Wearable technology, wearables, fashionable technology, wearable devices, tech togs or fashion electronics are clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies.
The calculator watch, introduced in the 1980s, was one original piece of widespread worn electronics and more recently we are seeing a rapid expansion in the field of wearable health devices.
Many of these devices can help users lead healthier and more productive lives. Global revenue estimates for wearable electronic devices for fitness and personal health and wellness were $1.6 billion in 2013, and will ramp up to an estimated $5 billion in 2016, according to Gartner Research.
Wearable technology weaves technology into the everyday life impacting the way we live, work and socialize.
Ilya Fridman designed a Bluetooth headset into a pair of earrings with a hidden microphone. The Spy TIE includes a color video camera and USB Heating Gloves keep hands warm when plugged in.
Twitter users can wear a “Pocket Tweet” using a Java application and cutting out and applying a Twitter text bubble to a person’s shirt. This is just one example of “do-it-yourself wearable tech” that was part of an art exhibit for the Wearable Technology AIR project in 2009.
Wearable technology can have many applications and the decreasing cost of processing power and other components is encouraging widespread adoption and availability.
According to Forbes, 71 percent of 16-to-24 year olds want wearable tech.
Wearable technology is on the rise in personal and business use. For businesses, research from Salesforce suggests that wearable technology can enhance work performance. Data from wearables gives managers insight into what employees need to perform tasks more effectively, what motivates them and what keeps their spirits high. This information alone is powerful enough to drive engagement, a factor in business performance leaders constantly seek to improve.
Here are the four main benefits that improve business performance from Wearable’s.
- Streamline customer interactions.
- Increase productivity & performance.
- Increase employee support.
- Improve employee well-being.
In healthcare, many examples exist to date, but the craze goes beyond connected eyewear such as Google Glass and smart timepieces such as the Apple Watch.
Designers are creating apparel, accessories and fitness wear that can do everything from monitor your heart rate to charge your smartphone. Here are some examples of cool wearables hitting the market:
- Soon you may be able to charge your smartphone with your clothes. Flexible solar panels have inspired designers to come up with clothes and accessories that can power electronics. Start-up Wearable Solar is using the technology to make lightweight wired garments that enable the wearer to charge a smartphone up to 50 percent if worn in the sun for a full hour. New York-based Voltaic Systems makes a collection of bags that can charge a variety of devices.
- Some designers want to make our clothing to do more. Amy Winters, the designer of the Rainbow Winters clothing line, makes garments that respond to their environment. For example, there is a dress made with holographic leather and it reacts to sound. As volume increases, it begins to illuminate and make what Winters describes as “visual music.” There is also a bathing suit that reacts to light, with the center panel turning into purple dots in the sun.
- Things can get lost pretty easily in those massive walk-in closets. In his fall 2013 collection, fashion designer Asher Levine included tracking chips that let items be located by the owner using a customized TrackR app. Levine, who has created looks for Lady GaGa and will.i.am., partnered with Bluetooth solutions company Phone Halo on the chip.
- City bike-sharing programs such as New York’s Citi Bike may be great, but the stations may be a bit hard to find without a map. Adafruit, a company that sells DIY electronics and kits, has built a helmet to help make that process more efficient. It has a built-in navigation system that uses lights that flash on the left or right to let the rider know where to turn. The interface is still a bit complicated though. The user has to manually enter the coordinates of a destination—but it is still safer than trying to use a smartphone while riding.
- Using eye-tracking technology, fashion designer Ying Gao has created a set of dresses that move when someone is looking at them. When the garment is gazed at for a time, tiny motors move parts of it in patterns. The dresses also glow, covered in photo-luminescent thread or featuring glow-in-the-dark threads that make up the base layer of fabric.
- The merger of technology and high-end accessory design is a definite trend. Handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff has made four clutches that encase speakers for Stellé Audio Couture.
- The start-up Heapsylon has a smart sock, Sensoria, that is paired with an anklet to automatically detect the type and level of activity based on pressure signals coming from the foot of the wearer. Sensors in the sock communicate data to the anklet, which then can relay the information to the user via an app. For example, it can track a runner’s regular form and send an alert when he or she is making an injurious movement.
- Even more intimate than smart socks, intelligent sports bras can track users’ performance. This NuMetrix sports bra, made by Textronics, has a small transmitter that snaps to the garment to tracks a user’s heart rate.
- Berlin-based label Moon Berlin, which makes luxury clothing, focuses on using technology to enhance the look of its designs. Soft-circuit LEDs are integrated into the garments, connected to an electrical circuit attached to rubber-like materials that are integrated into fabrics.
- Imagine if devices could be designed to mold seamlessly with the human body, such that they almost disappear entirely. A new technology may make this possible, in the form of an ‘imperceptible’ electronic skin that can monitor the body, or help people to communicate through touch. Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed a flexible sensor thinner than plastic wrap and lighter than a feather. The scientists refer to their breakthrough as ‘imperceptible electronics,’ which is in fact a type of ‘e-skin’. When a patch of the material is fastened to the human body, researchers claim it is all but impossible to notice.
Along with providing a touch sensor-like system, imperceptible electronics could be used to monitor the health of a patient, embedded as part of a prosthetic to provide feedback, and possibly form the basis for an entirely robotic skin in the future. Despite the cyborg connotations, this thin and flexible e-skin could greatly improve the application and wearability of personal health devices.
Analyst Gartner has predicted that smart clothing has the biggest potential for growth out of all the different wearables types—moving from virtually zero sales in 2014 to 26 million items in 2016.
Wearables could be the defining technology of the next decade. Wear it well.
By Nick Pascarella and Gina Mercado, on behalf of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber’s Technology Committee. Nick Pascarella is a partner at TruBambu (www.trubambu.com), a business technology consultancy company. Gina Mercado is vice president of client relations at Big Red Pin (www.bigredpin.com).