Wearables, Humans, and Things as a Single Ecosystem!

Nahum Gershon
November 9, 2015


When I use my smart watch to track the steps I walk, it takes sometimes a few minutes for the watch to show the number of steps I took. Naturally, I would have enjoyed seeing the step counter being updated simultaneously as I walk. This would be also my wish with my smart phone that also gives me delayed observations when I climb floors. After climbing a few floors, for example, it would indicate one floor only after a few minutes. Then, two floors after some more time, and sometimes three after a few more minutes...

Humans like instant gratification! But, this simple human trait seems to have been ignored by this smart watch's designers or maybe the engineers. Were they ignorant of this human trait, or worse, did they not care?

This is just one illustration that in the areas of wearables and the Internet of Things (or Everything), there is an urgent need for engineers who design wearables and other things to get more knowledgeable about human needs, capabilities, and wishes or to collaborate more closely with human-oriented designers, biologists, healthcare practitioners, and psychologists.

For me, it has not been just this smart watch. I have experienced more difficulties with other personal fitness trackers that I have used in the past few months and here are some of my observations.

Arm or core?

While doing pushups and some yoga exercises on the floor for about 15 minutes, the step tracker in my smart watch often shows an increase of 200 or more steps. This does not happen with two types of trackers that rest adjacent to my core. On the other hand, while walking, two trackers of the same kind resting on my core gave similar results (within 7 percent).

In the meantime, maybe one could rely on what is known. A graphic depiction of physiology sensors and wearability is given at http://www.bodymedia.com/armband.html?whence= More research needs to be done though to determine the body sites that accurately measure particular body physiological signals.

Feet climbed or flight of stairs climbed?

Last month, I used two identical fitness trackers on my core. These trackers that I call the G trackers, measure elevation changes in feet and not flights of stairs climbed like in some other trackers. Quite often in the morning, while walking on a flat surface, they would report that I "climbed" 12-20 feet. So, I took them to the track -- a flat surface -- and walked half a mile and here are the results:

  G Tracker 1 G Tracker 2
Feet climbed at 0 miles 324 451
Feet climbed at .5 miles 339 553
Difference 15 102

Feet climbed measured simultaneously by two identical trackers on a flat track1

Apparently, not only do these trackers report elevation changes while walking on a flat ground, they also differ in their "measurements".

Most other trackers measure cardio effort by tracking flights of stairs climbed (in a short period of time) and not a general change in elevation throughout the day. Which one is better for this purpose? If we take the immediate time it takes to change elevation out of the equation, we are confronted with the following estimate:

If I walk 10,000 steps a day, this is equivalent to about 4.46 miles. If my aim is to also climb 20 flights of stairs each day, and if each flight of stairs is on the average 8 feet, this is equivalent to climbing 160 feet a day or 36 feet per mile on the average. This is quite a low slope and if you would climb it gradually, it is unlikely to strain your heart! So, having a measure of feet climbed without constraining the climb to be done in a short period of time might be practically meaningless as far as cardio fitness is concerned.

Heart rate – automatic, semi-manual, and manual

One thing I like about my smart watch mentioned above is that it measures my pulse rate. It is done continuously as long as the watch is not put aside away from my body for charging (every night!). In the G-trackers, I had to swipe the screen a few times to get to the right menu, then place my finger in a specified place and wait for the measurement to be done. However, I could count my heart beat manually faster (counting for 10 seconds and multiplying by six)!

The NY bus effect – being "active" without moving

I have noticed that while traveling on a bus to NY City (a 4-hour trip), two of my trackers, the T-trackers, tend to add flights of stairs and steps without me significantly moving away from my seat. In one trip, for example, I "climbed" 39 flights of stairs while essentially sitting for four hours! So, if you tape your tracker to a vibrating device (like a chain saw), by the time the battery is dead, you might be in the Guinness Book of Records! It would thus be nice if one would be able to turn the tracker on and off at will.

Wearables and things could be perceived to be part of our bodies

Unlike traditional computers, wearables are in intimate contact with our bodies and could thus be perceived by the wearer to be part of his/her body. This is not an interaction in the traditional sense of the word!! A question is could the research done throughout the years in the field of Human Computer Interaction be augmented to the new reality of computing and sensing devices that are perceived by the user to be or actually are part of his/her body? Or, do we need to develop new concepts, methods and fresh ways of thinking to address these new realities?

Wearable computing, humans and the internet of things are one!

When I leave my home, I need to manually turn on the security camera. When I get home, I need to manually turn it off. As Kyu Chong, a co-worker, pointed out, these manual operations could be automated nowadays by the home network router sending a message to the camera and other devices that your cell phone, for example, is leaving or entering its range. So, these interactions among wearables (the cell phone could be considered to be one!) and the Internet of Things devices could make the plethora of all of these devices a single ecosystem: Wearables, Humans, and Things -- The Internet of Everything!

Collaboration among Engineers, Life Scientists, Health Professionals, Designers, and Psychologists

In the meantime, it is necessary to work on professional integration. As the examples outlined above indicate, it is of utmost importance that researchers and practitioners from the fields of engineering and consumer technology collaborate with experts in human-oriented design, experience design, biology, medicine, and psychology. The IEEE Life Sciences Technical Community (LSTC) is poised to develop and enable such collaborations and synergy. For more information, see:
Life Sciences technologies, information & activities - IEEE Life Sciences
To join LSTC, see: https://www.ieee.org/membership-catalog/productdetail/showProductDetailPage.html?product=CMYLS737
For discussions, see:
https://www.facebook.com/IEEELifeSciences?fref=ts and https://www.facebook.com/IEEELSTC?fref=ts

This article is a summary of a keynote address given at the IEEE International Conference of Consumer Electronics - Berlin (IEEE ICCE-Berlin), September 2015.


Steve Mann, Wearable Computing, The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. by Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam http://bit.ly/1iGU5Ok


1. This test of using two of the same trackers was inspired by a co-worker, Melissa Emery, who compared the readings of the two identical trackers used by her and her husband.



Nahum GershonNahum Gershon focuses on social media, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, strategic planning, visualization, combining creative expressions with technology and real-time information delivery, presentation and interaction in mobile, wearable as well as traditional devices including how they could improve both organizational environments and our personal lives. Nahum Gershon has served in many capacities at the IEEE over the years, is a member of the Steering Committee of the IEEE Life Sciences Technical Community (LSTC) and is a Senior Principal Scientist at The MITRE Corporation.

Nahum is a well-known community organizer, mentor, and communicator and is quite socially oriented. He has a significant international and multicultural background (citizen of the world, speaking a number of languages) and is right and left brain enabled. He enjoys life!

Nahum Gershon, IEEE Life Sciences Technical Community, schmooz@mac.com, @nahumg