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New Wearable Technology: 'Extra Muscles For Better Performance'

Wearable computers comprise a category of devices that, when working together with another device like a smartphone, help augment life somehow, usually by layering data of some kind on top of reality in situations where that data can add some value to the "analog world" circumstances.

Those devices depend on other hardware and are essentially useless without smartphones and interfaces that create this new "layered reality" context. Now, there's a new class of wearable devices that may ultimately be able to create a context that more directly links the devices with the human body.

Thus has spawned new categories for wearable computers, their functions and how they'll weave into real-world applications to the benefit of the wearer. Some of these circumstances are just right for modern crop and livestock farmers who remain on the cutting edge of this type of technology that can change the way business is conducted and life is led on the farm.

"Excitement over wearables is in part because people now live a second, digital life through their modern devices. And they want their digital selves to share a bit more time and space with their real-world counterparts. We think the future of wearable computing will create opportunities to merge our digital and physical lives into a more cohesive, meaningful whole," according to a report from Argo Design, a Silicon Valley technology company producing wearables that company leaders say will be more about interacting with human activity rather than simply changing it through a new interface. "Sensing and surfacing are the new shorthand for wearable form and function. Yet the early forms of wearables are still searching for purpose and value."

Argo Design, whose co-founder Mark Rolston has been involved in the digital technology sector for almost 3 decades, is designing wearables with this new context in mind; they're devices that meld any sort of data with real-world applications, doing so while freeing up the user from having to look at a smartphone or computer screen. In other words, they're a step toward the human body and computer working together...directly.

"Wearables will take on new forms that are less decorative, more integrated into our body and with us more permanently. They will shed their LCD Screens for more diverse input/output models that more quietly parallel with our own subconscious inner dialogue," according to an Argo Design report. "Sensing created the Quantified Life, which now leads to coaching. We expect the next development will take us from coaching to training or augmentation. Wearables will provide a force feedback for life, or even a supernatural power. We envision plenty of wearables crossing the line from sensing to supplement. Extra muscles for better performance."

That's the drive, for example, behind Argo's "Kineseowear" device. It resembles a cross between a pair of suspenders and a small backpack and uses physical pressure to act as physical cues to action. Think the technological equivalent of someone tapping you on the shoulder or guiding you through a dark tunnel by pushing on one arm or another to get you to alter your path.

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"Kineseowear affixes as tape to be worn for weeks at a time, charges inductively via chargers that can be in beds or chairs, and communicates by silent and nuanced shoulder tugs," according to Argo Design. "The arms of Kinseowear contain synthetic muscle, while its heart is computational power, battery, bluetooth and sensors. This wearable works with other computing devices like smartphones to deliver cues to the wearer, through patterns or intensity of sensation. Tugging right or left could deliver directions. A subtle vibration could convey that another of the 'harnessed tribe' is nearby, or the wearer has just covered her fifth mile."

Why would this matter on a farm? Say you're scouting a corn or soybean field and have an unmanned aerial system, or drone, circling overhead recording what it sees. Say the machine finds a trouble spot in the field. One day, it's possible that drone could send your "Kineseowear" device the GPS coordinates for that trouble spot so, if you're traversing your field by foot or in an ATV, you can be guided to that spot by the device you're wearing without so much as glancing at the numbers of a GPS coordinate on a smartphone screen. It's that kind of data use via touch, or "haptic consumption" that sets this new category of wearable technology apart from its predecessors.

"This quiet delivery allows the wearer to develop a haptic consumption of desired wearable features -- notification, geo fencing, direction and proximity -- in a nuanced fashion," according to Argo Design. "The form is suited for wearing sensors close on the body and for longer periods. Kinseowear is durable and waterproof. The wearer can swim or work out while harnessed, yet it fits demurely under a shirt or dress."

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Next, check out the Ouijaband. Remember that Ouija board you may have played with as a kid? It was all about your hands. The Ouijaband is too, only instead of summoning spirits, it's more about steadying a person's grip or teaching someone how to complete a certain task. It's like a cross between a wrist brace and watch, with a sort of gyroscope affixed to the side that helps steady or strengthen your wrist's motion.

"Ouijaband uses high-RPM flywheels to exert kinetic influence over a person’s body, allowing this wearable to steady a hand or give force feedback. Such output is more subtle than an exoskeleton, and instead helps to refine and coach a wearer’s dexterity," according to Argo Design. "The Ouijaband can steady a hand, guide an artist’s drawing of a perfect circle, or coach the acquisition of a new skill, like long-exposure photography or use of a 3D printing pen."

What if you're working in a tight spot on an engine where, if you dropped a bolt or tool, you'd be in a world of hurt? A Ouijaband could function to steady your hand or lend you some extra strength to get a few more pounds of torque on the bolt you're tightening. Or, if you're a cattle producer and are conducting a medical procedure on your animals, you can do so more steadily and smoothly using this device.

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Whether your hearing's not so great after years of working around loud machinery, or you're looking for a way to make your communication more efficient, there's a new device called the LaLaLa from Argo Design that may be right for you in the near future. The device looks like a cross between a hearing aid and Bluetooth headset, the kind that was popular about 10 years ago. When wearing it, the device doesn't replace your hearing altogether; rather, it uses a combination of a camera, microphone, Bluetooth signal and gesture recognition to help you zero in on what you want to see and hear, and more importantly, what you don't.

"Utilizing an advanced microphone array and motion sensing ring, Lalala allows you point, isolate and adjust the volume of everything around you. Loud talker sitting next to you on the restaurant? Muted. And for those willing to fully 'plug-in,' our new beta-tested word canceling technology completely removes or replaces words and phrases you simply don’t want to hear," according to an Argo Design report. "Utilizing the built-in camera, Lalala can take pictures, provide object recognition of things you look at, and watch your hands for gestures. These gestures can then be translated into commands."

Editor's Note: All photos courtesy Argo Design.

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