Wearable devices, data and the platform economy

Wearables are an example of product and service businesses coming together in a way that aligns perfectly with the concept of the platform economy. In this signal blog post we discuss the wearable markets and envision its future potential when embracing the fast-paced developments in technology, data analytics innovations and business models.

What’s up with wearables?

Wearable technology, or simply wearables, are yet another application domain, where the opportunities of the platform economy are immense. These smart electronic devices incorporated into clothing or worn on the body as implants or accessories have potential to not only provide entertainment or infotainment but even ground-breaking solutions for aging, wellbeing, healthcare, emergency management, safety, housekeeping, etc. Wearables can in fact be the connector that allows data on an individual, such as location, activity, mood or vital functions, to be integrated into other data reserves in a smart and useful way, for example to help find a route to a destination, track exercise intensity, provide feedback to improve mood or give personalised tips for nutrition or health.

For the time being the most widespread wearables are smartwatch type activity and fitness trackers, such as those by the wristband market giant and pioneer Fitbit or the Finnish smart ring design award winner Oura. Suchlike devices usually track, among others, steps, calories consumed, heartbeat and hours slept. But we’re bound to see more as the following three take place: (1) More sophisticated sensors and tracking technologies are being introduced into wearables. (2) The range of wearables will diversify from wristbands (and smartphones) towards IoT-connected smart clothing, implants, etc. (3) Abundant data alongside with innovative thinking will allow unimaginable new ideas to turn into products and services.

New technologies are being embedded in wearables

One example of recent developments is how contactless payments have become a part of the wristband functionalities, such as Fitbit Pay. Another welcome novelty is featured in Matrix Powerwatch, a smartwatch that converts body heat into energy to power itself, so that you never need to charge it.

From the health care perspective, an interesting innovation is non-invasive glucose monitoring with a smartwatch. When mature and accurate enough, this technology embedded into everyday wearables could make a big difference for diabetics. Apple has announced interest in developing a solution, but the forerunner in applying the technology is HealBe, although they use it in their GoBe device for the time being only to measure calorie intake. In fact, this is also one of the first non-manual food intake tracker in the wearables business.

A complementary example is how AI has been trained to detect diabetes with nearly 85 percent accuracy by simply looking at heart beat over time. So in fact, even with the sensor technologies of current wearables, pre-screening of diabetes could already be a part of the data analytics.

Cross-pollination of data means new services and new business logics

The full potential of what the platform economy has to offer with wearables can be realised when multiple data sources are brought together. By this we mean data collected by one wearable device as well dynamic data from other wearables, other gadgets and basically any other data collecting objects. Equally important are the more static datasets, information reserves and knowledgebases that provide further context to analyse and process data captured by wearables. For example, imagine wearing a smartwatch that has been measuring your activity and food intake through the day. This data collected by your wearable could be compared against nutritional recommendations as well as reflected upon the ingredients available in your smart fridge. Combining all this data, a recommendation to fix a protein-packed omelette in the evening could be provided by your smart watch. Of course, there are also great risks with increasing data flows and interfaces, so attention needs to be paid to ensure for example reliability, safety and privacy.

In the current market setting we can see multi-sided platform business emerging around wearables. Wearable manufacturers are growingly willing to let third-party app developers to interface with the data their device collects instead of relying solely on their own software. This allows room for services to grow and improve. For example, an Indian online fashion store Myntra has built a software platform for wearable devices not only for its own line of products but also for those developed by third-party device makers. The core idea of the Myntra Wearable Platform is, well in line with platform thinking, to allow device manufacturers to integrate their wearables to talk to one another as well as to encourage external app developers to make use of the data.

The development of the wearable market and the service business around it means also new flavours in business models. One categorisation of strategies lists (1) product model, focusing on device sales, including product and service, (2) subscription model, focusing on as-a-service approach and recurring fees, (3) cross-selling model, focusing on selling allied products after device purchase and (4) data-sharing model, combining physical product sale with additional information products. The platform economy can accommodate all four business models, but the most fruitful outcomes for the consumer would probably emerge with the openness and multi-sided market opportunities enabled by the data-sharing approach.

Selected articles and websites

Cerillion: Business Models for Wearables in the IoT Economy
Engadget, Velazco: Data from wearables helped teach an AI to spot signs of diabetes
Engadget: Healbe’s GoBe 2 calorie tracker teases the future of wearables
ETtech: Myntra debuts a wearable platform along with its first wearable product Blink Go
European Commission: Smart Wearables: Reflection and Orientation Paper
Fitbit Official Site for Activity Trackers
Fitbit Pay
Gadgets & Wareables: Review Healbe GoBe 2: putting the automatic calorie-tracker to the test
Healbe GoBe Automatic Body Manager
Matrix PowerWatch
Oura Ring
The Conversation: Turning your health data into a “wellness score” might not be good for you
Wikipedia: Wearable technology

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Technophobia – fear of technology

Although new technology intrigues us and makes us curious about what can be achieved with it, the flipside of the human reaction to anything new is suspicion and even fear. Technophobia means fear of technology, and it can stem, for example, from not fully understanding how something works, possibility of danger and negative impacts or risk of malicious misuse. Another flavour of technophobia is anxiety over our personal competences to deal with new technologies and the downright possibility of social exclusion if we lack the access or skills to adopt them.

Why is this important?

Some of the technology fears connected to the platform economy have been around for a long time, and they apply to pretty much any technologies linked to machines and computing. The archetype of suchlike concerns is the fear of losing our jobs because of automation, something that has been a worry for well over a century.

