Real Time Communications Featured Article

Wearables Slide Toward Enterprise, WebRTC

January 16, 2015

Wearable technology -- the ultimate in mobile until we get brain implants for net access -- have been typically associated with fitness and tech geek fashion, but CES back in 2013 hinted at a number of different directions bringing it into the enterprise and WebRTC.  Some ideas are promising, others sci-fi and bordering on intrusive, depending on how they are implemented.

Any discussion about wearable tech has to start with fitness and its companion, e-health.  There are wristbands galore that will record heart rate and steps, with companies are now starting to blend in optical and electrical sensors to capture respiration rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels.  Fitness wearables are pushing the leading edge in R&D, while the traditional medical establishment is trailing behind in the ability to collect, store, and aggregate "Big Data" from wearable tech into computer models.

Already bioinformatics and computational health companies such as LifeQ are discussing the ability to take wearable data and be able to predict or catch a heart attack when it starts.  Imagine being able to trigger an immediate health alert using a monitoring wearable wristband, connecting an individual to an e-health ER center for a WebRTC video consultation to confirm the emergency and dispatching medical personnel within tens of seconds.    Future wearable devices could include a video camera, providing more ready access via WebRTC voice and video in a variety of circumstances than a big screen smartphone.

Broad application of e-health wearable devices opens up doors for enterprises to save on health care costs and insurance agencies to offer discounts for people who are either healthy or at-risk individuals embarking on health improvement plans.  The trick is to offer incentives for use of wearable devices, rather than mandate or use them in such a way as to intrude upon an employee outside of normal work hours. 

Real-time communications offers the ability to provide a comprehensive solution for employee health improvement with a combination of wearable data and virtual consultation services, with automated/scripted advice coming via email and more interactive discussions occurring via IM, voice, and/or video.

More dynamic usage of wearable tech beyond the fitness/health use case was suggested by Plantronics and hinted at by other firms.   Plantronics introduced its latest wearable prototype, Wearable Concept2 (WC2), at the same time AT&T conducted its annual Developer's conference.   WC2 incorporates significant enhancements to a stock Plantronics headset, including motion sensors, magnetic compass, and an NXP A700x secure authentication microcontroller.

One demonstration integrated WC2 with a robot controller to enable hands-free remote multi-media collaboration for things such as telemedicine, distance learning, and unified communication.  WC2, worn like a traditional headset on the ear, provided pointing and tracking information to a camera, enabling automatic camera adjustment  during a WebRTC video session, even if the person gets up and walks around the room.  Wearable wristbands could provide a similar experience according to other manufacturers, providing localized input and sourcing for regular and 3D audio, unique information about who is speaking during a conference call, and enabling a "tap" and "vibrate functions on the device to signal a moderator that someone wants to speak in real time or conduct an off-line communication outside the live conference call.  Blending in all of these factors promises to take conferencing to the next level with WebRTC as the open framework to insert new technologies.

Incorporating authentication security into wearables is something that will provide benefits both in the virtual and physical security of the corporation. Having a way to authenticate and catalog participants in a WebRTC audio or video conference can be used for simple attendance to a hardened "white list/black list" for more sensitive discussions.  If Bob left his wearable at home, it may not look so good if he can't make it into the private WebRTC discussion without the help of a group moderator to give him a one-time pass.

Physical security as an area just being explored. A wearable can replace metal and card keys along with key code sequences that people are hard pressed to remember when they've been changed. A couple of generations down the road, a wearable may have built-in biometric sensors. Using iris scan, finger print, heart rhythm and other biometrics, a user will first have to "unlock" the authentication codes in his own wearable before building and network security recognizes him. 

It's also easy to see where a wearable automatically shifts call forwarding from "away" to "office," based upon location and software intelligence, so a user never has to remember flipping a switch or toggling it via app.

One thing is clear: Wearables are going to start entering the enterprise and unified communications, starting as mobile devices/adjuncts to smart phones and tablets and then gaining new and unique capabilities as developers gain experience with it and WebRTC.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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