Wearable technology, wearables, fashionable technology, wearable devices, tech togs, or fashion electronics are clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies. The designs often incorporate practical functions and features.
Wearable devices such as activity trackers are a good example of the Internet of Things, since they are part of the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with a manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices, without requiring human intervention.
Wearable technology is related to both ubiquitous computing and the history and development of wearable computers. Wearables make technology pervasive by interweaving it into daily life. Through the history and development of wearable computing, pioneers have attempted to enhance or extend the functionality of clothing, or to create wearables as accessories able to provide users with sousveillance—the recording of an activity typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. Tracking information like movement, steps and heart rate are all part of the quantified self movement.
The origins of wearable technology are influenced by both of these responses to the vision of ubiquitous computing. One early piece of widely adopted wearable technology was the calculator watch, introduced in the 1980s. An even earlier wearable technology was the hearing aid.
In 2004 fashion design label CuteCircuit unveiled a Bluetooth connected garment called the HugShirt at the CyberArt Festival in Bilbao, Spain, where it won the Grand Prize at the festival. The HugShirt, designed for tele-transmitting touch over distance, differs from previous early wearable technology examples (e.g. watches or the helmet designs of Wearable Computing in the 1990s) because product is the first wearable technology that took the form of a garment of clothing, as such it is also marks the first BlueTooth connected and internet connected clothing. This product was included by Time Magazine in the "Best Inventions of the Year" special issue.
Twitter users could create a "Pocket Tweet" by cutting a hole in their shirt or jacket pocket and then using a mobile phone screen to display a Twitter text bubble, in one example of do-it-yourself wearable tech that was part of an art exhibit for the Wearable Technology AIR project in spring 2009. Also in 2009, now-defunct ZED-phones stitched headphones into beanies and headbands.
According to a 2014 study by Forbes, 71% of 16- to 24-year-olds want wearable tech. However, a study carried out in the UK in early 2015 among 1000 people reported that almost half (56%) said that wearable tech was "just a fad".
Back in 2009, Sony Ericsson teamed up with the London College of Fashion for a contest to design digital clothing, and the winner was a cocktail dress with Bluetooth technology making it light up when a call is received, and Zach "Hoeken Smith" of MakerBot fame made keyboard pants during a "Fashion Hacking" workshop at a New York City creative collective. The Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, developed a "Remote non-intrusive patient monitoring" platform which was used to evaluate the quality of the data generated by the patient sensors and how the end users may adopt to the technology.
More recently, fashion company CuteCircuit created costumes for singer Katy Perry featuring LED lighting so that the outfits would change color both during stage shows and appearances on the red carpet. In 2012, London-based CuteCircuit created the world's first dress to feature Tweets, as worn by singer Nicole Scherzinger. In 2014, graduate students from the Tisch School of Arts in New York designed a hoodie that sent pre-programmed text messages triggered by gesture movements. Around the same time, prototypes for digital eyewear with heads up display (HUD) began to appear. The US military employs headgear with displays for soldiers using a technology called holographic optics.
American company Adafruit Industries manufactures its own wearable electronics development platform, FLORA. They produce a weekly web show dedicated to DIY wearable electronics, hosted by Becky Stern.
Amsterdam's 5 Days Off festival included a free show called "Wearable Technology: Powered Art and Fashion." In 2014, the Fashion Law Institute held a panel discussion, which focused on patents, about wearable technology.
In 2015, a number of other events related to wearable technology are also planned, such as the Enterprise Wearable Technology Showin Houston, the The Wearable Technology Show in London and the Wearable Tech Conference and Exhibition in Moscow. In the UK, Carl Thomas runs a thriving Wearables London networking group which meets monthly.
Wearable technology usage can be categorized into two major categories;
- personal usage
- business usage
Whether for personal or business use, wearable tech gadgets are primarily used for any one of the following functions;
- As a fashion statement
- As a fitness tracker
- As a treatment for hearing impairments
- For remote treatment of speech and voice disorders such as those in patients with Parkinson's diseases
- As a sport tracker
- To synchronize data and communication from other gadgets
- For specific health issue monitoring
- As a gauge for alertness and energy levels
- As navigation tools
- As media devices
- As communication gadgets
Wearable devices are rapidly advancing in terms of technology, functionality, and size, with more real-time applications.
