The rapid growth of the wearable technology market shows no signs of slowing. Indeed, according to a forecast by UK market research firm CCS Insight, 411 million smart wearable devices worth $34 billion will be sold in 2020. Mainly fuelled by fitness, the boom has since spawned an entire industry devoted to the development of applications that can work with wearable technologies, and not only are we increasingly using them as part of our everyday lives, but the technology is constantly evolving to help solve wider world problems in areas such as healthcare.
Here are six innovations that help illustrate the seemingly unlimited possibilities of wearable tech.
Designed by Panasonic's Future Life Factory in collaboration with Japanese fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, Wear Space was conceived to create a distraction-free environment. Aimed at those who work in open plan offices and today’s increasing number of hot deskers and freelancers seeking some quiet time in busy spaces, its curved body is fitted with noise-cancelling headphones to block out ambient sounds, and features three levels of noise cancellation. Wireless and bluetooth enabled, the device can be connected to a smartphone or PC so the wearer can listen to a chosen sound or piece of music. Currently in the prototype phase, the design studio is running a crowdfunding campaign until mid-December in order to secure support for the product.
While other engineers have produced soft materials with the ability to heal, researchers at Carnegie Mellon Universtity in Pittsburgh have developed what they believe to be is the first example of an electrically conductive material that can do so. In response to damage, the liquid metal droplets that are suspended in the composite’s elastic polymer make new connections with neighboring droplets, rerouting electrical signals. Not only does this mean that ultra-thin wearable devices could potentially be worn for long periods of time without them degrading, but other possible uses for the material could include first-responder robots that can perform rescues during emergencies, health-monitoring wearables for athletes in training, and inflatable architecture that can withstand extreme conditions on Mars.
Despite being contactless, SleepScore operates like a traditional wearable in that it incorporates tracking technology, monitoring a user’s sleep but from a remote sensor. Developed by California-based SleepScore Labs, the devise reads variables such as room light and temperature, and uses a reflection technique called echolocation - ultra-low power radio waves - to monitor breathing patterns and track how the body moves during sleep. Via a scoring system, SleepScore marks sleep duration, wake time, deep sleep, light sleep, REM, and how long it took the user to fall asleep. It also records additional scores for 'Body' and 'Mind', which reveal how much positive impact sleep had on each, as well as putting data into clear and actionable feedback.
According to Hans Ramzan, HIV is the leading cause of death in over 90 per cent of developing countries, with more than 2.5 million individuals contracting the virus every year. Given that the virus often goes unnoticed until it develops into full blown AIDS, the British product designer created a device that enables people with limited access to healthcare to test themselves from the comfort of their own home. Called Catch, the pocket-sized self-testing mechanism is easy to use, detecting antibodies in the blood, and is injection moulded from recycled plastic that costs just £4 to produce, thus making it economical and easy to mass produce.
The Peex Live wearable could help change how concert and festival goers experience live music, ending the frustration of trying to pick out sound if they are standing hundreds of yards away from the stage. The earbud set and app, which incorporates a wearable receiver, enables users to become their own mix engineers, augmenting live sound according to their own personal taste, by, for example, increasing the amount of bass or enhancing the vocals. Working with artists taking audio feeds from their production, Peex separates them into a multi-channel mix that is transmitted to the audience, the receiver picking up the signal of the mix transmitted for the user to then customize.
Medical-grade textile SimpleSense is capable of capturing millions of signals on the skin, giving it the potential to unlock biometric insights to help a wide range of medical conditions. Developed by New York-based Nanowear, the material has been used in the design of an FDA-approved adjustable, gender-neutral shoulder sash that can collect a host of different metrics. But the company’s first focus is on monitoring congestive heart failure, as a way for doctors to remotely monitor patients and hopefully keep them out of hospital, and give patients a comfortable and discreet way of staying on top of the condition. With a clinical trial underway that will observe 400 patients, the company plans to get the product rolled out to hospitals by mid-2019 if results prove successful.