By James Donck, Prifina
In today's rapidly evolving technology landscape, the great outdoors isn't left behind. It's fascinating how tiny, cost-effective sensors are revolutionizing outdoor gear – from backpacks and hiking boots to tents and sleeping bags. These innovations are enhancing safety, comfort, and connectivity for outdoor enthusiasts, ushering in a new era of smart adventuring.
Let’s explore some of the ways sensors are augmenting outdoor gear and the opportunities this presents for outdoor brands to deliver more value to their customers.
Smart Backpacks: A Game Changer in Load Management
Weight distribution is crucial for comfort when carrying a backpack over long distances. By embedding load cells and pressure sensors at multiple points along the shoulder straps and back panel, backpacks can now detect weight and shifts in load.
The data can provide hikers with real-time feedback when packing their bags and adjustments needed on the trail. Brands like Osprey Backpacks integrate such technologies in high-end backpacks to analyze how the bag carries weight; as a result, such new technologies can help prevent back or shoulder strain.
There’s potential to connect load data with GPS coordinates to correlate terrain changes with weight shifts. By linking load data to a mobile app, backpackers can receive tailored advice for rest stops or repacking based on their personal profiles.
Next-Gen Hiking Boots: Your Personal Trail Analyst
Injury prevention is critical for serious hikers and thru-hikers. Sensors integrated into hiking boots and insoles can unobtrusively perform gait analysis to detect imbalances or irregular walking patterns.
A variety of sensors, such as pressure sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes, enable products from companies like Digitsole and Underfoot Athletics to provide insights into aspects like weight distribution across the feet, the impact of varied terrains, the development of micro-fractures, and overall fatigue levels during a hike.
When sensor data is made actionable through mobile alerts and post-hike analysis, it allows hikers to optimize insoles, adjust techniques, take timely breaks, and aid recovery. This helps prevent painful, activity-limiting injuries in the wilderness. Brands that tap into sensor-enabled hiking shoes and boots have the opportunity to build customer trust and loyalty.
The Rise of Smart Tents: More Than Just Shelter
Pitching tents in unpredictable outdoor conditions presents challenges regarding comfort and safety. Environmental sensors, such as occupancy, motion, light, pressure, and temperature sensors, embedded in tents can help address many of these issues.
Occupancy sensors enable automatic adjustments to lighting, heating, ventilation, etc., based on tent usage patterns. Passive infrared (PIR) motion sensors serve as security systems, sending alerts when unexpected motion is detected around the tents.
Smart Wool, an outdoor apparel brand, already offers a smart tent equipped with occupancy, temperature, and light sensors. These sensors allow for the automatic opening and closing of windows, turning interior lighting on or off, and even automatically starting a morning coffee maker!
Location-tracking sensors in tents are also highly valuable, assisting campers in finding their way back after a day's adventures. As consumer IoT continues to gain traction, purpose-built shelters are increasingly becoming equipped to keep outdoor enthusiasts secure and comfortable.
Personalization: The Frontier of Outdoor Gear
Sensors integrated into backpacks, footwear, and shelters provide invaluable usage data, and combining this with biometric inputs measured via smartwatches or fitness trackers offers more personalized experiences.
Here are some compelling use cases:
Optimizing Gear Settings with Health Correlations
Rather than relying on generic occupancy thresholds for HVAC adjustments in smart tents, your body temperature, captured by your fitness band, can trigger highly customized heating or cooling tailored to your specific needs and comfort levels.
Analyzing gait abnormalities from hiking boot sensors, along with stress and fatigue levels from your watch, can determine whether terrain changes or physiological exhaustion are causing these anomalies. This enables selective course corrections.
Implementing such closed-loop systems requires ecosystem integration, but the value generated for users is immense.
Location History Enhances Safety Features
Your smart backpack, knowing that taking the northern trail in Yosemite previously elevated your heart rate due to stress, now can use this data, synced from your Apple Watch, for real-time guidance. It can automatically suggest less intense routes and rest stops by cross-referencing sensor data with your physiological history and biome profiles.
