Wearable technology

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Wearable technology, wearables, fashionable technology, wearable devices, tech togs, or fashion electronics are smart electronic devices (electronic device with micro-controllers) that can be incorporated into clothing or worn on the body as implants or accessories.[1][2][3][4]

Wearable devices such as activity trackers are best example of the Internet of Things, since "things" such as electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity are effectors that enable objects to exchange data (including data quality[5]) through the internet with a manufacturer, operator, and/or other connected devices, without requiring human intervention.

Wearable technology has a variety of applications which grows as the field itself expands. It appears prominently in consumer electronics with the popularization of the smartwatch and activity tracker. Apart from commercial uses, wearable technology is being incorporated into navigation systems, advanced textiles, and healthcare.

History[edit]

The history of wearables starts with the watch, which was worn by people to tell time. In 1500 the German inventor Peter Henlein created small watches which were worn as necklaces. A century later, men began to carry their watches in their pockets as waistcoat became a fashionable item, which led to the creation of pocket watches. Wristwatches were also created in the late 1600s but were worn mostly by women as bracelets. Over time, the watch become smaller and more precise. In 1904, the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont pioneered the use of the wristwatch as it allowed him to have his hands unoccupied when piloting. This proved that the wrist is a convenient place to wear a watch which led people to start using wristwatches.[6] People started to create wearables to use in every occasion, from tools that help them win in gambling games, to rings used as a computational device by traders, to electronic headbands used as a costume in theaters, and a wearable camera strapped to a bird to take aerial photos, among others.

Modern wearable technology is related to both ubiquitous computing and the history and development of wearable computers. Wearables make technology pervasive by incorporating 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 is part of the quantified self movement.

The origins of modern wearable technology are influenced by both of these responses to the vision of ubiquitous computing.[7] One early piece of widely adopted wearable technology was the calculator watch, which was introduced in the 1980s. An even earlier wearable technology was the hearing aid.

In 2004, fashion design label CuteCircuit unveiled a Bluetooth-connected electronics called the HugShirt at the CyberArt Festival in Bilbao, Spain, where it won the Grand Prize at the festival.[8] 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 the product is the first wearable technology that took the form of a garment of clothing.[9] As such, it is also the first piece of Bluetooth-connected and internet-connected clothing. This product was included in Time magazine's "Best Inventions of the Year" special issue.[10]

In 2008, Ilya Fridman incorporated a hidden Bluetooth microphone into a pair of earrings.[11][12] Around the same time, the Spy Tie appeared, a "stylish neck tie with a hidden color camera".[13]

A survey conducted by Vanson Bourne in the UK in 2015 found that almost half (56%) of those surveyed said that wearable tech was a fad.[14]

Fitbit released its first wearable around 2009; Fitbit products have primarily focused upon activity tracking.

In the following years smartwatches began to be released by major electronics companies. One of the first offerings was the Samsung Galaxy Gear which dropped in September 2013. Apple quickly followed suit with the Apple Watch in April 2015.[15]

Prototypes[edit]

In 2009, Sony Ericsson teamed up with the London College of Fashion for a contest to design digital clothing. The winner was a cocktail dress with Bluetooth technology making it light up when a call is received.[16]

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[17] 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.[18]

More recently, London-based 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, CuteCircuit created the world's first dress to feature Tweets, as worn by singer Nicole Scherzinger.[19]

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.[20]

Around the same time, prototypes for digital eyewear with heads up display (HUD) began to appear.[21]

The US military employs headgear with displays for soldiers using a technology called holographic optics.[21]

In 2010, Google started developing prototypes[22] of its optical head-mounted display Google Glass, which went into customer beta in March 2013.

Wearable events[edit]

Amsterdam's 5 Days Off festival included a free show called "Wearable Technology: Powered Art and Fashion".[23]

In 2014, the Fashion Law Institute held a panel discussion which focused on patents on wearable technology.[24]

In 2015, a number of other events related to wearable technology were also planned, such as the Enterprise Wearable Technology Show in Houston, the Wearable Technology Show in London and the Wearable Tech Conference and Exhibition in Moscow.

