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Wearable technology: beyond fashion

Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of Purple WiFi, looks at what you might be wearing in 2015

The smartest wearable devices can perform tasks that we might expect to carry out on a computer or laptop.
The smartest wearable devices can perform tasks that we might expect to carry out on a computer or laptop.

Connectivity at your fingertips: the MOTA SmartRing, which notifies wearers of new messages, has exceeded its funding goal on crowdfunding website

Wearable technology refers to any electronic technology or computer that is incorporated into items of clothing and accessories. These include fitness trackers, smart watches and even smart rings that vibrate when we receive a new email, text message or call on our smartphone.

The smartest wearable devices can perform tasks that we might expect to carry out on a computer or laptop. In fact, in many cases, wearable tech is even more highly developed and sophisticated, being able to scan, track and provide sensory feedback on our bodies, biorhythyms and physiological functions.

The whole idea of wearable technology is that we remain hands-free and online at all times, with seamless and instant access to the data we need exactly when we need it. So what are some of the most common types of wearable device in use today?

Health-tracking devices Health trackers worn on the wrist provide feedback on things like heart rate, body fat and weight – even on your skin’s electric conductivity. Information can be synced wirelessly with apps that help keep track of personal health and fitness goals. For example, the Simband, which Samsung describes as an open reference design platform ‘for building advanced devices that will empower individuals to monitor their own health and wellness more effectively’, has six sensors to keep tabs on daily steps, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and sweat glands.

Listening to one’s whole body can be important for the maintenance of good health. For example, measuring GSR (galvanic skin response – sweat to you and I) provides an indication of stress levels that could act as a warning to people who suffer from stress-related illnesses.

Smart watches

Smart watches combine timekeeping functions with many of the features we expect from a smartphone including text messages, email, web-browsing and media player functions. The first smart watches performed what now seem very simple tasks, such as calculations, translations and games, and had to be paired with a smartphone through Bluetooth. The latest models can operate on their own, often taking SIM cards just like a cell phone, and act like mini wearable computers running mobile apps – including information downloaded from health and fitness trackers.

Google Glass

Google Glass is a hands-free, headmounted camera and display that communicates with the internet through voice commands. Its use by individuals raises issues of privacy but for business customers it has proven benefits in certain applications. For example, it has been used successfully in healthcare to demonstrate surgery to medical students who can watch procedures remotely. In fact, Google Glass has uses in all types of education. Teachers can create ‘first person’ video guides and students themselves can record interactions with each other whilst working collaboratively on a piece of work or whilst out in the field. Manufacturing companies can use it to deliver on-the-job training or to provide remote support to field workers.

Where will this all lead?

Wearable tech doesn’t have to be removable like the examples above. Invasive versions, such as microchip implants or even smart tattoos, have farreaching implications for the future.

For gamers, there is the promise of a more realistic, immersive online gaming environment through augmented reality that combines the real world with computer-generated sensory input. In retail, virtual mirrors that scan your body shape and project clothes onto your image could enable shoppers to try on clothes without removing those they are already wearing.

Enhanced clothing

In addition to questions of practicality and functionality, researchers are also having to consider fashion, as technology is increasingly incorporated into t-shirts, jackets, headbands and jewellery.

Trends to watch out for include solar clothes that can recharge your phone; a tracker that works out where each outfit is in your wardrobe; bike helmets with built-in navigation systems (safer than using a smartphone whilst cycling); smart socks that work out if you are running in a way that could cause injury; smart bras that track your heart rate; and designer clothing that uses technology purely for aesthetic purposes.

As wearable technology gains ground in 2015, it is worth celebrating the fact that by 2018 there is predicted to be one public Wi-Fi hotspot for every 20 people on earth. After all, without WiFi, wearable technology would not exist.

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