The Wilderness PDA of the Future

Reading Alan Dixon’s Suunto X9i GPS watch review at Backpacking Light gives me cause to reflect on how far consumer electronics have advanced in recent years.

What really strikes me is the extent to which small consumer electronic devices are multi-functional.

My cellular phone not only lets me call people, but allows me to communicate across Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks. It live synchronizes my entire hosted Exchange server mailbox (+ contacts, to-do’s, notes, calendar, and corporate folders). It has a built in camera where I can capture stills or video. I can access a real image of my desktop PC. I can record audio on it. It has a slide out keyboard, touch type keyboard, and cursive writing transcriber.

It can do a lot.

And so can the Suunto X9i. It’s a GPS, altimeter, compass, watch, timer, etc. And it interacts with PC mapping software.

I use a Suunto T6 in my training. It collects heart rate, respiration rate, altitude, speed, and distance data and correlates them all on a PC back home, so you can analyze your training in terms of meaningful physiological and environmental parameters.

So what can we expect in the future?

A single device that blends all environmental and physiological parameters.

One that not only contains the common functions we are used to, such as GPS, compass, altimeter, and time, but provides physiological feedback from sensors integrated in clothing. It will monitor your heart and respiration rates, skin temperature, hydration level, blood glucose level, and more. Bottom line: it will gather environmental and physiological data, process it, and give you live feedback to increase your performance in the field.

Some may hope that it has a sultry woman’s voice processor in it: “Time to eat a packet of Gu, big boy…”

It will also be integrated with a satellite communications device that will allow you to communicate by voice, mail, or video. It will allow you to be remote monitored so your trainer, physician, wife, or mom can see exactly how – or God forbid, what – you are doing. Hopefully it will have a ringer off feature you can employ while you’re spraying mace into a grizzly bear charge.

Then, the real fun will start when we figure out how to fool our audience into thinking we’re actually exercising when we’re really kicking back on the beach of a mountain lake taking a nap.

“So, honey, how was you’re trek?”

“Oh, man, it was HARD! I’m completely wiped out and need a few days to–“

“Oh, that’s too bad. Here, sit back in the easy chair while we discuss your caloric burn profile and GPS track…”