In 2018, many large Wearable Technology conferences are planned including the Wearable Technology conference 2018 EUROPE in Munich, Germany.[25] This conference has an agenda with many important role players in the future of Wearable Technology such as IBM and even FIFA. The Conference included discussion from a variety of speakers and company's tackling the future of Wearable Technology from use in sports to use in future fashion trends. Other examples of future technologies presented and discussed at this conference included technologies for stress relief, disease detection, smart eyewear, smart clothing, and even a form of an exoskeleton. This conference and the others planned provide a window into the next years and even decades to come in the field of Wearable Technology.

Usage[edit]

Wearable technology usage can be categorized into two major categories:[26]

  • 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 disease[27]
  • As a sport tracker
  • To synchronize data and communication from other gadgets
  • For specific health issue monitoring, such as stress management[28]
  • 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.[29]

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 in five American adults have a wearable device, according to the 2014 PriceWaterhouseCoopers Wearable Future Report.[30]

Smartwatches are a second high-profile sector, and while wearable devices have been around for years, they have 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.[31] Medical professionals such as Google Glass Surgeon 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.

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[1] and is of high quality.[32] This will help to ensure that the patient/user builds confidence and trust in the technology.

In professional sports, wearable technology has applications in monitoring and real-time feedback for athletes.[33][34] Examples of wearable technology in sport include accelerometers, pedometers, and GPS's which can be used to measure an athlete's energy expenditure and movement pattern.[35]

The decreasing cost of processing power and other components is encouraging widespread adoption and availability.[33]

Modern technologies[edit]

The Fitbit, a modern wearable device

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.[36] Its various functions were activated via voice command, such as "OK Glass". The company also launched the Google Glass companion app, MyGlass.[37] The first third-party Google Glass App came from the New York Times, which was able to read out articles and news summaries.

However, in early 2015, Google stopped selling the beta "explorer edition" of Glass to the public, after criticism of its design and the $1,500 price tag.[38][39]

While optical head-mounted display technology remains a niche, two popular types of wearable devices have taken off: smartwatches and activity trackers. 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.[40]

Crowdfunding-backed start-up Pebble reinvented the smartwatch in 2013, with a campaign running on Kickstarter that raised more than $10m in funding. 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.[41][42] 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 Wearables, Appliances, Cars and Bendable TVs Show" by industry commentators.[43] Among numerous wearable products showcased were smartwatches, activity trackers, smart jewelry, head-mounted optical displays and earbuds. Nevertheless, wearable technologies are still suffering from limited battery capacity.[44]

Another field of application of wearable technology is monitoring systems for assisted living and eldercare. Wearable sensors have a huge potential in generating big data, with a great applicability to biomedicine and ambient assisted living.[45] For this reason, researchers are moving their focus from data collection to the development of intelligent algorithms able to glean valuable information from the collected data, using data mining techniques such as statistical classification and neural networks.[46]

Wearable technology can also collect biometric data such as heart rate (ECG and HRV), brainwave (EEG), and muscle bio-signals (EMG) from the human body to provide valuable information in the field of health care and wellness.[47]

Another increasingly popular wearable technology involves virtual reality. VR headsets have been made by a range of manufacturers for computers, consoles, and mobile devices. Recently Google released their headset, the Google Daydream.[48]

In July 2014 a smart technology footwear was introduced in Hyderabad, India. The shoe insoles are connected to a smartphone application that uses Google Maps, and vibrate to tell users when and where to turn to reach their destination.[49][50][51][52]

In recent years fitness trackers and smartwatches have become increasingly common and recognizable as examples of wearable technology. Examples include Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Samsung Galaxy Gear.

In addition to commercial applications, wearable technology is being researched and developed for a multitude of uses. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the many research institutions developing and testing technologies in this field. For example, research is being done to improve haptic technology[53] for its integration into next generation wearables. Another project focuses on using wearable technology to assist the visually impaired in navigating their surroundings.[54]

As wearable technology continues to grow, it has begun to expand into other fields. The integration of wearables into healthcare has been a focus of research and development for various institutions. Wearables continue to evolve, moving beyond devices and exploring new frontiers such as smart fabrics. Applications involve using a fabric to perform a function such as integrating a QR code into the textile,[55] or performance apparel that increases airflow during exercise[56]

Methods and techniques[edit]

The following methods and techniques explain the manufacturing process of clothing from fiber to garment and the insertion of electronics to the process.