Similarly, a history of respiratory issues or heart conditions can provide context for any irregularities in vitals detected via wearables while on remote trails. This could automatically activate emergency contacts or guide first responders more quickly, potentially saving lives.
Fueling Discovery with User-Specific Insights
Analyzing multi-parameter data history across gear sensors and wearables enables ultra-personalized recommendations for outdoor activities suited to your biomechanical and physiological traits.
Platforms like OutdoorVoices already provide assessments that match user profiles with ideal outdoor activities. In the future, expect detailed sensor data streams to offer inputs for highly customized assessments on a larger scale.
Privacy and Consent: The Backbone of Smart Gear
While the depth of insights unlockable via sensor and wearables fusion is undoubtedly powerful, users must trust brands with personal data access. Consent flows and privacy-preserving data handling is thus mandatory before orchestrating multiple data streams seamlessly.
Looking Ahead: The Boundless Potential of Sensor-Integrated Gear
The future looks bright for sensor technology in outdoor gear. Humidity sensors in backpacks could prevent mold, while smart sleeping bags might adjust insulation based on the occupant's needs. As these technologies become more affordable, brands have a unique opportunity to create extraordinary experiences for their customers, deepening connections and distinguishing themselves in a competitive market.
In a world where smartphones have replaced maps, cameras, and flashlights, it’s not a stretch to envision a future where outdoor gear is equally smart. The question for brands now is whether to lead this revolution or play catch-up. The future of outdoor adventuring is smart – and it's already here.
“Whoever wins the personal agent, that’s [going to be] the big thing. Because you will never go to a search site again, you’ll never go to Amazon again” - Bill Gates
By dr. Paul Jurcys
In the very near future, each of us will our personal AI assistants for every aspect of our lives. Each of us will have our personal AI doctor, personal AI coach, personal AI nutritionist, or digital assistant that will help us organize our calendars, schedule events, and purchase items on our behalf.
Such AI-powered assistants will augment our abilities and help get rid of time-consuming tasks, and focus on things that matter most.
Buzz In the Market
In the past few months, there has been quite a bit of excitement about the possibility of building truly personal AI:
A massive investment in InflectionAI could be seen as an attempt to stave off any potential competition and secure dominance in this rapidly emerging domain.
Shortage of Experts
Today, we are unfortunately facing a remarkable shortage of experts. With over 8 billion people on Earth, there are a mere 10 million doctors. Teachers struggle to spend enough time on direct interactions with every student in the class.
On a personal level, we often lack someone equally knowledgeable or passionate about our favorite topics. In times of grief, suffering, and emotional pain, the desire for a close companion to provide advice and understanding becomes ever more acute.
This is where the transformative power of AI comes in. In the near future, countless individuals, potentially everyone, will be able to augment their personal capabilities with our own personal AI assistants.
The trajectory toward universal access to intelligence is clearly mapped out: we can expect that any person with access to the internet and a hand-held device will have access to the same expert advice from a doctor, an educator, or any other specialist, all through their personal AI.
2 Ways to Build Personal AI
As technology continues to leap forward at ever-increasing speed, personal AI assistants are evolving to become more sophisticated and versatile.
There are two paths of bringing AI superpowers to humans:
A top-down approach: after the release of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools, we are witnessing an influx of various personal AI assistants that are supposed to hello us find information, summarize text, or generate images.
The top-down approach is rooted in creating software applications - personal AI assistants - that are marketed as tools to help us solve various daily tasks and assignments or offer us a companion, a buddy that is available 24/7. Think of InflectionAI’s Pi, Midjourney, Dalle, and countless others.
However, most of our essential tasks are rooted in the physical world: we need to eat, sleep, and and go to the bathroom. As cheap sensors are being integrated in our wearable devices and environments around us, individuals have tools and ability to track personal biological clock - we start living quantified lives. If you are a runner, you probably have a fitness tracker to measure your running distance and heart rate, as well as recovery rate. Also, our cars track hundreds of data points (e.g., acceleration, braking, engine performance, and outside factors).
