For the first time, a wireless heart rate sensor that uses near field communication (NFC) technology, let you link it with your phone.
Name your range — anywhere from 20 centimeters to the centimeter — and take your heart rate into the future. That’s exactly what smart heart rate monitors are working toward.
Silicon Labs, a leader in high-performance, low-power embedded chips, announced its latest breakthrough yesterday, a wireless device that monitors heart rate on the wearer’s clothing, and even broadcasts an unbroken heart beat for 30 seconds, an almost unheard of feat. According to the company, this is the first time that any wireless heart rate sensor, let alone one that works with physical contact, has been launched.
The product is built by a Silicon Labs team that has been working on near field communication (NFC) technology, an attractive new way to link objects, people and devices across vast distances. While Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (SSNLF) have been hinting at a move into wearable devices, most other consumer electronics firms are slow to catch on.
In the case of the new sensor, named ST1+ because it combines the silicon and the tech giant’s ATAP research lab, the company’s engineers are more focused on medical applications than consumer goods. That’s in part because well over half of wearables are being sold in the health care industry. But it’s also because there’s still so much to be done. From identifying a blood glucose reading to measuring the forces that are required to prepare or support a baby’s spine, there are so many medical situations that need new sensing and tracking technologies.
Much more telling is how China’s strategy for wearable technology is shaping up. This week, for instance, Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba (BABA) launched a wearable smart home unit, Hema. That combines its own KadoWatch monitoring gizmo, with both traditional home appliances and connected home objects, including everything from a Nest thermostat to the air conditioner. Given that Alibaba owns the world’s largest web portal, that move suggests an extension of the company’s retail business into developing “smart” houses. (Alibaba reportedly hopes to beat Amazon (AMZN) to the punch, with plans to launch a pilot program to sell smart objects in 2019.)
That’s in part because Chinese cash and tech are uniquely situated to serve the emerging smart home market. There’s so much money to be made from that space, and so many new technologies to be invented. The opportunity’s so huge, as company after company has learned: In the wake of the smart-home and security device bubble, tech companies have had a hard time delivering on Wall Street’s unrealistic expectations.
Silicon Labs is betting, rightly, that far more investment will follow, even if the technology is farther away than many people think. But where the question, “Can Apple make wearables?,” is simple to answer, the less clear “Can Silicon Labs do it?” still looms.