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Wrist Drones, Robotic Hands, Smart Pendants: The Future of Wearable Tech Has Arrived

Robotic hand
Robotic hand

(Open Bionics)

Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and augmented-reality glasses are so 2013. Tomorrow’s wearable technology will fly off your body to snap a photo of you. It will know where you’re going and quietly steer you in the right direction. It will heat you up or cool you down on command.

And it will do it all while making a decisive fashion statement.

On Monday, Intel announced the winners of its Make It Wearable contest, where wannabe gadget developers vied for more than $1 million in funding. What each wearable has in common is that it was developed using Intel’s Edison computer-on-a-chip prototyping platform.

A panel of seven judges from the technology, retail, and fashion worlds evaluated dozens of entries, picked 10 finalists, and then selected first, second, and third place winners, who divided $800,000 in funding between them. Here are the top three contestants and a few honorable mentions.

Read more: Apple Watch Tops List of Hottest Fitness Trackers

Drone home
The judge’s choice for top wearable, and the recipient of a $500,000 check: Team Nixie, which invented a drone with a built-in camera you wear on your wrist. Fling the Nixie into the air, and it will buzz around above your head, snap a photo of you, and then return boomerang-style to your wrist. Call it a selfie on steroids.

Don’t let the slick video fool you. Conceived just 10 days before the contest deadline, the Nixie isn’t even in the prototype stage yet, says founder and CEO Christoph Kohstall. He’s hoping to use Intel’s sizable check to bring the Nixie to market in about a year.

Team Nixie with $500,000 check
Team Nixie with $500,000 check


(Nixie/Facebook)

Helping hands
Number two: Open Bionics, a two-person startup based in Bristol, England, that has built fully functional prosthetic hands using 3D printers. The main benefit here is the use of inexpensive, lightweight materials. At $2,000 per, an Open Bionics hand will cost a fraction of mechanical hands built from titanium or carbon fiber. (The company’s cheeky slogan: “Prosthetics shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.”)

Those who use Open Bionics’ hands will be able to grasp and manipulate objects, operate the fingers individually, and even type on a keyboard in response to muscle movements in the wearer’s forearm.

The company plans to use its $200,000 winnings to hire engineers and begin work on production models using even lighter materials, founder Joel Gibbard says. It’s hoping to have a working hand approved for use as a medical device before the end of 2015.

Glove me do
The third place $100,000 award went to ProGlove, a smart glove designed for industrial use. This workglove can identify parts or tools as the assembly worker touches them and provide instructions or training on the fly. It could also track the worker’s movements, heart rate, mood, and productivity, says co-founder Paul Günther.

Wear the wild things are
Some of the finalists that didn’t win were also promising. All received $50,000 for making it to the final 10.

Blocks is a build-your-own modular smartwatch. Each module contains a different feature, such as a screen, battery, fitness tracker, SMS chip, and so on. Snap them together to build your own watch, and add new features by replacing modules. Blocks might eventually be sold directly to consumers or as part of products coming from more traditional watch makers, says Blocks team member Hakeem Javaid.

The Arc Pendant is a monitor you wear around your neck that incorporates haptic feedback. For example, when navigating a map on your phone, the Arc Pendant can tell you to turn left or right simply by buzzing the appropriate side of your neck. Future versions will be about the size of a quarter and allow you to monitor your heart rate and control other devices using your voice, says Mark Siddorn, head of data science for Arc Wearables.

Embr labs’ Wristify is a wearable that can alter your body temperature simply by heating or cooling the skin on your wrist. Think of it as an air conditioner or space heater for your body.

None of these products is available today, and some may never be. Others could end up on your body within a year.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.