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, but may also have a purely critical or aesthetic agenda.
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. In 2008, Ilya Fridman incorporated a hidden Bluetooth microphone into a pair of earrings. Around the same time, the Spy Tie appeared, a "stylish neck tie with a hidden color camera".
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.
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 2014, London-based CuteCircuit crated the world’s first dress to feature Tweets, as worn by singer Nicole Scherzinger. Before that, 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.
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 Show in 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 is on the rise in 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. 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. In healthcare, wearables have long been used - for example in detecting health disorders such as sleep apnea. Medical Professionals such as Google Glass Surgeon even organised themselves in WATCH Society the 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 realtime feedback for athletes. The decreasing cost of processing power and other components is encouraging widespread adoption and availability.
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.
- Wearable computer
- GPS watch
- Mixed reality
- Computer-mediated reality
- Clothing technology
- Smart Shirt
- Augmented Reality
- Smart, Connected Products
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