FitBit and Beyond: Conference peers into the future of ‘wearables’

Jayson Parker
Friday, November 14, 2014 - 8:09am
Blake Eligh

U of T Mississauga’s Institute for Management & Innovation and Life Sciences Ontario will cohost a symposium on Wireless & Wearable Health Tech on November 18 in the Innovation Complex Rotunda. 

Organized by Master of Biotechnology lecturer Jayson Parker, the conference brings together public and private sector companies to explore the burgeoning field of wearable health technology. About 175 attendees are expected to attend the conference.

One of the symposium highlights is a presentation by Health Canada senior regulatory officer Colin Foster on the federal regulations for wearable medical devices. Regulation of health and medical devices is a common hang up for developers, Parker says. “When people talk about ‘wearables,’ they talk about flashy fitness devices,” he says. But the fitness market is increasingly crowded, and manufacturers are missing out on big opportunities in the health sector to create devices that support drug or therapy programs and more.

 “The uncertainty over regulations discourages entrepreneurs who could move into this arena,” Parker says. “Blue chip companies are just as confused. It can be very daunting. We’re looking to clarify that.”

The conference will also delve into the issues and opportunities around privacy and big data, with a keynote address by former provincial information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian. Parker predicts that the next decade will see more people using wearable devices as accessories to support drug or other health therapies. “When wearables take off, it will mean improved health care, new job opportunities, and increased need for scientists who are comfortable analyzing data in a health context,” Parker says. “This is niche area that’s set to grow, and a whole new window for startup companies. Regulations and data privacy can impact costs, design and time to market. We need better understanding of the privacy issues associated with these devices.”

Parker, who owns a Google Glass device, says he doesn’t use other wearable health tech devices. “The wearable technology I want to see doesn’t exist yet,” he says, adding that too many devices have a limited life because they are too cumbersome or time consuming to use. His dream device? “I want to see something that effortlessly tracks food consumption.” Parker is currently leading a cross-functional team at UTM, and involved with two engineering teams on the St. George campus to develop something along those lines.

Following the conference, Parker and researcher Andreane Tyndorf hope to publish a position paper through an open access technology journal. “This will be the first paper to really synthesize the regulatory framework and the issues ahead for this technology,” Parker says. “Right now, that kind of information is only accessible to specialists. Young entrepreneurs are looking to pursue new technology in the wearable device space. They’re looking for information they can easily access.”

“It’s a new space,” says Parker. “We’re helping to frame and define the issues.”