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Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, wearing Google Glass, answers questions during a news conference in December.

Wearable gadgets push limits

Firms to give look at future in Vegas show

– Will 2014 be remembered as the year wearable computing took off?

Upstart entrepreneurs and major manufacturers such as Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony certainly hope so.

Gadgets that you snap, buckle or fasten to your body are already marketed to fitness freaks obsessed with tracking every possible metric their bodies produce. There are countless smartwatches for tech nerds who’d rather glance at their wrists to check messages than reach for their smartphones. And thousands of people are seeing the world differently with the help of the Internet-connected eyewear, Google Glass.

Even with the possibilities these devices offer today, gadget lovers can expect technology companies to stretch the wearable concept further this week in Las Vegas at the International CES event, the industry’s annual trade show.

Several companies are expected to unveil wearable devices that are easier to use, extend battery life and tap into the power of gestures, social networks and cloud computing.

The wearables wave is still in its early phases. Many of the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future –not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer.

These new gadgets are “like the first generation of the iPod,” says Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group that has hosted the trade show since 1967. “It was bulky and it wasn’t that pretty. Look what happened. It got slimmer. It got better.”

What’s driving the boom in wearable device innovation is the recent widespread availability of inexpensive sensors known as microelectromechanical systems. These are tiny components such as accelerometers and gyroscopes that, for instance, make it possible for smartphones to respond to shaking and for tablets to double as steering wheels in video games.

There are also sensors that respond to pressure, temperature and even blood sugar. Toronto-based Bionym Inc. will show off its Nymi wristband at CES. The gadget verifies a user’s identity by determining his or her unique heartbeat. The technology could one day supplant the need for passwords, car keys and wallets.

Thalmic Labs Inc., from Waterloo, Ontario, plans to show off how its MYO armband can be used as a remote control device to operate a quadricopter drone. The band responds to electricity generated in forearm muscles as well as arm motions and finger gestures.

Co-founder Stephen Lake says the MYO is more akin to a mouse or keyboard that controls activities than the latest line of smart wristbands that simply track them.

“We’ve seen this shift away from traditional computers to mobile devices,” Lake says. “Our belief is that trend will continue and we’ll merge closer with technology and computers. New computer-human interfaces are what can drive these changes.”

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