Wearables

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Researchers developed a sensing system to constantly track the performance of workers

Researchers have come up with a mobile-sensing system that can track and rate the performance of workers by combining a smartphone, fitness bracelets and a custom app.

The mobile-sensing system, as the researchers call it, is able to classify high and low performers. The team used the system to track 750 U.S. workers for one year. The system was able to tell the difference between high performers and low performers with 80% accuracy.

The aim, the researchers say, is to give employees insight into physical, emotional and behavioral well-being. But that constant flow of data also has a downside, and if abused, can put employees under constant surveillance by the companies they work for.

The researchers, including Dartmouth University computer science professor Andrew Campbell, whose earlier work on a student monitoring app provided the underlying technology for this system, see this as a positive gateway to improving worker productivity.

“This is a radically new approach to evaluating workplace performance using passive sensing data from phones and wearables,” said Campbell. “Mobile sensing and machine learning might be the key to unlocking the best from every employee.”

The researchers argue that the technology can provide a more objective measure of performance than self-evaluations and interviews, which they say can be unreliable.

The mobile-sensing system developed by the researchers has three distinct pieces. A smartphone tracks physical activity, location, phone use and ambient light. The fitness tracker monitors heart functions, sleep, stress and body measurements like weight and calorie consumption. Meanwhile, location beacons placed in the home and office provide information on time at work and breaks from the desk.

From here, cloud-based machine learning algorithms are used to classify workers by performance level.

The study found that higher performers typically had lower rates of phone usage, had longer periods of deep sleep and were more physically active.

Privacy experts and labor advocates have long raised concerns about the practice of tracking employees. That hasn’t stopped companies from incentivizing employees to wear fitness tracks in exchange for savings on insurance or other benefits. Startups have popped up to offer even more ways to track employees.

For instance, WeWork acquired in February Euclid, a data platform that tracks the identity and behavior of people in the physical world. Shiva Rajaraman, WeWork’s chief product officer, told TechCrunch at the time that the Euclid platform and its team will become integrated into a software analytics package that WeWork plans to sell to companies that aren’t renting WeWork space but want to WeWork-ify their own offices.

Meanwhile, the team of researchers suggests that while its system of continuous monitoring via wearables and other devices is not yet available, it could be coming in the next few years. It’s unclear if the team is making a calculated guess or if there are designs to try and launch this system as a product.

The team, led by Dartmouth University, included researchers from University of Notre Dame, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Washington, University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Irvine, Ohio State University, University of Texas at Austin and Carnegie Mellon University .

A paper describing the study will be published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile Wearable and Ubiquitous Technology.

Welcome to the awkward future of the open office

I have seen the future — in fact, I have worn it. It’s big and awkward kind of digs into the top of your head with little metal bars designed to hold it in place.

I was like 95 percent sure Wear Space was some viral bit of social commentary the first time it popped up online. And yet, here I am at a TechCrunch event in Tokyo and the horse blinder-style wearable was right there for all the world to see and try on. So try it on, I did.

The device is still very much in prototype mode, so the uncomfortable bit is something that will likely be resolved before the device starts shipping. The awkwardness of actually wearing the thing, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that takes time to dissipate.

The product is light weight — a good quality for something designed to be work on the head for hours at a time. It’s really just a wireframe with a cloth covering that blots out your peripheral vision, while still giving you plenty to look at in front of you. It somehow felt dystopian and weirdly comforting all at once. At very least, I feel like I have a new-found respect for horses.

Inside are a pair of on-ear headphones. They’re not noise canceling, so they won’t block out everything, but maybe having read on ambient noise is a net positive on something like this.

I will say this: having seen the bizarre things people will put on their heads for the 14 hour plane ride it took to get to Japan, nothing about the Wear Space feels out of the realm of possibility. I mean, if this can be a thing, why not, right?

Keep in mind, too, that we’ve done this to ourselves. Open offices were going to the be the great workplace revolution of the early 21st century, and all we got were these strange horse blinders for people.

Segway’s whacky new roller shoes will cost $399

Did you know Segway is making a pair of self-balancing roller shoes? It is! The company has been tinkering with all sorts of new form factors since it was acquired by Ninebot in 2015, from half-sized Segways to kick scooters. Next up: inline… shoe… platform things.

Called the Segway Drift W1s, they sorta look like what would happen if you took a hoverboard (as in the trendy 2016 hoverboard-that-doesn’t-actually-hover “hover”board, not Marty McFly’s hoverboard), split it in two and plopped one half under each foot.

It released a video demonstrating the shoes a few weeks back. Just watching it makes me feel like I’ve bruised my tailbone, because I’m clumsy as hell.

Pricing and availability was kept under wraps at the time, but the company has just released the details: a pair will cost you $399, and ship sometime in August. Oh, and they’ll come with a free helmet, because you’ll probably want to wear a helmet.

