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Ottawa- A smart place to develop wearable companies


Wearable devices have quickly evolved from a quirky buzz word into a trendy and growing product category. This was made clear recently at the University of Waterloo where industry Canada unveiled new electronic labeling regulations for wearable technology.

In the announcement, industry Minister James Moore said the new electronic labeling or ‘e-labeling regulations will help consumers and manufacturers benefit from access to new markets.’ For companies and designers of hardware enabled software products this means the burden of placing visible regulatory labels devices has been lifted as products get small and discrete to fit your personality and your body.

Previously, Canadian regulations required information such as model identification numbers and certification numbers of radio equipment to be printed directly on the device or attached to a sticker. The implications of which were twofold – devices manufactured in Canada had to include the labels and devices made in other countries couldn’t enter Canada without the labels.

Canada is only the 6th country to adopt e-labeling, joining the US, Australia, Japan, UAE and Costa Rica.

This regulatory update is helping position Canada as a Global leader in digital technology adoption for the third time in just over a year. The previous two announcements came in March 2013 when the Ontario Securities Commission announced plans to open the door to equity crowdfunding and last September when Kickstarter crowdsourcing launched in Canada.

So what makes Canada, and more specifically Ottawa, so well positioned to take on the wearable device industry and become a global leader? Well for one our roots are communication and wearables are connected devices. As well, we have strong product design services companies (UX, physical, hardware and software engineering) helping clients across Canada and in North America with connected wearable products.

From a financial perspective, the global wearables market landscape is growing dramatically and not slowing down anytime soon. Experts are estimating that 700-million wearable devices will be shipped globally over the next five years yielding a $47.4-billion market. The bulk of these products will be developed by startups as evidenced by the $458-million in capital raised in 2013 across 49 wearable startup firms.

The wearable ventures with Ottawa links include Impakt Protective which has received $1.4-million in funding to date, Biometric Smart Apparel maker OM Signal with funding from Ottawa venture fund MistralVP, software centric Gymtrack and wearable company GestureLogic raising north of $1M. Eastern Canada has a wealth of other wearable start-ups including Push, Bionym, Thalmic, Hexoskin and Athos (now a US company).

Ottawa is home to some deep roots in digital communications and a world-class ecosystem of user centered communication oriented design, engineering, manufacturing and business talent. So when it comes to designing, engineering and commercializing wearable devices Ottawa has a unique advantage as one of the best places to lead the charge.

But for Ottawa to take advantage of the opportunities in the wearable device market we must understand what wearable devices are, why they’re poised for growth and the specific skillsets needed to design them.

What are wearable devices?

Wearables are small electronic devices, often consisting of one or more sensors with computational capability and some form of connection to the cloud. They are embedded into items that attached to the body and can resemble eyeglasses, clothing, fashion accessories and safety equipment.

Wearable devices usually serve two purposes: capturing data or displaying data. Capture data maybe be as simple as counting steps or complex as brainwave measurements. Examples of wearables that display data are the Google’s Glasses and Apple’s iWatch. These are well funded mass market plays, however there are many more wearables that will be niche market and are ripe for the innovative opportunist.

Wearables devices are quickly entering all major product markets include medical, consumer, sports telecom, industrial, military and even companies improving efficiencies in the work environment including factory floors and outdoor field office and data collection activities.

Are wearable devices poised for growth?

The wearables trend is based on the maturing smartphone market experience. Users are looking for simple collection and presentation of information to help them make informed decisions that are important to them without overwhelming them with the shear amount of content and data that will be coming available over the next few years.

The Internet of Things is the larger category which has three distinct elements:

1) The mass distribution of sensors and information collection combined with.

2) The advent of analytics processing of information sent to and available in the cloud, and…

3) The delivery of information to systems and people in a way that is clear and easily consumed, appropriate for the situation and controllable with little distractive effort.

Wearables is the category of information that we want to collect and store immediately around us (biometrics, real time images/video etc) and the presentation of incoming awareness information in a personal and appropriate non-distractive, easy to view and react to way. The smartphone is the first platform this has been possible on but users are now looking for more situation specific devices to help them stay aware of their numerous traceable events and activities. All this without the burden of carrying a phone and the button press hell as they open and close apps.

An example of the wearables trend is Smart Watches – discrete windows of awareness and content appropriate for mobile situations with discrete information consumption and response. Another example already in the market are bio devices like Fitbit which record data about our vital signs and, monitor and inform us on information related to our health by connecting the device to the cloud and feeding information back to us through mobile apps or directly back to the device.

For Ottawa, to take advantage of the opportunities in wearable device markets marketing our city is the key – Do the inventors and entrepreneurs out there know the wealth of knowledge and easy access to the talent that lives in our valley? How are we going to promote this? A think tank could examine the segments of wearable device opportunities not yet underway and market our city services that will attract people in companies across Canada and globally to look at Ottawa as a low risk high value way to develop their ideas into product.

Skills needed to design wearable devices

Wearable device opportunities take a cluster of specific knowledge and resources to develop into a product and service offer for the market. Taking the idea from startup to market will require five specific skills sets:

– Human centered design approach > much more info coming = ‘easy to use’ becomes a must

– Cross-functional physical product design teams with experience in human behavioral and physical ergonomics, body friendly materials, micro-electronics, wireless radio options and data transfer protocols.

– Network system level knowledge to understand do’s and don’ts for simple to use web devices

– Ability to system engineer and write code for intelligent and interoperable hardware with embedded firmware, server applications and end device tablet and smartphone software applications

– Open source platform thinking for fast product deployment and interoperability

– Big data: collection, processing and analytics for intelligent real time da
ta use for applications.

Ottawa is full of people and companies with these capabilities that can help accelerate existing and new wearables startups looking to commercialize ideas, drive behavioral research and design useful devices.

But, while the opportunity to become a global leader in the wearables market is there, so is the competition. Hundreds of products, devices and startups will enter the wearables market over the next few years – competing on design, price and innovative features. Those products that are mediocre or ‘me too’ devices will fall by the wayside and only value added world-class designed products will succeed – it’s time for Ottawa to re-shine. Who’s out there that agrees with me?

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Design 1st was founded by Kevin Bailey in 1996. He has led the successful completion of hundreds of product developments in a wide variety of markets. He has developed a network of local and global contacts involved in the supply of innovative physical hardware product. His team at Design 1st manages an effective process for the creation of technical products with easy to use features, reliable materials, and overall product quality.

http://www.design1st.com

Kevin J. Bailey, P.Eng, president, Design 1st