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The Cloud Gets Personal with Wearable Tech

There is a lot of talk going on about cloud computing. Contrary to the name, it has nothing to do with the fluffy white balls of moisture that float across the sky. However, this style of computing is becoming as ubiquitous and as important as the clouds that bring rain. Cloud computing, put simply, is the ability to access information anytime, anywhere. Whenever someone uses the Internet, they are participating in cloud computing. The term is an easy way to diagram the interaction between a digital device and the cables, switches, hubs and servers that allow individuals to type in their favorite URL and reach a website.

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More and more companies are moving to cloud computing. Many Apple users should be familiar with cloud computing. Apple offers customers the chance to upload photos, contacts, notes, and other important information in what is called the iCloud. According to the company's website, this allows users to access their music, calendars, documents and more from the device they're using. Apple customers can even utilize iCloud to back up their information, or to find their phone in the event it is lost.

Where's the cloud going, and who's wearing it?

Cloud computing is moving in another direction with wearable computing, which can leverage the cloud's ease of access.

Wearable technology has been around for a while, but has faltered because of low user compatibility. Video game enthusiasts may remember the Virtual Boy system, with its viewfinder-type headset. It was supposed to be the next wave of gaming, but it ended up on the scrapheap of history. Others might look back with nostalgia at calculator watches. Contemporary examples of wearable tech include Bluetooth devices, electroluminescent shirts or pedometers for athletes.

Wearable technology is growing in popularity. A study was commissioned by Rackspace, a cloud hosting firm, and conducted by the Centre for Creativity and Social Technology (CAST) at the University of London. The study showed that, while only 18 percent of consumers in the United States and United Kingdom used wearable tech, most respondents felt that it was changing their lives for the better. The individuals surveyed said that wearable tech:

  • Enhanced their personal abilities (for 87 percent of US residents and 81 percent of UK residents)
  • Raised their self confidence (54 percent of US residents and 46 percent of UK residents)
  • Helped them feel more in control of their lives (60 percent of US residents and 53 percent of UK residents)
  • Improved their health and fitness (71 percent of US residents and 63 percent of UK residents)
  • Allowed them to feel more intelligent (47 percent of all respondents)
  • Made them feel more informed (60 percent of all respondents)

In the report, Robert Scoble, the Startup Liaison Officer and Technology Evangelist at Rackspace, predicted a mainstream uptake of wearable tech such as Google Glass: "it is important to note that wearable technology and the cloud go hand in hand -- together they provide the rich data insights that help users better manage many aspects of their lives. Cloud computing is powering the wearable technology revolution. It allows the data generated by wearable devices to be captured, analysed and made readily accessible whenever users need it."

Cloud computing allows wearable technology to collect users' data while they perform their daily activities, and help them monitor their health more closely. Managing caloric intake, monitoring how many calories are burned through exercise, checking symptoms that may speak to deeper health concerns, or reading about new ways to eat better are all ways in which individuals can interact with wearable technology.

The co-director of CAST, Chris Brauer, described how this 'human cloud' of personal data may benefit the healthcare industry and patients. "With this comes countless opportunities to tap into this data; whether it's connecting with third parties to provide more tailored and personalised services or working closer with healthcare institutions to get a better understanding of their patients. We are already seeing wearable technology being used in the private sector with health insurance firms encouraging members to use wearable fitness devices to earn rewards for maintaining a healthier lifestyle. It is likely that the public sector will look to capitalise on the wearable technology trend with a view to boosting telehealth and smart city programs."

Even with these potential benefits, there is a worry about privacy when it comes to sharing some of this information. Survey respondents expressed these opinions:

  • 51 percent think privacy concerns might keep the vast majority of people from using these devices
  • 62 percent believe that wearable technology needs to be regulated
  • 20 percent feel that wearable tech should be banned completely

Depending on how legislation can help alleviate privacy concerns about sharing this information, these devices could change the way that patients interact with their doctors. Having a more equal influence on their own health may entice people to work harder on maintaining positive habits when it comes to eating and exercise. Being able to keep better track of their diet and exercise habits could help people who work with dietitians to create a health plan. These devices may also be able to transmit vital signs to nurses, who can then add them to the person's health records.

Existing examples of health tech that use cloud computing include the Nike+ Fuelband and Jawbone UP, which gather lifestyle data and offer fitness analysis. Another healthcare app uses a sensor placed on inhalers to collect data on asthma symptoms so doctors can better monitor patients' conditions.

With only 18 percent of American and UK consumers experimenting with wearable tech, there is a lot of room for growth. The way we interact with these gadgets may also change, depending on how privacy concerns are handled. Developers and consumers continue to explore how cloud computing can enhance the ability of individuals to monitor their health, empowering them to take more responsibility for their own well-being. In the coming years we can expect more cloud-powered innovations to hit the market, and that could be a good thing for the health of the world.

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.