Mark Rolston used to be CCO at Frog Design. Now he runs his new consultancy, Argodesign. And as part of our Wearables Week, his firm generated a series of concepts based upon our simple mandate: No watches.
What Argodesign presented in response was "a provocation"—four wearable concepts that would not just track your heartbeat or put your email on your wrist, but give you what Rolston calls "superpowers."
He points to the modern smartphone as his evidence. It’s already given us the opportunity to fly through space (through maps or video conferencing), travel through time (through our photos or social networks), and increase our intelligence (through omnipresent Internet access). To him, wearables will just be "more literal extensions" of these powers. They’ll offer us everything from more coordination to improved hearing. And it’s the quest for these powers that will drive user adoption.
We’ve all heard of kinesio tape. Kineseowear is basically kinesio tape come to life. It’s a stick-on, artificial muscle, that could do anything from tapping you on the left shoulder to convey the next turn dictated by your GPS, to supporting your muscles during an intense butterfly lap in the pool. It creates a physical bridge between your body and information of any sort.
"We had one [version] that was a belt that tightened before lunch so it keeps you from eating more than you want to," Rolston explains. They settled on the athletic form as a cultural statement of its own—a way to signal to other runners or swimmers that you were of the same connected tribe.
Imagine if you could pick up a pencil and draw a perfect circle the first time you tried. That’s the promise of Oujiband, an electronic counterweight strapped to your wrist that uses a gyroscope and a gimbal to sense your fine motor movements and, when necessary, smooth them out a bit. (Imagine a finely balanced Segway for your hand.)
Potential implications? Surgeons could cut straighter when the band sensed their hands shaking. A new tennis player could learn to backhand faster through this mechanical coach. And it’d look great at your next steampunk convention.
"Take the apps that have become new social engines, and ask yourself, ‘Can those things be moved into the physical universe so we don’t have to live through the 5.5-inch screen?’" Rolston advises. "Snapchat looked in the digital world and said, ‘Some conversations you want to keep private.’ We asked, ‘How do we put that idea in the regular world?"
The result was Snapchat IRL. It’s a necklace that senses the IR light emitted by cameras during their autofocus sequence. And in response, it fires back a blinding counter-flash to protect your anonymity. No smartphone is even needed. It’s a completely standalone-ready device.
Snapchat IRL also has a discreet earpiece that allows you to have a private conversation with someone in the room whom you’ve decided to hook up with—like a walkie talkie for your sex life. Rolston admits that bit hasn’t been completely thought out, but his team liked the detail because it was so evocative.
We’ve all been out to a bar where we couldn’t hear the person standing right beside us. Lalala is basically a Bose noise-canceling headphone for anything you want to listen to in life. And with motion-tracking capabilities inside (assumably, through an integrated technology like infrared tracking), you can simply point to someone you’d like to hear better in a room, and every other voice will fade away.
But it’s not just a functional convenience. Rolston sees it as the future form-factor for smartphones. You’d wear it all the time. It would have all of your contacts inside. And it would be able to connect you to anyone, at any time, through immersive 3-D sound rather than awkward teleconferencing.
"If this is the next gen iPhone, the idea of spatially placing people could be phenomenal," Rolston explains. "Your wife could speak into your right ear while you were in a meeting with people. It’d be like a secretary or friend coming up to whisper, ‘I know you’re busy, but remember to pick up your kid."
Of course, you may think Argodesign’s concepts look too techie for your tastes. It would be a fair criticism. The team intentionally made the designs over and unapologetically electric—not necessarily because they believe fashion is in some way unimportant—but to highlight that wearable technology will lure us with more than the appeal of fashion alone.
"I love how people comment, ‘You’ll never catch me wearing this stuff!’ And I get the fear of cyborg," Rolston explains. "But [life is] a competition to get a leg up over the next person."
More from Wearables Week:
- It's Time To Look Beyond The Smartwatch
- The Most Hated Design Trend Is Back
- This Wearable Tunes Out Your Annoying Boss
- The Problem With Wearable Technology, According To "Blade Runner" Designer Syd Mead
- This Is What It's Like To Wear Smart Spandex During A Workout
- From The Designers Of Fitbit, A Digital Tattoo Implanted Under Your Skin
- This Is The Only Smartwatch That Matters