Another major concern in the context of platform economy is how the disruption to economy will impact us as individuals (for example moving from regulated labour market to the gig economy), as businesses (for example smaller companies being bulldozed by large platform corporations) or as society (for example governments trying to keep up with regulation, legislation and fiscal needs related to platforms).

Fears do not either escape the indirect risks and negative impacts that may arise with platformisation, such as loss of knowledge and survival mechanisms if digitalised assets are destroyed or if there’s a prolonged power cut. Intentional misuse and criminal activity is also a scare experienced by many, and evolving platform configurations may indeed be extremely vulnerable.

Examples of specific fears include:

  • Fear of technology eliminating jobs and the need for human workers.
  • Fear of technology taking over the human (individual or society).
  • Fears related to privacy and cyber security.
  • Fear of losing control and getting lost in the technology mesh.
  • Fear of not learning the skills or not having access to use a technology.
  • Fear of dependence and not surviving without the technology (for example in case of a power cut).
  • Fear of negative social and societal impacts (for example lack of face-to-face interaction).
  • Fears related to fast and vast information flows (for example validity of news).
  • Fear of governments not having the means to monitor and control malicious and criminal activity related to new technologies.

Things to keep an eye on

The important thing is to try understand the root causes of fear of technology in the context of platform economy, regardless of whether the threats are real or perceived. Also, it should we noted that technophobia may influence not only consumers but businesses and policy-makers alike. Through addressing technology-related concerns appropriately we can ensure that individuals as well as companies and other organisations have the courage to make the best of the platform economy opportunities. On the other hand, the assessment of fears helps us to pinpoint risks and vulnerabilities that need to be fixed in technological, regulatory or other terms. To dispel mistrust, impartial and validated information to support technology proficiency and awareness is needed. Similarly important are also investments in for example digital security and technology impact assessment.

Selected articles and websites

Robots have been about to take all the jobs for more than 200 years. Is it really different this time?
The Victorians had the same concerns about technology as we do
Fear of Technology
Hot Technology Pilots in 2016 – Fear & Chaos in Technology Adoption
Why do we both fear and love new technology?
Americans Are More Afraid of Robots Than Death. Technophobia, quantified
Ever-present threats from information technology: the Cyber-Paranoia and Fear Scale
The access – Platform economy: Creating a network of value
Choosing a Future in the Platform Economy: The Implications and Consequences of Digital Platforms

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Digital Twins (of products)

The concept of a ‘digital twin’ has been suggested as one of the top technology trends for 2017, but what is it all about? The digital twin is the virtual counterpart of a real physical product, and it captures the data and information related to a product’s lifecycle from design and manufacturing all the way to use and final disposal.

Why is this important?

The existing applications of digital twins include for example storing and accessing product information using RFID codes and computer-aided 3D design models. However, technology development under the megatrend of digitalisation holds promise for way more radical progress with digital twins: In-house manufacturing applications are about to step up towards solutions across entire supply chains and end-use. The lacking connection and integration between the virtual model and the physical product will be intensified towards dynamic use of data and information flow. And the advances in blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems will level up the importance of digital twins, as decision-making, transactions and learning will growingly rely on interconnected products and systems, i.e. Industry 4.0 and the internet of things (IoT).

Things to keep an eye on

The role of the digital twin in the platform economy is central, as it can ideally be the universal access point for all product information as well as accumulated data along a product’s lifecycle. For design, modelling and manufacturing of products the use of digital twins is typically managed with dynamic software models. These will be in the near-future even more closely interconnected to production processes and equipment, and applications are expected to spread and evolve from manufacturing industries to many other contexts such as end-user interfaces, transport sector, service industries, etc. Platforms managing and making use of all these data, information and interconnections will evolve, and the business models to product and service industries are going to change too. Visionaries anticipate even more radical opportunities in the longer term as digital twins of products and services will be followed by digital representations of facilities, environments, people, businesses and processes.

The digital twin is much more an opportunity than a threat, as the involvement of the virtual dimension aims to improve the quality, efficiency and performance of products, services and processes rather than replacing or displacing the real physical counterpart. In fact, the digital twin has been claimed to support the human knowledge kit, boosting problem solving and innovation by enhancing our uniquely human capacity to conceptualise, compare and collaborate.

Selected articles and websites

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017
How To Put Your Digital Twin On Steroids
Leveraging Digital Twins To Breathe New Life Into Your Products And Services
Digital Twin: Manufacturing Excellence through Virtual Factory Replication
About The Importance of Autonomy and Digital Twins for the Future of Manufacturing
Digital Twin Data Modeling with AutomationML and a Communication Methodology for Data Exchange
Digitalization in machine building: The digital twin
GE Digital Twin Game

Heidi Auvinen

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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5G

Why is this important?

5G – 5th generation wireless systems – improves the speed, capacity and energy-efficiency, and reduces the latency of wireless data transfer. This is important for platform economy, because it enhances the opportunities for mobile and ubiquitous digital services as well as enables the high data transfers required by some internet of things (IoT) solutions.

Things to keep an eye on

Because 5G is currently being driven by mobile video and IoT, it requires new kinds of revenue models. In some applications there are huge amounts of data transfer, while some IoT solutions might require only a few bits per month. Thus there is a direction towards more integrated solutions, where the 5G connectivity is only one part. The drivers of the development of 5G could thus be in automotive, energy or health care industries. Another thing to keep an eye on is how regulation supports or restricts the development in different parts of the world.

Selected articles and websites

Imagining the 5G Wireless Future
Huawei: Automotive and energy industries driving 5G and IoT, not telcos
5G for Europe Action Plan
5G Is Coming, But 4G Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon
5G Test Network in Oulu

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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