Edited by Vani Rao
Future wearable technologies to have glucose-measuring features
Testing your sugar levels with the help of your smartphone may seem a little far-fetched, but not with major technology companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), and Samsung Electronics Co. considering incorporating these feature into wearable computing devices. Right now, most wearable devices provide only a limited set of functionalities that are already seen in smartphones, and are hence witnessing low adoption among users who see nothing new in them.
However, with the smartphones and tablet markets seeing stagnation in growth, wearable devices promise immense growth potential with the technological evolution of smaller sensors, flexible screens, and wireless connectivity. Tech companies are now ploughing funds into R&D to crack the code to incorporate blood glucose data into health apps that enables the collection and quick testing of complex data from daily life. These devices will be targeted mainly at athletes and health-conscious users.
Leading the pack
Apple, known for its innovations in mobile technology, is jumping into the smart wearable devices bandwagon with the launch of its smart watch later this year. Dubbed the iWatch, the device will include over 10 sensors to track and monitor fitness data. With its expertise in designing both hardware and software, Apple has a competitive advantage over its rivals, who may have to team up with hardware manufacturers to bring these devices into the market.
Not far behind, Google is readying for its I/O conference for developers next week in San Francisco, where wearable devices are expected to be the main focus.
Earlier this year, Google introduced Android Wear, which are smart wearable devices that run on its Android operating system. Another smart device, the Google Glass, did not take off as expected because of privacy concerns.
And snapping at the heels is electronic giant LG Electronics Inc., which is expected to introduce Android-based watches later this year. Rival Samsung got off to a slow start with its first Galaxy Gear smart watch that was launched last year, and its recently launched Gear 2. Its Samsung Galaxy Wave 5 now boasts of a heart rate monitor.
Despite the hype created around smart wearable devices, its mainstream adoption has been slow mainly because of their lack of applicability in daily life. Moreover, most of the wearable device manufacturers are focused on technology rather than the design aspect. Apart from their bulkier size, consumers feel that wearable devices are not fashionable. Which is why technology firms are looking to use smart wearable devices to monitor blood sugar, an area that medical technology firms have failed to conquer over the past few decades.
Diabetics market sees marriage of technology and medicine
About 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes, which cost the US economy some $245 billion in 2012, a 41% rise in five years. For detecting and monitoring blood glucose on a daily basis, diabetics have to prick their fingers as much as 10 times per day. Hence, many diabetics prefer non-invasive technology to detect and monitor glucose levels. However, electricity or ultrasound technologies are still in a nascent stage and may not hit the market anytime soon.
On the other hand, consumers are adopting technology like never before. This is mainly made possible by the convergence of telecom, IT, and internet-based applications, which has become an essential part of the day-to-day life of individual users. Mobile medical applications, which would likely be regulated by the FDA as a medical device, hold much potential owing to the lack of effectiveness of other current technologies. Moreover, it is estimated that the global blood-sugar tracking market would be worth over $12 billion by 2017. According to Reuters, tech companies are likely to start off by focusing on non-medical applications, such as mobile medical apps for fitness and education.
In this regard, Google has developed a “smart” contact lens that measures glucose. Its smart contact lens has an LED system that could warn users of high or low blood sugar by flashing tiny lights. Google is looking for partners to bring the lens to market. The device, which uses tiny chips and sensors to measure glucose levels in tears, is expected to take many years before commercialization. Other companies have failed in their attempts at accurate non-invasive glucose measurement mainly because of body movement, and fluctuations in hydration and temperature.
Samsung, which has also trying its hand at non-invasive glucose monitoring, is looking for partners and developers to test try different sensors and software.
According to Reuters, Samsung is working on a “traffic light” system in future Galaxy Gear smart watches that flashes blood-sugar warnings. Its sister concern, Samsung Ventures, has invested in Glooko, a startup firm that helps physicians access their patients’ glucose readings. While much has been done to blend technology with health monitoring apps, it remains to be seen who will emerge at the top.