This week saw the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, bringing together music, film, tech firms and celebrities in a patchwork of innovations, crossovers, geekery and hot air. It’s one of the few events that still feels edgy and exciting.
Many tech companies use the event to publicise new innovations and collaborations, and bask in the reflection of its cool credentials. Some of these innovations are downright wacky (such as flying cars, robot carers for dementia patients and social networking for dogs), while others are more grounded, but no less interesting. Many represent science fiction becoming science fact.
This year, much of the buzz is coming from companies marrying new technology with opportunities to advance healthcare and well-being. For instance:
- Apple’s Research Kit initiative, which collects data from health apps and wearables to provide medical researchers with big data
- ‘Gamifying’ health apps, like SoulCycle and Radius, using gameplay mechanics to encourage exercise
- Major steps towards creating a Star Trek-style tricorder device, to enable home diagnosis
- And perhaps most astonishing, a kit for DIY genetic modification at home
The excitement around healthcare tech applications is palpable, not only at SXSW but at all kinds of events and launches. 2015 is being widely tipped by experts to be the year of the wearable device, largely because of its health applications. Until recently, my own view was that wearables are at best a niche, because they offered little more than having some smartphone functions on your wrist. In other words, a solution looking for a problem.
But the sheer creativity and variety of new innovations in healthcare tech, coupled with the growing positive press coverage for wearable devices, is making me change my mind. Even if you don’t believe the hype, you can’t ignore the vast range of new apps, investments and press coverage. If the predicted massive growth in healthcare technology begins to emerge – and I think it will – it’s almost certainly going to be driven by companies you’ve not heard of yet. Scary stuff for the established tech giants, but the prognosis looks to be excellent for newcomers to the sector.