Smart fabrics[edit]

Smart fabric

Smart fabrics were developed in the late 1990s, as a technique that allows designers to embed electrical circuits into garments so that they can become interactive to the users. As smart fabrics are in direct contact with the skin of the user, it accurately senses the body moves of the customer. Weaving electronics into clothing requires that the electronic component is small, lightweight and flexible like a fiber. To be durable, it must be embedded into the fabric at the first stage of the process.

Smart fabrics are used by designers to add light colors to the apparel, and as a tool to monitor the health of the users, as it can track the users' vitals such as the heart rate, the breathing and walking pattern, among others. Many technology companies[which?] are planning to embed their electronics into clothing to create smart fabrics.

3D printing[edit]

Manus x Machina 3D printed dress

3D printing, also referred as additive manufacturing, is a technique that has become popular in the 2000s. Designers are using 3D printers to make clothes, accessories and shoes. Fashion companies are incorporating this technique in their manufacturing process to create custom made products for their customers. 3D printing is disrupting the fashion industry, as designers find this technique useful tool to create products that can be custom made given its precision. Also, it is a low-cost tool that is convenient for creating prototypes of their designs on a first level.

3D printing offers alternative advantages that regular apparel does not, such as customization, unique structure and patterns, sustainability, lower price, convenience and less lead time.

Wearable technology and health[edit]

Wearable technology is often used to monitor a user's health. Given that such a device is in close contact with the user, it can easily collect data.

Wearables can be used to collect data on a user's health including:

  • Heart rate
  • Calories burned
  • Steps walked
  • Blood pressure
  • Time spent exercising

These functions are often bundled together in a single unit, like an activity tracker or a smartwatch like the Apple Watch Series 2 or Samsung Galaxy Gear Sport. Devices like these are used for physical training and monitoring overall physical health.

Currently other applications within healthcare are being explored, such as:

While wearables can collect data in aggregate form, they have yet to analyze or make conclusions based on this data. Wearables cannot account for the differing health needs of an individual; they can only collect data. Because of this, wearables are used primarily for information about general well-being but not for making decisions about one's health.

Entertainment[edit]

Wearables have expanded into the entertainment space by creating new ways to experience digital media. Virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses have come to exemplify wearables in entertainment. The influence of these virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses are seen mostly in the gaming industry. Virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Google Daydream View aim to create a more immersive media experience by either simulating a first-person experience or displaying the media in the user's full field of vision. Television, films, and video games have been developed for these devices. In a 2014 expo, Ed Tang of Avegant presented his "Smart Headphones". These headphones use Virtual Retinal Display to enhance the experience of the Oculus Rift.[61] Some augmented reality devices fall under the category of wearables. Augmented reality glasses are currently in development by several corporations.[62] Snap Inc.'s Spectacles are sunglasses that record video from the user's point of view and pair with a phone to post videos on Snapchat.[63] Microsoft has also delved into this business, releasing Augmented Reality glasses in 2017. The device explores using digital holography, or holograms, to give the user a first hand experience of Augmented Reality.[64] Wearable technology has also expanded from the wrist to apparel. There is a shoe made by the company shiftwear that uses a smartphone application to periodically change the design display on the shoe.[65] The shoe is designed using normal fabric but utilizes a display along the midsection and back that shows a design of your choice. The application was up by 2016 and a prototype for the shoes was created in 2017.[65] Another example of this can be seen with Atari's headphone speakers. Atari and Audiowear are developing a face cap with built in speakers. The cap will feature speakers built into the underside of the brim, and will have bluetooth capabilities.[66] Many other devices can be considered entertainment wearables and need only be devices worn by the user to experience media.

Wearable Technology in Gaming[edit]

Virtual Reality has been making jumps in the market lately for the gaming industry. The creation of the first virtual reality headset can be credited to Cinematographer Morton Heilig. He created a device known as the Sensorama back in 1962.[67] The Sensorama was a videogame like device that was so heavy that it needed to be held up by a suspension device. The weight of the machine where you insert your head was far too heavy for a human neck to support.[68]

Sony back in 2016, debuted its first portable, connectable virtual reality headset codenamed Project Morpheus.[69] PlayStation new headset would enable users the ability to see the game through their own eyes as they played using the controller.[70]

Fashion[edit]

Fashionable wearables are “designed garments and accessories that combines aesthetics and style with functional technology.”[71] Garments are the interface to the exterior mediated through digital technology. It allows endless possibilities for the dynamic customization of apparel. All clothes have social, psychological and physical functions. However, with the use of technology these functions can be amplified.