Scientists around the world are building assistive robots to help us to recover from injuries or learn important skills.
These sensor-derived data sets also lead to the development of AI-powered applications that help optimize different aspects of our lives. This sensor-data-AI path resembles a bottom-up approach to building personal AI.
Data Eats the World, But How to Access Data?
AI assistants such as ChatGPT, or PI, are amazing in answering our general questions and performing general tasks. However, if you ask anything personal, something related to yourself, they stumble. Let’s see what responses we get to the question “How did I sleep last night?”:
How come!? Isn’t it odd that if you wear Apple watches that track our activity, sleep and process various biometric data, Siri - an AI assistant built by Apple for Apple’s products - is not able to answer such a simple question?!
Eventually, every company building personal AI will face the challenge of connecting the personal AI to the user’s own data.
To build a truly personal AI, we need not only general knowledge from publicly available sources and research repositories, we also need to bring this general, publicly available knowledge and correlate it with the specific data of each individual. In other words, to build a truly personal AI, Ai assistant must be able to access to the user’s personal data. Otherwise, the AI assistant will be a generalist, not a personal:
This is where Prifina’s human-centric approach to data comes into play: with Prifina’s user-held data model, it is possible to bring those personal AI assistants to each individual and run those personal AI assistants “on top of” each user’s own data, privately.
In Prifina’s personal data ecosystem, each individual user connects their data from personal data sources to their own data “vault”, where data is collected and unified. AI-powered apps and assistants run in each individual users’ data environment. Each individual user’s data is private by default.
A human-centric approach to data opens vast opportunities for the use of personal data: not only personal AI assistants can answer the question about last night’s sleep, but ML and LLMs can offer new possibilities for personalization and automation of tasks and generate new value for individuals.
So how many personal AI assistants can there be? And how many AI assistants can one person handle?
As humans, we have limited time and a limited attention span. Our guess is that each of us will be really interacting with 5, 7 or 10 digital agents (similar to a manager at a corporation who has 7-10 directly responding employees).
The image below illustrates the universe of digital assistants in the human-centric environment:
These digital agents will also vary in their expertise, capabilities, and proximity to the individual human being. It is likely, that people will have their own AI doctors, AI coaches, and AI-powered shopping assistants who will help to achieve specialized tasks.
Some of them will operate in the “inner orbit” - on top of the user’s own data, privately, while other AI assistants will be generalists, and will not have access to user’s own data.
In this multi-agent environment, one possible scenario is that each individual will have one primary and preferred assistant - we can call it “my personal AI.” But how will those digital agents and assistants interact with one another? What technological infrastructure is needed to make them talk to one another?
Assume you feel unwell and suffer from an upset stomach, which personal AI assistant do you go first? You might go to your “own private AI” and ask “Why do I feel pain in my stomach”? Your own personal AI may refer you to your personal AI doctor.
In this kind of scenario, it will be important to make sure that the initial inquiry made by you to your own personal AI is automatically transmitted to other agents. This will ensure that your AI doctor will already know your concern and will be able to continue the conversation.
Such communication between AI-powered agents can only be possible in the human-centric data environment, where all the AI experts run on the user’s side. Sharing sensitive data outside of the user’s own personal data environment is not optimal. In fact, such communication between agents would be impossible in the old, enterprise-centric data ecosystem where data is locked in separate silos.
As we stand on the entrance gates to the age of AI, the future seems quite exciting: how will our lives change when each of us will be able to tap into the potential of our Personal AI? The integration of Personal AI agents into our daily lives is not a question of if, but when and how.
To bring this vision into reality, a shift in thinking is required. We need to embrace a human-centric data paradigm where our Private AI is operating on our side, on our own data, privately.
At Prifina we are building an infrastructure to empower each individual with such “steamengines of the mind”; we want to empower developers to build Personal AI applications for people to augment each individual’s creative potential. Join us!