By: Gigaom
February 12, 2013 at 13:30 PM EST
Apple patent points to platform for wearable sensors, Internet of things
According to a patent document, Apple could be working on a system for wearable and attachable sensors. The technology could be used for tracking fitness and health, as well as for monitoring items in shipping and industrial production.

Over the past few days, reports of a new Apple watch have been lighting up the Web, but a patent filing dated Tuesday suggests that the company could have even grander ambitions for wearable computing.

The filing, first reported by AppleInsider, describes technology for a “Personal items network” that can link various items together through wireless communication and sensor technology. The concept, the filing says, relates to sensing and reporting movement, as well as environmental factors, including “temperature, health functions, fitness effects, and changing conditions.” The applications could span everything from shipping and industrial production to sports, medicine, fitness and wellness.

At the heart of the system are movement monitor devices (MMD), which could include an adhesive strip, a processor, detector and communications port. They could take the shape of a soft adhesive bandage that could be worn by a person or a label that could be affixed to a package or item. Regardless, the filing says they could also include real-time clocks to generate time and date information.

In shipping, the technology could be used to track a package so that if an object breaks, for example, more information about how or when it was damaged could be uncovered for insurance purposes.

Similar to Fitbits and other quantified self-type devices, the system could also be used to generate more information about human movement in sports, fitness and training. From the filing:

“The movement of persons, on the other hand, typically involves human-powered transportation, e.g., facilitated by biking, a wheelchair, or a motorized vehicle, e.g., a car. Body movement involved in transportation is subjected to many forces, some of which are dangerous. But the prior art does not provide for this knowledge; there is no effective way, currently, to efficiently quantify human movement. In sports, physical fitness, and training, precise information about movement would assist in many ways. By way of example, how effective a hand strike is in karate or boxing is, today, only qualitatively known. Quantitative feedback would be beneficial.”

Media broadcasters and web content providers could also benefit from the technology, the document suggests. For example, during sporting events, the monitors could be affixed to the helmets of athletes to broadcast in real-time the airtime of a snowboarder or the impact of a football or soccer ball during a game.

Given the number of patents Apple files, this filing alone gives little indication into how seriously the company is pursuing these plans. But as momentum builds behind Fitbits, Nike Fuelbands and other wearable devices that let people monitor, share and analyze their activity, it makes sense that Apple would want to get in on the action. Many of the devices currently available pair with the iPhone and some apps use only the iPhone’s accelerometer, but by offering its own technology, Apple could have greater control of that data.

In addition to the MMD, the filing references event monitor devices (EMD), which could detect things like humidity, temperature and specific chemicals.


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