Wearable devices represent one of the latest trends in digital technology. Countless gizmos and gadgets get invented every day, and a lot of them have the potential to help us live better and healthier lives.

According to the statistics published by the International Data Corporation (IDC), the wearable market is growing rapidly. With an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year and 27.9 million units sold just during the second quarter of 2018, wearable devices are literally taking the world of technology by storm. Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest players such as Apple, Xiaomi, Huawei and Fitbit are investing a lot in this field to develop new smart solutions and stay ahead of the game. The introduction of AI further enhanced the capabilities of these handy devices, whose applications now range from tracking every function of our bodies to improve our fitness levels, to saving lone people’s lives in case of an emergency.

But how have those fancy gadgets been improved by the advent of AI, and which ones are the most interesting available on the market? Let’s have a look.

Restoring Lost Sight and Hearing – Is That Really Possible?

People with sight or hearing loss must face a lot of challenges every day to perform many basic activities. From crossing the street to ordering food on the phone, even the simplest chore can quickly become a struggle. Things may change for these struggling with sight or hearing loss, however, as some companies have started developing machine learning-based systems to help the blind and visually impaired find their way across cities, and the deaf and hearing impaired enjoy some good music.

German AI company AiServe combined computer vision and wearable hardware (camera, microphone and earphones) with AI and location services to design a system that is able to acquire data over time to help people navigate through neighborhoods and city blocks. Sort of like a car navigation system, but in a much more adaptable form which can “learn how to walk like a human” by identifying all the visual cues needed to avoid common obstacles such as light posts, curbs, benches and parked cars.

In the meanwhile, the London-based CuteCircuit started developing an amazing new technology to help deaf people “feel” music through other senses. Their Sound Shirt has been commissioned by a German orchestra from Hamburg and is connected to a computer system that elaborates the audio transmitted to several microphones scattered around the orchestra’s stage. The shirt is full of small actuators that vibrate in real time at an intensity which is proportional to the music being played, providing the customer with a tactile “feeling” of the actual melody.

Starkey Hearing Technologies took a different approach, instead. They included a lot of smart functions in their new AI-powered hearing aid, such as real-time foreign language translations, or constant tracking of your physical and mental status, to help people with hearing loss overcome the social stigma associated with these prosthetic devices. They hope to encourage more people who live with hearing loss feel less “disabled” and use these devices as hearing aids become the next “cool thing” instead of something to be ashamed of. (For more on tech body enhancements, see 5 Technological Innovations that Seek to Enable the Disabled.)

Treating Anxiety with “Relaxing Brainwaves”

Anxiety is a serious condition affecting roughly 18.1 percent of the American population (a whopping 40 million adults). Despite the fact that it increases the risk of being hospitalized for psychiatric disorders by six times, only 40 percent of patients have access to adequate treatment. One of the worst symptoms associated with anxiety is insomnia, which also causes this condition to worsen, generating a never-ending loop which is particularly detrimental in patients affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Lack of sleep increases the stress levels of patients, making their lives even less enjoyable.

Back in 2015, a company called Brain State Technologies launched the prototype of a wearable headband funded through a Kickstarter campaign – the BRAINtellect. Developed in collaboration with scientists from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, the headband sensor can monitor the brain lobes responsible for stress response and emotional well-being. Its HIRREM (high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring) software analyzes their unique patterns and rhythm in real time, determines which areas need relaxation, and stimulates them accordingly.

Eventually perfected into a newer, more portable version known as the BRAINtellect® 2, this device can be worn during sleep to pick up your own brainwaves and translate them into engineered music-like sound waves. These sounds are then mirrored back through a pair of extremely comfortable earbuds to improve sleep quality. This device helps to achieve deep relaxation and refreshing sleep in just a few minutes. It will also enhance memory, learning and overall wellness.

Intelligent Wearable Assistants

As intelligent wearables are on the rise, AI is being used to empower them into becoming true “artificial coaches” or assistants. This is particularly evident in the sports world, where advanced sensors and gadgets are embedded in smart apparel to provide users with real-time feedback on their metrics, actionable advice to improve their performance, and useful insights to decrease the risk of injuries.

Examples include the award-winning Sensoria Fitness, which uses AI-based coaching, leveraging performance analytics to improve running routines. Or the Game Golf wearable system which uses a smart AI called Caddie – a personal golf assistant which acts as a motivator and helps golfers make data-driven decisions during their matches.

Fighting enthusiasts will appreciate the PIQ Robot, a sensor kit paired with an onboard AI that boxers can wear on their wrists. This smart gizmo can detect weaknesses in their techniques and help them during workout sessions. We’re just so close to seeing wearables that can measure the Ki level of fighters like Dragon Ball’s Scouters, I guess.

Enhancing Virtual and Augmented Reality

Current mixed reality devices using a perfect blend of virtual and augmented reality can be greatly enhanced by the introduction of AI into the wearables world. The existing mixed reality headsets need to be connected to a smartphone or a rather powerful PC to work, while newer ones such as Microsoft’s HoloLens come equipped with everything they need already onboard. However, their performance is strictly dependent on the processor’s power, and on the ability of the user to endure that processor’s heat that will cook his or her skull. (For more on VR, see Tech's Obsession With Virtual Reality.)

AI can reduce the workload of these wearables by adjusting the headset’s performance to what the user really needs at that moment, instead. By interacting with the user and its environment, the intelligent machine can understand his preferences, what information really needs to be displayed, and minimize the latencies experienced with mixed reality by dealing with unexpected factors such as different room layouts in real-time. Unsurprisingly enough, Microsoft already announced that its upcoming HoloLens 2 would incorporate a dedicated AI coprocessor to provide users with a more expansive and customized experience.

Conclusion

Putting AI behind the wheel of the next generation of smart wearables has a ton of advantages. Performance is just one of them, as well as making them much more user-friendly, secure and customized. Intelligent wearables are going become a part of our everyday lives, just as much as smartphones or PCs already are.