Neural Lace: The Ultimate Wearable?
More than just striving to be ahead of competitors is fueling Intel industrial automation, autonomous vehicle, AI, and other achievements.
The oldest wearable in technology might be the wrist watch, which later upgraded to luminous dials. In the 70s the cool tech was found in boxy black plastic digital watches that eventually included little calculators. Today, many use smartphones to tell time, whereas others seem to miss glancing at one’s wrist to throw off a hint of impatience. We seem to have come full circle, as Intel® and TAG Heuer unveiled the new TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45, a versatile luxury connected watch. It’s not the plastic digital watch of yore, however, as it is all-metal with Intel inside, sporting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and Near Field Communications. You can wear a high-tech watch without looking like an updated 70s-era dork. (Can Intel partner with Ray Ban for VR goggles next?) Seriously, if you happen by a TAG Heuer store, stroll in for a look at the high level of customization available for this watch.
Wearables have been seen as a fad, but the term itself is very broad. Is an implant a wearable? Elon Musk has conceived a new company, Neuralink, to pursue “neural lace” technology. Musk hasn’t made a formal announcement, and it’s not clear what his plans are for the company, but back in June 2015, Nature Nanotechnology published an article about syringe-injectable electronics, mentioning “tight integration and low chronic immunoreactivity with several distinct regions of the brain.” However, it makes me pause to think that we might someday implant what has been fantastic science fiction. Neuralink has already hired some academics to work on the project.
The military could use something like neural lace to communicate without words. You see hand gestures used when they walk point in a jungle war film, maintaining silence but issuing commands that could be monitored by wearables that transmit to a command station. One of the challenges encountered in battle is constantly changing conditions. You can plan an overall strategy around a goal, but tactics have to be carried out on the ground with decision-making on the fly. In the Korean War, had MacArthur known as fact, backed up by electronically gathered data, that American troops were indeed getting nearly overrun every night by a confirmed number of DPRK troops, maybe that would have convinced him to withdraw earlier…or not. Data is only good if verifiably gathered, interpreted correctly, and believed. There are some interesting analyses on cia.gov library, including “Two Strategic Mistakes in Korea, 1950.” No amount of data or statistics can overcome arrogance, however.
Wearables can also measure vibrations and indicate if an explosion has occurred nearby to command posts. Add multiple points of this kind of data to a lack of response, and you have more information to make a life-saving decision to deploy medivacs to the area. Robotic exoskeletons count as wearables, right? They would be useful for all kinds of tasks in the military, construction, or anything involving heavy lifting. Remember the scene in Aliens where Sigourney Weaver climbs into a Caterpillar P-50000 work loader to fight off the alien queen? The flexibility, power, and speed of the work loader as she used it to throw punches leveled the playing field. You can find out more about that in the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, complete with blueprints. It’s hard to believe that Aliens came out over 30 years ago, in 1986.
People may think of wearables as a fitness band fad, but I think that pockets of technology have started as a fad. In any event, wearables are not going to go away. The wearables scene has included a wave of cheap ones in there with the good ones. Knockoffs will never go away, but people will always find new uses for the technology, especially since “wearables” is such a broad category in the first place.
Lynnette Reese is Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Intel Solutions and Embedded Systems Engineering, and has been working in various roles as an electrical engineer for over two decades. She is interested in open source software and hardware, the maker movement, and in increasing the number of women working in STEM so she has a greater chance of talking about something other than football at the water cooler.