The future of electronics is wearable, panel says

The future of electronics is wearable.

So say experts who spoke at a meeting of the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Innovation Network yesterday in Wauwatosa.

“The application could be tremendous,” said Zhenqiang “Jack” Ma, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison. “If you can imagine something, we can do it.”

His optimism is tempered by the understanding that this kind of progress can only happen through unique leadership.

“We need someone who is like Steve Jobs to really revolutionize the smartphone,” Ma said. “Once we have that as a platform, everything can be developed, and then we can move forward.”

Ma is working on skin-mountable electronics at the university that are “as flexible as the clothes you wear.” According to him, the applications of his work are broad: health monitoring, skin-mounted usable electronics that function like smartphones, and stylish jewelry integrated with sensors and other technology.

“Anything you want, people can make it,” Ma said.

One company that is breaking into this sphere is Green Bay-based Xensr, (pronounced “sensor”) a group of athlete-engineers focusing on gathering data from extreme sports and delivering that information in meaningful ways.

The biggest drawback to current fitness devices like the Fitbit, according to Xensr CEO David Troup, is that they cannot capture certain important data to those involved in action sports.

For sports like surfing, biking and windsurfing, many measurements provide valuable insight to athletes looking to break a world record, compete with friends, or just track improvement over time.

“We turn this data into real information,” Troup said.

Things like number of laps or crashes, height of jumps, and even the amount of force applied to a certain limb can all be ascertained through the Xensr Air, a “3D GPS” that can be purchased for $199. This device is an accessory to smartphones, and can be placed onto a bike, surfboard, or any other sports gear.

“We joke that in a world of wearables, we are a mountable,” Troup said. “We don’t go on the rider, we go on their gear.”

The device is “super, super crazy small,” says Troup, but the next generation will be even smaller.

Using this device can eliminate the need for video editing completely, which can be a boon for extreme athletes wanting to share their achievements and records instantly.

“You’ll never touch a GoPro SD card with our app,” Troup said.

Troup’s company takes the competitive aspect of extreme sports to the next level by adding users’ sporting data and records to online leaderboards.

This allows the most competitive among the sporting crowd to see how they compare to others around the world, something Troup says has a lot of untapped potential.

“Athletes are total data nerds, they just don’t know it,” he said.

Xensr has offices in Portland and field testers using the product in Hawaii, but Troup insists that at the end of the day, it is a Wisconsin company.

“We are a Green Bay company. You can do tech in Wisconsin. It’s painful to do in Wisconsin, but you can do it,” Troup joked.

–By Alex Moe