A new product page also sheds some light on a few other previously undisclosed details: each unit will weigh about 7.7lbs, and top out at 7.5 miles per hour. Riding time “depends on riding style and terrain,” but the company estimates about 45 minutes of riding per charge.

I look forward to trying these — then realizing I have absolutely no idea how to jump off and just riding forever into the sunset.

Essential FitTech gadgets for any lifestyle

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Remember when you promised yourself that 2018 would be the year you’d get back into jogging, master Crow Pose, and feel healthier and stronger than you’ve ever felt before?

If you’ve been slacking on those goals, you might need a little boost to get back on track. Luckily, the below gadgets can help. These FitTech products are must-buys for 2018.

Funds at your fingertips with Bankwest Halo payment ring — $39

Image: Bankwest

Heading out for a jog, but don’t want to bring along your entire wallet? You don’t have to with this nifty gadget: The Bankwest Halo is Australia’s first payment ring. The attractive design is ideal for anyone with an active lifestyle. Bankwest Halo works just like your contactless cards — all you have to do is fist-bump the terminal at check-out and be on your way.  Read more…

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Asics is using microwave technology to create custom midsoles in as little as 15 seconds

 It’s been a fascinating couple of years for high tech sneaker heads, between self-lacing Nikes and Adidas’ experiments with 3D printed midsoles and biodegradable yarn. Asics isn’t generally uttered in the same breath as those sorts of bleeding edge offerings, but the running shoe company has just debuted a pretty compelling new take on the manufacturing process.
The new… Read More

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Smart running shoes won’t make you faster, but they could help you avoid getting hurt

 Altra’s Torin IQ were inevitable. Sensors integrated into articles of clothing have long been acknowledged to be the next step in wearable tech, and the Utah-based footwear maker just happened to beat most of its competition to the finish line with a pair of running shoes that bake tracking directly into the sole. But unlike the scads of smart clothing that’s almost certainly on… Read More

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At under $60, Misfit’s Flare trims all the fat and many of the features from fitness tracking

 Misfit’s new fitness tracker comes in at under $60. The Flare is a device completely devoid of all bells and whistles for the sake of offering users simple tracking functionality without losing an arm and leg in the process. It’s a logical play for the Fossil-owned hardware maker. After all, Misfit’s roots lie in simple trackers like the Ray and the modular Shine. Though this… Read More

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Pizza-ordering Pie Tops sneakers are as good a reason as any to question your existence

 Pie Tops are not the future of sneakers. They’re not some cool prototype like the HyperAdapt that point to a shoe company finally realizing a long sought-after feature. They’re a good gimmick from a pizza company looking for a way to capitalize on March Madness with a pair of shoes that order a pizza when you squeeze their tongue. I’ve tried them, they’re real… Read More

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Google just dropped the last Android Wear update before its launch

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Google’s big Android Wear update is almost ready for primetime.

After months of delays, the company pushed out the final version of the developer preview for the upcoming Android Wear 2.0 update, confirming the official release is coming next month.

The update includes support for one of the most significant changes coming to the platform: iOS support for standalone apps. As we detailed in our preview during Google I/O last year, Android Wear 2.0 has completely untethered apps from your smartphone — even for iPhone users — so third-party apps can function even if you don’t have a Wi-Fi or data connection. Read more…

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Wearables have got some work to do this year

wearables It’s a wait and see moment for wrist-worn devices. After a few years of betting heavily on the space, this most recent CES didn’t offer much; save for two or three smartwatch announcements, some partnerships and a couple of middling bands, the industry seems to have largely shifted its focus toward the connected home and the seemingly attainable dream of sticking Alexa in… Read More

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Unboxing six gadgets from CES 2017

I had a great time out here at CES 2017 in Las Vegas — every once in a while I got to sneak away and walk around a little bit and check out the goodies. A little walking here, a little checking stuff out there. Sometimes I fell asleep under tables… it’s just the nature of the beast. Sometimes people wanted me to check out their product, but I couldn’t do it right away… Read More

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Clothing maker Scott Jordan talks about the future of fashion

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-12-19-53-pm Scott Jordan never meant to make clothes. He was a lawyer by trade and wanted something he could wear to keep his Walkman from snagging on doorknobs. A few iterations later he invented the SCOTTeVEST, a vest with loads of pockets and secret channels for headphones and other cables. Now, after more than a decade in the business, he believes that while our clothing might seem more high-tech,… Read More

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Fitbit reportedly tried to buy Jawbone late last year

fitbit jawbone It’s been a busy few months for Fitbit. The company has been snatching up startups left and right and announced partnerships galore at CES last week. It’s also engaged in public sniping with Jawbone, one of its chief competitors, in a series of statements and filing tied to patent lawsuits – a company it apparently tried to buy just ahead of the holidays. That latest bit… Read More

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