The wonderful world of wearables

Chris Hartshorn is the Chief Technology Officer of Callaghan Innovation, and a judge of this year’s C-Prize. He talked to us about the wonderful world of wearables, the role that Callaghan Innovation is playing in it, and what he sees coming in the near future.

When I think about the impact that wearables could have on life in New Zealand, the first word that comes to mind is ‘remarkable’. The three themes for this year’s C-Prize are diverse and distinct, but each one could benefit from innovation, and all three are in tremendous need of solutions that wearables can offer.

For example, in the workplace, wearables could bring not only safer environments but greater efficiencies. The sport and leisure sector has long been an early adopter of innovative ideas, and it’s leading the way on wearables. And I think the wellness side is probably the most interesting, partly because of how pervasive the 'quantified self' aspect of health and wellness will become in consumer decision-making. But in addition to that, data from wearables can be delivered back to our primary physicians, which will fundamentally alter healthcare. When you think about ageing populations and the demand for hospital beds, these devices could make entire economies more sustainable – and save lives.

So, given the breadth of applications awaiting wearable solutions, I can’t even begin to predict what the entrants will come up with. I’m a geek, so I’m excited by the tech and the merging of ideas. But I’m also passionate about the people behind the tech and of the community that the C-Prize will help to build.

That’s why Callaghan Innovation is the best possible entity to be leading this project. We are a vital connector in New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem. The breadth of technology confidence, of business model competence, and the number of connections across sectors that are needed to bring a device to life … they tick all the boxes of why Callaghan was founded in the first place.

Connecting technology to business, and doing it through partnerships, fits perfectly with the vision of the C-Prize. The competition is designed to be convergence-driven, because that's the reality of where a lot of innovation opportunities are emerging today. Most game-changing ideas no longer come from new inventions, but from the convergence of vastly different capabilities, different ideas, and different depths of competence.

That’s is why I am urging this year’s entrants to be intellectually promiscuous – talk to a lot of people, engage with them, and get them excited about what you're doing. And then partner with the selection of people whose experience provides the most useful insight, and you’ll be left with a solid team.

Bringing people together is a huge motivator for Callaghan Innovation too. Right now, the wearables market in NZ is a loose system of people doing incredibly interesting things. We’ve got a vibrant MedTech space and Virtual Reality community but in other areas, we’re lacking. One of the roles of this year’s C-Prize is to help with aggregation – of both activity and talent – so that there is a community that allows people to build on each others’ ideas.

The C-Prize story doesn’t end at the awards night in December. While the winners will be given a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we certainly won’t abandon those teams that don’t make it to the finals! A thriving, competitive wearables sector will benefit all New Zealanders, so we’ll do what we can to bring lots of these ideas to life.

The future of wearable technologies is still largely undefined – nebulous, even. I believe that our entrepreneurial approach, innate curiosity, technical nous, and community spirit make New Zealand uniquely qualified to shape it, to build it, and to lead it. Will you play your part?

Chris Hartshorn is the Chief Technology Officer of Callaghan Innovation, and a judge of this year’s C-Prize.