Intel’s Dan Eisenhardt on the future of wearable interfaces

The founder of athletic wearables firm Recon Instruments on how ubiquitous mobile technology needs to address distraction

Dan Eisenhardt

Dan Eisenhardt, founder of Recon Instruments and now general manager of Intel’s New Devices Group. (Recon Instruments)

Earlier this year, Danish-born Dan Eisenhardt sold his Vancouver-based smart glasses and goggles company Recon Instruments to Intel Corp. for a reported $175 million. But that was far from the end of the story. Now general manager of Intel’s New Devices Group, Eisenhardt and his Canadian team continue to lead the development of new wearable technology. He spoke to Canadian Business in advance of a TEDx presentation he’ll be giving on Nov. 14.

CB: Can you give us a preview of your TEDx talk?

Dan Eisenhardt: The overall theme this year for TEDx Vancouver is around the perceptions and realities of personal identification—who we are, where we’re going—and within that theme my talk is honing in on the role of vanity in technology adoption, specifically wearables. That’s my world at Recon Instruments. We launched the first smart glasses for consumers in 2010 and we ended up being purchased by Intel. But it’s a really provocative thing because most people know about Google Glass and what happened with that. Everybody’s got an opinion. The journey I’m going to take the audience to is making them realize that there are many situations in life where we are making decisions that are not necessarily based on logic and on the actual benefit that we could get from adopting this technology. It’s really relative and circumstantial how we end up adopting technology.

The conference blurb said you would talk about the next generation of wearables and how they would transform our lives. Can you tell me a little about that?

What I believe is that we’re entering a stage in the very near future where we’ve got 50 billion devices, things, carrying data, all connected. Imagine us with the interfaces that we have, the pocket interfaces as I call them. They’re already inconvenient and we’re only using them for a fraction of the information that they will have in the future. We’re already at risk of losing our humanity just with the status quo because we’re constantly distracted, because we have to look at our phones 100 times a day. That’s a problem, and there’s pressure everywhere in that there’s just more and more data. Yes, we can make it smarter and more curated but it’s still going to be a lot more data. Interfaces are just not harmonious with our lifestyles, which are more dynamic, more on the move. We desperately need a new interface.

Do you as a business person view vanity as a fact of life that you have to work around or are you arguing for looking at wearable technology in a different way?

I’m definitely not trying to solve vanity. It’s a basic human trait and it’s good we have it. What I’m trying to say is that vanity is relative. Vanity is not an absolute. It depends on the context—how it’s framed—and it depends on the attitude of our peers. The same thing can be, ‘Hey, this is ugly. I’m not going to wear it’ in one context and in another context you’ll have no problem using it. The persona will change an actor’s mask. We wear a different costume depending on the character we want to play. Therefore it’s not just about making things smaller and better looking. It’s understanding the psychology behind this, from both sides.

The tech industry, we drive the consumer adoption into verticals instead of saying, ‘Where would it make sense to be used first?’ And then from the consumer side, the open-mindedness is what I’ll be finishing off with. Things are sometimes accepted just because of the value they bring in certain situations. Once you hit that critical mass, everybody jumps on board. And then it’s normal. It’s a dialogue. I’m not coming out with a solution or a premonition of the future, what it’s going to look like, except that we’re going to have a ton of data and we have to solve this problem. And we’ve had big changes we’ve had to undergo in history to adapt to changed conditions and we’ve overcome them.

What has it been like working within Intel’s New Devices Group?

Intel’s new CEO [Brian Krzanich] has been very vocal about building the wearables category. They’ve been investing heavily in it and really driving it. It’s exhilarating to be part of that. There’s really an inflection point now in the technology space. Wearables and the internet of things, the connected world—we’re not even at the beginning of that. I don’t think people fathom how much data is being generated and will be generated going forward. There’s a human being somewhere who has to benefit from that, but they’re going to need an interface. If you don’t solve that, we’re going to be very stressed out in our daily lives.