Ask the expert: The story of wearables

Director of Performance, Centre for Health and Human Performance
16 May 2018

If you think that wearables are just a fad think again. In the last of our series on wearable technology – or smartphones – we explore the story behind wearables, and how their usage has evolved and grown. Professor Greg Whyte is a sports scientist, former Olympian, and brand ambassador for Fitbit. He tracks the history of wearable tech, and explains why this evolving revolution is here to stay.  


The history of wearables

The history of wearables is a really interesting one. I think much of it was driven by the computer generation. So if you think about when computers became mainstream in the nineties, that’s when we started to see a rise in wearables. It is really the mid-nineties that saw their entry into the market, and since that time, what we’ve seen is wearable tech permeate just about every form of sport, and critically, the general population. Whether they are fitness specialists, if they’re looking for fitness goals, or actually now what we’re seeing is a lifestyle use of wearables to enhance their quality of life.

But, back in the mid-nineties you would wear a watch, you wore a heart-rate strap, and you would be able to for the very first time monitor your heart rate on the move during activity. At the time it was a revolution, and actually that revolution is still ongoing.  

Who is using wearables today?

I think that there isn’t a sports team on this planet that doesn’t use wearable tech now. It is that ubiquitous. Everybody uses it, and they use it for various things. I mean, all of the high profile teams, Olympic teams, professional teams, are using wearable tech in some guise - whether it’s through heart rate monitoring, whether it’s through GPS for tracking distance, travel, speed of travel, both in competition and in training. So to some extent it’s now common place.

What does the future look like?

I think from a lifestyle/medical/health perspective, I think it’s going to be things like blood pressure. I think it’s going to be oxygen saturation. Those type of things which have already moved to be miniaturised, to be used commonly by people in their homes. I think we’re going to see those moving down to wearable tech. We’ve already seen incredible advances recently in the ability to measure blood glucose using interstitial fluid. So just from patches we’ve seen amazing advances. I think the bottom line is that we can see that actually come to watches. I can’t see why wearable watches don’t become common place for everyone in that sense. I think it will be driven greatly by health, but it will be driven by the consumer, by the medical community and by the sports community.

Professor Greg Whyte
Director of Performance, Centre for Health and Human Performance

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