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Wearable tech in the laboratory

Wearable Tech in the lab 2

Image courtesy of Jenny Cham.

Much hype has surrounded wearable technology in the last few months bringing it very much into the mainstream. Researchers are paving the way for us to wear our technology in ever more interactive and pervasive ways. In addition to the more widely known computer glasses (Google glass) and smart watches there are even more diverse applications such as electronic textiles (Smart Fabrics) with its origins in patient monitoring (Bonato P. et al). Electronic textiles present so much opportunity. Imagine patients wearing a shirt that monitors your heart rate, breathing etc.. non-intrusively warning doctors when patients are ill. Of course, this does present many ethical issues such as data privacy.

There are also interesting applications of gesture control such as the Myo armband which allows you to use gestures and movements to control your computer. Taking a different approach, Chris Harrison's projects provide an interesting perspective on computing and wearable technology. The Touché project allows one to use your own skin or any everyday object as a touchscreen. Similarly the WorldKit project uses a depth camera to allow you to use any surface in a room as a touchscreen simply by waiving your hand. For example, you could just draw your volume control onto the arm of your sofa to control the volume of your T.V.

These applications provide immense opportunities for some of the users I have worked with. During many of my projects at the European Bioinformatics Institute I researched how laboratory scientists used our services. It struck me how most of the scientists I interviewed/observed still wrote down results in a laboratory notebook and then laboriously transferred some of the information to their computer. Many projects have tried to introduce electronic laboratory notebooks but it has struggled to take off. I think one of the reasons for the lack of take-up is the clunkiness of carrying and caring for your device in a laboratory setting where you are often dealing with a range of chemicals and machines. Scientists often work across a large area of the lab where machines are shared between groups.

So how could wearable technology transform the life of a lab scientist. Well lets imagine Eunice our PhD lab scientist of the future.

She has an electronic laboratory coat which not only measures the room conditions such as a temperature etc.. but also keeps a check on her health making sure she is not spending too many long hours in the lab.  The smart laboratory coat can also detect any hazardous chemicals and warn Debra of any dangers in the lab. Furthermore Debra stores all her notes on the "cloud" which she accesses using any surface in the lab (WorldKit). When she wants to note something down or lookup the required concentration of a chemical, she just waves onto a surface to make a "screen". She is now always easily able to access all her information. Instead of using clunky interfaces to control the machines she is able to use her own programmed gestures throughout the lab to control the machines she needs for her experiments. She can keep track of all her experiments as all the machines are online and she can monitor their progress day or night.