.
Swiss Biospectal uses smartphone cameras to measure blood pressure when a finger is placed over a lens.
French Quantiq develops algorithms that calculate heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure from “selfies”.
Meanwhile, Japanese start-up Quantum Operation has designed a prototype wristband that continuously measures blood glucose levels. Diabetic patients would be spared needle sticks for frequent blood sugar testing.
Body-aware wearables can provide valuable health data, but some worry that a trend toward “quantified self” is blurring the line between wellness and stressful obsession.
The South Korean company Olive Healthcare presented a “Bello” infrared scanner that analyzes stomach fat and suggests how to lose it, as well as a “Fitto” device that assesses muscle mass and ways to increase it.
Society needs to figure out whether these kinds of tools solve problems or “give rise to new dependencies,” said German political scientist Nils-Eyk Zimmermann.
A danger is that the “digital self” generated by such technology does not correspond to reality, explained Zimmermann, who blogs on the subject.
He also saw danger in “game” features, such as rewards and peer competition that put pressure on users who may not be healthy.
Withings US sales director Paul Buckley was convinced that people could manage the health data made available by devices such as the Body Scan smart scale unveiled at CES by the French company.
“I don’t think it’s too much,” Buckley said, showing off the scale capable of performing EKGs and analyzing body composition.
“You are able to be better informed about what is going on in your body.”
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