Wearable technology is on the rise in both personal and business use. In the consumer space, sales of smart wristbands (aka activity trackers such as the Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex) started accelerating in 2013. One out of five American adults have a wearable device according to the 2014 PriceWaterhouseCoopers Wearable Future Report. Smartwatches are a second high-profile sector and while wearable devices have been around for years, it has only started gaining mass market attention with the introduction of new models by Samsung and later by Apple. The now defunct Google Glass gained a lot of media attention, but the project ground to a halt in early 2015, with Google stopping device sales. Smart shoe for the visually challenged is a product that is currently available and has great scope in the future. In healthcare, wearables have long been used, for example in hearing aids and in detecting health disorders such as sleep apnea. A study in 2014 by MSI and McAfee reported that 70% of people think that wearable technologies will soon send health vitals readings to physicians. Medical professionals such as Google Glass Surgeon even organized themselves into the WATCH Society (Wearable Technology in Healthcare Society) in order to search for collaboration and valid use of wearable technology in healthcare. In professional sports, wearable technology has applications in monitoring and real time feedback for athletes. The decreasing cost of processing power and other components is encouraging widespread adoption and availability. Wearable technologies have helped make healthcare reform possible. The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare is pushing the value-based care model and technology provides the support needed for the program to succeed and the US government to save money. Telehealth is one such healthcare distribution method within the Population Health Programs model using wearable technologies to help bring down US healthcare costs. However a great deal research and development is required to ensure that the data generated is managed correctly and is of a high quality. This will help to ensure that the patient/user builds up confidence and trust in the technology.
On April 16, 2013, Google invited "Glass Explorers" who had pre-ordered its wearable glasses at the 2012 Google I/O conference to pick up their devices. This day marked the official launch of Google Glass, a device intended to deliver rich text and notifications via a heads-up display worn as eyeglasses. The device also had a 5 MP camera and recorded video at 720p. Its various functions were activated via voice command, such as "OK Glass". The company also launched the Google Glass companion app, MyGlass. The first third-party Google Glass App came from the New York Times, which was able to read out articles and news summaries.
While optical head-mounted display technology remains a niche, two popular types of wearable devices have taken off: smartwatches and activity trackers. Back in 2012, ABI Research forecast that sales of smartwatches would hit 1.2 million in 2013, helped by the high penetration of smartphones in many world markets, the wide availability and low cost of MEMS sensors, energy efficient connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0, and a flourishing app ecosystem.
Crowdfunding-backed start-up Pebble reinvented the smartwatch in 2013, with a campaign running on Kickstarter that raised more than $10m in funding, and at the end of 2014, Pebble announced it had sold a million devices. In early 2015, Pebble went back to its crowdfunding roots to raise a further $20m for its next-generation smartwatch, Pebble Time, which started shipping in May 2015.
In March 2014, Motorola unveiled the Moto 360 smartwatch powered by Android Wear, a modified version of the mobile operating system Android designed specifically for smartwatches and other wearables. And finally, following more than a year of speculation, Apple announced its own smartwatch, the Apple Watch, in September 2014.
Wearable technology was a popular topic at the trade show Consumer Electronics Show in 2014, with the event dubbed the "The Wearables, Appliances, Cars and Bendable TVs Show" by industry commentators. Among numerous wearable products showcased were smartwatches, activity trackers, smart jewelry, head-mounted optical displays and earbuds. Nevertheless, still wearable technologies are suffering from limited battery capacity and there are several research works try to overcome this challenge.
One of the most interesting fields of application of wearable technology is monitoring systems for assisted living and eldercare. Wearable sensors have indeed a huge potential in generating big data, with a great applicability to biomedicine and ambient assisted living (AAL). For this reason, researchers are moving their focus from data collection to the development of intelligent algorithms able to provide valuable information by the collected data, using data mining techniques such as statistical classification and neural networks.
Currently, the FDA draft guidance for low risk devices advises that personal health wearables are general wellness products if they collect data on weight management, physical fitness, relaxation or stress management, mental acuity, self-esteem, sleep management, or sexual function.
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