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The future of Not Reality is a strap-on that talks to my smarting ring

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow

SHUT UP!

Something for the Weekend, Sir? My ring smarts.

This is only to be expected, having exposed my ring for long periods to the burning sun.

More fool me, you’d think, but you’d be wrong. Ensuring my ring is open to the elements is good for my health and well-being. And slipping it onto my finger is surprisingly comfortable.

Hang on, what I meant to say was that my ring is smart. It is a clever ring. Manipulated appropriately, it ought to give me endless pleasure … producing vitamin D.

You may remember that I was won over to the cause of smart wearables last year, so I feel better disposed towards the various new devices currently hitting the crowd-funding sites.

Don’t knock my ring.

Previously, the Wearable Technology Show in London has been a rich source of daft stories about pointless gadgets that purport to solve problems from which nobody suffers. These have ranged from clunky, wire-strewn ‘performance’ clothing to sleep monitoring devices that would track your body movements in bed just as long as you kept very still.

It was all futuristic nonsense. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, as Lindsay Buckingham might say. Yesterday’s gone. Oh, and put my ring on your finger (which might have been Stevie Nicks – unless that was just rumours).

WTS 2017, held earlier this week, was quite a different beast. It was as most of the silliness had been squeezed out, to be replaced by a new wave of rationality. Product development of wearables for health, fitness and industrial applications is beginning to mature.

Take, for example, Illuminated Apparel’s interactive glow t-shirt.

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This is precisely what the market needs: 1990s-throwback clubbing gear that allows your infantile mates to draw penises on your chest with a laser pen.

Or consider the Petcube, which isn’t a wearable at all but a home security camera for keeping an eye on the comings and goings of your dog or cat (and apparently talking to it over the device’s speakers) via a smartphone while you’re stuck at the office. I am particularly taken by Petcube’s entertaining ‘Bites’ model, which you load with edible treats that can be fired individually across your kitchen or living room by tapping on a button in the app.

Oh, the fun Tiddles or Buster will have scampering after each treat while you watch on helplessly from 25 miles away as he proceeds to tear apart your sofa trying to get at the one that fell between the cushions.

Come to think of it, I could have done with one of these back when my children were younger. Mrs Dabbsy and I might have enjoyed more time together, knowing that we could still check the video feed to see how grumpy the kids were getting locked up at home. We could even fire off a few M&Ms remotely to keep them fed until we got back from Chamonix two weeks later.

Otherwise, in terms of optimal hardware miniaturisation, wearables are still a long way off. Industrial headsets and associated gadgetry might no longer resemble boxy exo-outfits akin to those worn by Arnie’s opponents in The Running Man but you do still feel a bit like Van Damme in Universal Soldier.

During one Augmented Reality demonstration I felt compelled to remove the headset as a feeling of nausea crept over me. The developer suggested that I might not have been using my “dominant eye”, which is quite possible since I didn’t know I had one. In fact, I thought it was a 1950s horror movie.

After two minutes of my demonstrator holding up a pen from across the room as I tried to obscure it with my thumb while winking each eye in turn, I found myself gauging whether he was a sufficient distance away to avoid projectile vomit.

Maybe that’s what the visor is for.

Indeed, most of the industrial and entertainment applications revolved around vertiginous headsets of various types: Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality, and so on. They’ve even begun thinking up new catchlines for the emerging tech, such as Merged Reality and Converged Reality.

How about Not Reality?

At least then we’d have an accurate description, stuff all that marketing bollocks and let developers get on with their work without having to conform to an inadequately phrased concept.

As it is, I remain completely sold on the Microsoft Hololens platform, despite its current limitations. This is partly because we’ve barely scratched the surface of even its most basic untethered potential, but also because of its tendency not to induce the user to blow chunks.

Another welcome step forward in Not Reality is the realisation by developers that voice-control is superior to gesture-control. Surely the whole point of a hands-free headset is to free your hands, not make you look like a voguing Daft Punk cosplayer.

Unfortunately, the current default Hololens gesture isn’t a satisfying Minority Report sweep of the arms worthy of any symphony conductor but a weedy little pinch action between thumb and forefinger. Sod that. If I was designing Not Reality gestures, they would be firm fists thrust into manly palms, or perhaps a combination of funky finger-snapping, Spanish Flamenco clapping and good old English V-flicking.

Besides, my hands are already occupied with my ring – the Helios Smart Ring, that is, which measures exposure to sunlight and nags the wearer if he or she is getting too little or (fat chance here in Northern Europe) too much.

There were plenty of IoT rings at the show but for me the Helios wins the coveted Missed A Trick award. Despite being designed to be exposed to sunlight for extended periods, its battery has to be charged via USB. That’s like buying an electricity generator that runs off the mains. In this sense, Helios is unique as its own little exercise in futility.

Still, a Helios representative assures me I can wash my hands while I have his ring on my finger, which definitely sounds like something I would want to do.

That’s my ring sorted. Now, where did I put that strap-on?

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He was pleasantly surprised to find that sports on-wrist wearables are getting smaller and more powerful, and he confidently predicts that one day in the far-flung future they will become almost as versatile as an Apple Watch (original model). By contrast, smart rings still look as restrained and classy as a translucent plastic signet that fell out a Woolworth’s Christmas cracker circa 1977.

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