Wearables are made from a functionality perspective or from an aesthetic perspective. When made from a functionality perspective, designers and engineers create wearables to provide convenience to the user. Clothing and accessories are used as a tool to provide assistance to the user. Designers and engineers are working together to incorporate technology in the manufacturing of garments in order to provide functionalities that can simplify the lives of the user. For example, through smartwatches people have the ability to communicate on the go and track their health. Moreover, smart fabrics have a direct interaction with the user, as it allows sensing the customers' moves. This helps to address concerns such as privacy, communication and well-being. Years ago, fashionable wearables were functional but not very aesthetic. As of 2018, wearables are quickly growing to meet fashion standards through the production of garments that are stylish and comfortable. Furthermore, when wearables are made from an aesthetic perspective, designers explore with their work by using technology and collaborating with engineers. These designers explore the different techniques and methods available for incorporating electronics in their designs. They are not constrained by one set of materials or colors, as these can change in response to the embedded sensors in the apparel. They can decide how their designs adapt and responds to the user.[6]

In 1968, the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York City held an exhibition named Body Covering which presented the infusion of technological wearables with fashion. Some of the projects presented were clothing that changed temperature, and party dresses that light up and produce noises, among others. The designers from this exhibition creatively embedded electronics into the clothes and accessories to create these projects. As of 2018, fashion designers continue to explore this method in the manufacturing of their designs by pushing the limits of fashion and technology.[6]

Project Jacquard[edit]

Google's Advanced Technologies and Products team created the Project Jacquard which consists of integrating electronics into clothing in an innovative way. Their goal is to make the fabric an interface by embedding touch sensors into any piece of fabric. They want to make every material interactive, from clothing to car seats. To differentiate from competitors, Google is creating new ways to embed the materials into textiles. They are collaborating with fashion designers in the development of this project, as their intention is not to start a textile factory but to create the software for these wearables. They want to combine resources by merging the fashion and technology industry. Levi's is one of the primary fashion brands that have partnered with Google. They are collaborating in creating a smart fabric that can communicate and interact with digital devices such as smartphones.

Intel's Smart Fashion[edit]

Intel is another company that is experimenting with fashionable technology. Intel created a microcomputer called Curie, which makes the creation of wearable devices in an easier and faster way. They have also partnered with fashion designers to create wearables. In a collaboration with the brand Chromat they released a sports bra that responds to changes in the body of the user. Another product created through their collaboration was a 3D printed carbon fiber dress that changes color based on the user's adrenaline levels.

Iris van Herpen[edit]

Iris Van Herpen's water dress

Smart fabrics and 3D printing have been incorporated in high fashion by the designer Iris van Herpen. Van Herpen was the first designer to incorporate 3D printing technology of rapid prototyping into the fashion industry.[72] The Belgian company Materialise NV collaborates with her in the printing of her designs.

Issues and Concerns[edit]

The FDA drafted a guidance for low risk devices advises that personal health wearables are general wellness products if they only collect data on weight management, physical fitness, relaxation or stress management, mental acuity, self-esteem, sleep management, or sexual function.[73] This was due to the privacy risks that were surrounding the devices. As more and more of the devices were being used as well as improved soon enough these devices would be able to tell if a person is showing certain health issues and give a course of action. With the rise of these devices being consumed so to the FDA drafted this guidance in order to decrease risk of a patient in case the app doesn't function properly.[74] It is argued the ethics of it as well because although they help track health and promote independence there is still an invasion of privacy that ensues to gain information. This is due to the huge amounts of data that has to be transferred which could raise issues for both the user and the companies if a third partied gets access to this data. There was an issue with the google glass that was used by surgeons in order to track vital signs of a patient where it had privacy issues relating to third party use of non-consented information. The issue is consent as well when it comes to wearable technology because it gives the ability to record and that is an issue when permission is not asked when a person is being recorded.[75]

See also[edit]

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