The Apple Watch tends to split people into two camps — those who desperately want it and those who just don't see the point. If you’re among the indifferent, don’t judge the desirous too harshly: Maybe one day you’ll find yourself coveting a high-tech accessory that others don’t understand. There’s even a chance we’ve identified your soon-to-be-lusted-after item below.
A personal air-conditioning unit
Don’t throw away your solar safari hat just yet: The personal air-conditioning system the Army is developing isn’t quite ready for civilian purchase. But there’s no reason to think it won’t be someday. Designed with helicopter crews in mind, the Light-Weight Environmental Control System (LWECS) is a vest that uses a battery-powered pump to circulate cool water through 110 feet of tubing, keeping the person beneath it comfortable for hours. It also keeps heart rates down and allows for more efficiency when performing grueling tasks in the hot sun.
Early adopters: Sweaty computer programmers
Target audience: Anyone venturing outside during increasingly hot summers
What it will replace: Air conditioning
A wearable exoskeleton
Designed to be worn under a soldier's regular clothes, the Soft Exosuit is a flexible pair of pants that makes walking long distances and carrying heavier loads easier on the human body. It accomplishes this with a series of sensors and a small microprocessor that monitors body position and provides assistance at the joints, helping to propel the legs forward. The Harvard researchers working on the Soft Exosuit recently received almost $3 million from DARPA to take their prototype to the next level, and they're already imagining uses for it beyond the battlefield. In particular, stroke patients and people who rely on walkers and canes would greatly benefit from walking assistance.
Early adopters: People with disabilities
Target audience: Baby-wearing parents, students with heavy backpacks
What it will replace: Back-pain medication
A jetpack for runners
With a goal of allowing any schlub off the street to run a four-minute mile, Arizona State University engineering student Jason Kerestes has begun the 4MM (four minute mile) project. The idea is to design a jetpack that propels its wearer forward with two battery-powered fans, allowing him to run faster and expend less energy doing so. The Defense Department has taken an interest in the prototype, and it’s easy to see why. If this thing ever works as it’s intended to, soldiers would be able to move faster on foot for longer periods of time.
Early adopters: Cops chasing down suspects
Target audience: Kids who dream of having a superpower
What it will replace: Slow jogging
A personal, wearable drone
Save your money on the smart watch and wait for a drone watch, which promises to be a lot more than a phone for your wrist. Nixie is the closest to realizing this dream with its wearable drone camera, which functions like an autonomous, flying selfie-stick. The next 15 years will see giant leaps in wearable drones, Adam Pruden of San Francisco design firm Frog said over the weekend at SXSW. As he told the Austin Chronicle ahead of his presentation, by 2030, we’ll be wearing drone necklaces that transform into umbrellas when they detect rain.
Early adopters: Cyberpunk comics fans
Target audience: Anyone who doesn’t mind a machine buzzing overhead
What it will replace: Camera phones, umbrellas, and other personal effects