10 truly wacky wearables and offbeat sensors

This year promises a variety of activity trackers and wearables that aren’t your usual Fitbit gadget, including a device that detects radiation from nuclear power plants to a smartwatch that runs on body heat -- there's even a device that uses shock therapy.

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10 offbeat trackers and wacky wearables

Are you feeling worn out by wearables? Can’t stand the thought of strapping yet another heart-rate-sensing, step-counting, sleep-tracking watch around your wrist? I feel your pain. As someone who frequently reviews activity trackers, I don’t often see bold new features in mainstream devices. But if you look closely at small startups around the globe, you’ll start to notice some cool, slightly crazy, definitely out-there devices that go far beyond counting steps. Some of the claims these device developers make will likely make your eyes roll. Nonetheless, here are 10 wacky wearables and oddball devices that may also pique your curiosity.

1 dosime
Dosime Inc.

Radiation detector: Dosime

Want to freak out your dentist? Clip a Dosime to your belt before your next dental X-ray. The $199 device is designed to measure ionizing radiation dosage in real-time, which comes from natural sources (soil, water, air) and man-made ones (nuclear power, X-ray machines). The device communicates via Bluetooth with a smartphone app. The company recommends the product for households in ‘nuclear shadow’ regions (within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant), frequent fliers, and medical professionals, among others.

2 doppel
Team Turquoise Ltd.

Mood alternator: Doppel

Feeling stressed? Lethargic? There’s a wearable for that, and it’s called Doppel. Making its U.S. debut at the 2017 CES, doppel creates “a rhythmic pulse that you feel on the inside of your wrist,” similar to a heartbeat-like vibration, according to the London-based developer. A faster rhythm will help you feel more alert; a slower one will calm you down, the company claims. You can manipulate the rhythm speeds by stroking the device (to slow down the rhythm) or applying a short, sharp tap (to speed it up). There’s a mobile app for storing your personal rhythms, which are linked to your resting heart rate. The wristband gadget is currently scheduled to ship in March. Preorders are £125.00 (about $156 U.S.).

3 sandfox

‘Swiss Army’ smartwatch: Sandfox

Also launched at the 2017 CES, Sandfox calls itself “the Swiss Army knife of smartwatches” because of all the things it can reportedly do. The Android OS-based watch features a ‘self-learning’ virtual assistant that the developer says is “smarter than Siri”; built-in GPS; and not one but two cameras—one for Skype and Facebook video calls; the other for still photos. The watch case is titanium; the crystal is Gorilla Glass. An 8GB model is available now for $650; a 16GB version is available to reserve for a $425 deposit. If that sounds pricey, consider this: The watch also comes with a pico projector; Bluetooth speaker; and Bluetooth earphones.

5 quieton

Noise-cancelling earplugs: QuietOn

Apple’s “totally wireless” AirPods are getting lots of attention. But if you just want to enjoy silence? Check out QuietOn, said to be the first earplugs that offer noise canceling and "acoustic noise attenuation." The company says it uses the same technology as the noise-canceling feature found in popular headphones, to block low- and high-frequency sounds. But with QuietOn, the goal is to give you sweet silence at a level regular earplugs can’t. The earplugs should go for up to 50 hours on a charge. As of this writing, QuietOn earplugs are $160 on Indiegogo.

7 skyn

A wearable that tells you when you’re drunk: BACtrack Skyn

In 2013, I reviewed BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer, a Bluetooth breathalyzer that you blow into to get a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading via a connected mobile app. I didn’t recommend blowing into the device in public, “unless looking like a drunk nerd is your style.” Now the same company has developed BACtrack Skyn, which can be worn on the wrist or attached to an Apple Watch band. Either way, it’s much subtler than blowing into a gadget. Skyn will continuously monitor your alcohol level “in near real-time,” measuring it from your skin, and alert you if it’s time to put down that margarita. Available this year; price not announced. Also consider Proof, a BAC-tracking wristband/app.

4 wair

An anti-pollution scarf: WAIR Active

Fashion accessory or air-pollution mask? WAIR Active aims to be both. The scarves (for men and women) feature an anti-pollution mask and active air-filtration box and are said to be an upgrade from the French startup’s previous generation of neck wraps. The air-filtration box connects via Bluetooth to a mobile app, which alerts you when and where you should wear your WAIR. If that’s not enough, alerts — including notifications that it’s time to change the air filter — are also sent directly to the scarf. WAIR scarves will be available this spring and are available for preorder from €54 to €87 (about $57 to $93 U.S.).

6 smith sunglasses

Brain-sensing eyewear: SAFILO SMITH sunglasses

Glasses are designed to help you focus visually. But an Italian eyewear company, SAFILO Group, has partnered with Interaxon, a "consumer brain-sensing technology" company, to develop glasses that promise to help users improve their mental focus. How? The initial product from this partnership will be SAFILO SMITH sunglasses, featuring sensors tucked into the frame of the glasses that measure brainwaves. The goal is to help athletes and others develop a stronger mental focus, through feedback the glasses send to a companion app. The sunglasses are due later this year (no price was available as of this writing). And if successful, the technology could be incorporated into other eyeglasses.

8 thync vibe

A ‘mini’ massage around your neck: Thync Relax

In 2015, startup Thync released a $200 triangular wearable (shown here) that sits on your forehead and sends electrical pulses to either side of your head. The goal: Boost your energy or lower your stress. The company’s next product, Relax, will be worn around the neck instead. Relax, as its name suggests, focuses on relieving stress. Wareable says the experience is like “a mini massage” similar to “having someone gently blow on the back of your neck.” You can adjust the intensity via connected mobile app. A spring release is planned. No pricing or official photos were available as of this writing.

9 paviok
Behavioral Technology Group

A shock treatment for bad habits: Pavlok

Chew your nails? Smoke? Grind your teeth? You might need some shock therapy courtesy of Pavlok, a wristband (with companion app) that delivers an electric shock from 50 to 500 volts to help you quit bad habits. Per the developer, your brain associates the unpleasant shocks with the habit you’re trying to break. Hand movement detection reportedly helps the device know if you’re biting your nails, smoking a cigarette, pulling your hair and so on. Skeptical? Me too. But maybe the company’s user testimonials on its site might persuade you. Current price: $170.

10 matrix
Arrow Electronics

A smartwatch that you power: Matrix PowerWatch

Take this, Apple Watch: A smartwatch that never needs charging because it’s powered by your body heat. Matrix PowerWatch is also an activity tracker, measuring activity level, calories burned, sleep, and such, and you can swim with it. The watch even includes a power meter that displays how much electrical energy your body is generating. As of this writing, PowerWatch and its bigger sibling PowerWatch X are in the prototype stage. You can help fund the project via Indiegogo (contributions start at $139). The watch is expected to ship in October.

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