Although currently under-the-radar, wearables and smart technologies - some on the skin, some are subdermal, and some just on our smartphones - promise to change the landscape of healthcare as we know it today. Some encourage us to be more active, while others promise to improve our quality of care, and raise our standard of living.

1. The bionic eye

An estimated 285 million individuals worldwide suffer from visual impairment, with many treatments and technological innovations currently in the pipeline. Also known as a retinal prosthesis system – the only one approved being the Argus II – the bionic eye works by bridging the gap between light entering the eye and the optic nerve and communicates these images to the brain so we can discern what we see via a camera integrated to a pair of eyeglasses, and an implant on the surface of the eye that taps into the optical nerve. This technology is only in its infancy though; users are only capable of perceiving only shadows and outlines of figures.

2. The implantable and (nearly) invisible wearable

Grindhouse’s Circadia is similar to external wearables, such as Apple’s Watch and Fitbit’s Surge, except that it is implanted under the skin and records the user health data sub-dermally– currently only temperature and blood pressure – and transmits it via Bluetooth to the phone. However, their second version of Circadia aims to read blood glucose and oxygenation levels. This would be useful for diabetics, whose only way to reading blood glucose is via a micro-prick. They also believe that software currently being developed by other companies, such as Cisco Systems, would aid in sorting through the data, and help would eventually help doctors make sense of that data, and aid in spotting long-term health trends. Their long term goal is to be able to predict disease before symptoms appear.

3. The cyborg with an electronic ‘hearing’ eye

This technology, although highly experimental, is truly a game-changer. A colour blind individual, with this implant, would be able to hear colours after having an 'eyeborg' antenna implanted into their skull.

Neil Harbisson, who suffers from achromatopsia – only able to see in black and white –, is the first individual implanted with such a device, which allows an external electronic eye to picks up colour frequencies through a camera and transforms them into sound vibrations. With such a chip implanted inside his skull, he can now perceive more intricate colours.

Every colour translates to a different vibration; this means different paintings, images or even faces each has their “signature sound”. The audio input was once placed outside his head, but has been since implanted inside his skull, akin to a cochlear implant, and thus allows for a greater depth of colour perception.

4. Duoskin for on skin user interface

Developed by a collaborative effort by Microsoft’s Research Lab and MIT media lab, Duoskin is a fabrication process that enables an individual to create customised functional devices that is attached directly on their skin. Made from gold metal leaf, which is cheap, does not irritate the skin, and robust for everyday wear, this innovation can have three types of on-skin interfaces: sensing touch input, displaying output, and wireless communication. Such interface allows the user to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information on their skin while serving as a statement of personal style.

5. Graphene brain implants to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers from Italy’s University of Trieste and the Cambridge Graphene Center made significant progress earlier this year when they successfully demonstrated that untreated graphene can be used to interface with neurons without damaging their integrity. Graphene was specifically chosen due to its excellent conductivity, plasticity, and bioconductivity in the body – all of these materials make graphene the ideal material for electrodes that are to be implanted, without triggering the build-up of scar tissue.

6. Contact lens to monitor glucose levels and dispense drugs

This innovation holds great promise to enhance the quality-of-care for diabetics worldwide – multiple, independent teams, from Google to Korea, working on this concept bears testimony to this fact. Just a contact lens and eyeglasses combinations would herald the end of daily, painful finger pricks diabetics are currently enduring worldwide to monitor blood glucose levels. According to a Korean professor, such an invention can even be tapped on to treat eye diseases and infections, and would be a two-in-one device for diabetics to treat their eye infections and monitor their blood sugar. MIMS

Read more:
Overcoming colour blindness with glasses and gene therapy
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