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SXSW: Wearable tech not wearing out its welcome

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With the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival rapidly winding to a close this weekend, the buzz around new wearable technology has never been more palpable. From handbags that can charge your smartphone, to devices that can identify you based on the rhythm of your heartbeat, the future of wearable tech has wholly dominated this year’s SXSW.

Since the conclusion of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, the world of wearables has witnessed some of the most important and impactful announcements in the product category’s young history.

Samsung, for example, enthralled the mobile masses with the fresh unveiling of the Tizen OS-powered Galaxy Gear 2, awakening the world of wearables to a new beginning in smartwatch sophistication by filling the tremendous void in wearable solutions for sleeplessness.

From monitoring fitness activity and calorie intake, to recording sleep patterns and even blood pressure, countless leading wearable devices are designed to track. But none – until now – could also treat the underlying problems that continue to imperil the health and wellness of millions.

Sleep Genius, a scientifically advanced sleep program developed by top researchers in the fields of neuroscience, sleep, and music, will be integrated with the new Gear 2, set for release in April.

“Integrating Sleep Genius into the new Samsung Gear 2 not only raises the bar for wearable tech, it also reflects the company’s commitment to giving consumers what they truly need – a better night’s sleep through safe and effective technology that only Sleep Genius can deliver,” says Colin House, CEO of Sleep Genius.

All told, consumers simply can’t get enough of cutting-edge wearables, as evidenced by the interest surrounding the 2014 SXSW Accelerator competition where startups show off their products to an audience of technology experts as well as venture capitalists and members of the media.

One of the first devices recognized during this week's showcase was called Nymi – a device that uses a person’s unique cardiac rhythm to confirm their identity. It’s being developed by a company called Bionym from Toronto. “Identity is hard,” the presenter said, but “what if you could make identity easy?” Just like a fingerprint, your heartbeat is always with you. According to Bionym, the company has already received thousands of preorders for their device which will cost $99 at retail but was $79 preorder at the festival.

Another device demoed would allow people using Google Glass to take a picture of the clothes someone was wearing and then instantly shop for those clothing items online. Using image recognition, the app will find similar items and then fashion stylists will give the user three “best matches” to choose from. “How cool is that?” the presenter said (even as one of the judges of the competition pointed out, however, it does require you to take photos of strangers).

Hyping itself as “MIT engineering meets Italian design,” lifestyle brand John Lou was on hand with its new handbag that will let you charge your smartphone or tablet and, when opened, light up from inside. The handbag uses what they call “MIT fuel cell technology” and, from what the manufacturer reports, will be able to charge a smartphone up to 14 times before its own battery needs to be recharged.

One of the judges was quick to question why a woman would want a potentially pricey handbag ($1,592 retail) like this one when they could get a more well-known brand for the same price (or less) and simply charge their phone the usual way. Nonetheless, higher prices often come with innovation. And that handbag was certainly more innovative than most.

Then there was the Kiwi From Kiwi Wearable Technologies, another Toronto startup. An all-purpose tracking device, it contains motion sensors as well as temperature and air pressure sensors and, interestingly enough, supposedly was developed by two people at a “hackathon.” It also has a microphone, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth abilities and is already available for preorder at $125.

So with these innovators and others battling it out for top honors last night, who ultimately took home bragging rights in the category of Wearables? The winner was Skully Helmets, which is pioneering augmented reality solutions for the head protection industry.

Founded last year in Silicon Valley, the company says, Skully’s human-centered engineering approach has led to the Skully AR-1, the world’s first fully integrated augmented reality motorcycle helmet.

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