By Elizabeth LeeJanuary 08, 2020 02:58 AM

LAS VEGAS – Wearable devices no longer just count steps. From startups to long established brands, companies are now developing wearables that can help improve one’s health, and prevent and predict problems before they occur.

Technology in wearable devices is a growing category at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Training the brain

French startup Urgotech has developed URGOnight, a wearable headband and app to help with sleep.  

“Basically, your brain emits brain waves all the time, and some of those waves are clinically proven to be linked to your sleep quality,” said Guirec Le Lous, president of Urgotech.

Wearing the headband with electrodes inside for 20 minutes, users can train the brain to emit sleep-inducing brain waves by playing a game on the mobile app. Jellyfish float on the screen. By focusing on the jellyfish, users can make them disappear and get points when the right brain waves are produced.

Le Lous said this kind of feedback, also known as neurofeedback, can teach a person to produce sleep-inducing brain waves. He said a user will start sleeping better after 15 sessions. The $500 device will be available in the U.S. in June.

Another brain-training wearable are Narbis smartglasses that attempt to improve focus and attention.

“With technology, we’re finding that people are reducing their ability to pay attention over long periods of time,” said Devon Greco, CEO and founder of Narbis.  

The smartglasses use algorithms adopted from NASA, with the original purpose of monitoring the attention of pilots as they fly a flight simulator or a plane, Greco said.

The Narbis glasses have three sensors — one behind each ear, and one on top of the head — that measure the electrical activity coming from the brain. When a user is focused on a task such as homework, the glasses are clear. As the brain gets distracted, the lenses on the glasses darken and clear up again when the glasses sense the brain paying more attention. Training the brain for 30 minutes, several times a week, also uses the concept of positive and negative reinforcement of neurofeedback.

“The brain will naturally want to see light. So, light is a natural reward and dark is a penalty. And so, the brain just kind of learns through trial and error what is good and what is bad,” explained Greco, who said clinical studies of a dozen people have found that after 20 sessions, users experienced an improvement in attention.

Greco said the ideal age for the smartglasses is between six to 17 years old. The company plans to begin shipping the $590 Narbis glasses in March.

Watch-type wearables

Many wearable devices showcased at CES look like watches but can do much more.  

They include IEVA’s 500 euro smartwatch, available later this year. The Time-C monitors the user’s environment, including temperature, humidity, sun exposure, noise and pollution. Linked to an app, it provides personalized beauty creams based on the environment.

The ScanWatch from the French company Withings monitors the user’s heart rate and can detect an irregular heartbeat. Thesmart watch can also sense sleep apnea.

“It can detect the saturation of oxygen in your blood, and detect the drops during your night,” explained Victoria Fabre, the company’s U.S. marketing manager.

Starting at $249, ScanWatch will be available in the U.S. and Europe later this year, with the possibility of expanding to the Asia market.

Omron, maker of  blood pressure monitors, has developed a wearable device, the Heart Guide, which looks like a watch. The band around the wrist can inflate and deflate, similar to how a traditional blood pressure monitor works around the arm. The monitor requires the user to raise the wrist next to the heart, and is convenient for use throughout the day.

“We really wanted people to be able to go out and take their blood pressure at work, visiting friends and family. So, we just want to make sure that you can take it (blood pressure) anytime, anywhere,” said Jeff Ray, Omron’s executive director of product strategy.

The device also monitors activity level, steps, calories, distance, and tracks sleep.  With a corresponding app, it can send a report of a user’s vitals to the doctor by email.

Wearable for the young and old

Babies can get a wearable on their diaper. Launched at CES for U.S. residents is Lumi by Pampers. The $349 baby-monitoring system includes a sensor, camera and app and two packs of diapers.  The sensor attaches to a diaper with Velcro and tracks the baby’s sleep.

“High motion is awake, slow motion is asleep,” said Mandy Treeby, who leads product development and communications for Lumi by Pampers.

The reusable sensor also detects a wet diaper when the wetness indicator strip on the Pampers diaper changes color. The wearable device connects to an app or the camera and sends data to the cloud so parents and caregivers can get real-time information about the baby’s routine. The sensor lasts for three months and is $49 to replace.

For the elderly, CarePredict has a wearable that can help predict potential health problems aimed at seniors who live in their own homes.

Founder Satish Movva said he built the company because of his fiercely independent aging parents.

“They had a lot of health issues that caused a lot of unpredictability in my life, because I never knew what was going to happen,” Movva said.

The CarePredict device is worn around the wrist of the user’s dominant arm. With machine-learning and artificial intelligence, the device learns its user’s unique gestures and behaviors over the course of two weeks.

“It can track all of the gestures of the dominant arm,” Movva said. “It knows when they’re lifting a fork to the mouth or a chopstick to the mouth. It knows when they’re drinking, when they’re brushing teeth, when they’re brushing hair. And it knows where they are in the home.”

He added,  “Anytime there’s a decline or a deviation in these activities and behaviors, it usually precedes a health issue. So for example, somebody going into depression will stop taking a bath, will stop brushing their hair, will stay away from bright lights and sunlight, will stay in their own room.”

When a behavior changes, the device will notify loved ones through a mobile app, which can give adult children peace of mind.

Available in group homes since 2017, the $449 device is now available for individual home use with a battery that can be changed without having to take off the device.