All kinds of functions are finding their way into body-worn devices.
The wearable technology market has exploded. There are plenty of activity trackers, e-health monitors and smartwatches, but all too often the focus has been on emerging technology rather than the design. Yet product design is vital to commercial success, as consumers will only want to buy a device that complements their desired look.
With the wearables market expected to be worth $5.8bn by 2018, it is important that manufacturers factor in the design element and not just how much the product can do. Many wearables currently on the market do not appear to have received much consideration about whether mainstream consumers - rather than early tech adopters - are likely to buy them.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is people making a lot of products because you can make it and [then] make it wearable,” says Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion. “I think the integration of the fashion industry into the process needs to be at an earlier design stage, so that the products that are being created are thinking about the consumer who is driving them.”
People will only wear products that appeal to them, so the design is intrinsically important. “What you need to engage consumers is an emotive reaction – they have to love it and want to wear it and believe that it’s a statement about who the are as an individual,” explains Drinkwater.
So to attract a mainstream audience, the wearables market has to focus more on how its products look before their technological capabilities. “It’s getting to the point where fashion and performance of that clothing come first and the fact that it’s smart, gives you some feedback or measures some technological parameters is a secondary thing,” says Martin Brock, designer of Cambridge Consultants’ Xelflex motion capture technology suits.
One of the reasons for this disconnect between the technology market and consumer popular designs is a lack of design skills on the engineering side of wearables and vice versa in major fashion brands. To overcome this, Drinkwater believes designers with both skills would help the wearables industry achieve that success: “If the industry would genuinely like to change them we need to see fashion designers with engineering and coding skills,” he says. “At the moment there’s a very limited pool of people that have the ability to create wearable technology that is genuinely acceptable to a mainstream audience.”
Wearable technology itself also needs to develop so fashion designers can create the products the public want to represent them. Until that happens the wearables market will lag. “You certainly are not going to get people switching away from a high-end fashion watch or clothing just because there is a digital augmentation to it until the value of that augmentation becomes really strong,” explains Simon Hall, healthcare technology expert at PA Consulting Group.
One way this could be achieved is by slimming down the bulky elements of wearable technology. One key product component that caught the eye during E&T’s wearable technology photoshoot was the large batteries on a number of devices. James Talbot, CEO of Damson, reckons that it is possible to reduce the battery size on the firm’s Headbones by around 30-35 per cent. Nanotechnology will also help reduce the size of wearables: “That will do away with some of the bulky additions – the plastic covers we have on, the rubber covers that create that water resistance,” explains Talbot.
Wearables also need to do more to attract consumers. The plethora of activity trackers and sleep monitors are established but still have a broad scope to expand. Smart clothing is still emerging but could be the creative breakthrough needed to attracting mainstream consumers. “What we are working on is smart clothing and connected clothing,” says Drinkwater. “You would be able to download content to your clothing, to be able to change the colour of your clothing at the touch of a button and to be able to communicate in a different way.”
The wearable tech market has a huge amount of potential and its forecast growth is extremely positive. But while it is still in relative infancy it’s vital that developers focus on what the consumer wants, not what they can produce. If the wearables market is going to achieve the success it should, the fashion element that consumers use to express themselves needs to be the priority right now.
Wearable technology on show
AiQ smart sports clothing
These smart clothing options use stainless steel fibre woven into the textiles but not coated in copper or silver because it is already conductive. The clothing, still at the prototype stage, can continuously monitor body vitals during exercise and can be used for health monitoring and connects via Bluetooth to your device.
These headphones transmit sound through your cheekbones leaving your ear canal free to hear what’s going on around you. Water resistant and with up to eight hours of battery life, the Headbones also receives hands-free phone calls which you can stay in touch and listen to your favourite tracks while exercising out and about. £99.99 from damsonaudio.com/collections/all
This heated insole, charged via a USB connection, slots into your shoes to keep your feet at a desired temperature and tracks your activity and calories burned – all controlled through a smartphone app. It uses Ortholite material to reduce stress through the foot and weighs just 100-120g. Available for pre-order for $199: squareup.com/market/digitsole
Firstbeat Bodyguard heartrate monitor
The Bodyguard 2 is a heart-rate monitor designed to give short and long term readings. The device, attached to the chest via two electrodes, measures heart activity during all everyday activities and logs the data with Firstbeat’s servers and the available software provides reports analysis of your heart data. Available for €329: shop.firstbeat.com/gb/
This activity monitor is designed specifically to track the time your dog spends on the moving around, playing and sleeping as well as letting you know their every movement via a smartphone app. Available for pre-order for $99/95: www.fitbark.com/pre-order/
Monbaby baby monitor
The Monbaby sensor attaches to any item of clothing an allows parents to monitor their child’s breathing and sleeping position as well as alerting them if the child falls or is removed from their proximity via smartphone app. On sale for $169: monbaby.com/product/buy/
The Shimmer 3 is remote sensing technology that can be incorporated and adapted into existing systems and wearable products. Shimmer technology is currently being used in a range of sensor apparatus from activity monitoring, e-Health, sports science and athlete tracking as well as intelligent building and structural monitoring devices. Available for €249: www.shimmersensing.com/shop/shimmer3
Smartlife’s discretely integrated sensors monitor your body’s vital signs when exercising and use advanced algorithms to convert that data into accurate and meaningful information about your heart and breathing rates and calorie burn which is transmitted via Bluetooth to a smartphone app. Smartlife products are available for pre-order from £44.99-149.99: www.smartlife.co.uk
Solitaire UV clip
The Solitaire clip is designed to prevent the wearer getting skin damage in the sun but still get maximum vitamin D. First, users must take a picture of their skin which an app analyses and combines with weather reports to provide optimum times wearers can spend in the sun with and without sunscreen. The clip’s sensor also alerts the wearer to when they are nearing maximum recommend time in the sun.
Squeaker Poochlight lead
Designed to keep your dog safe on dark walks, these bright collars feature dual pair LEDs and optical fibre strips that flash at three different speeds. The splash resistant products can be charged via a USB connection for over 10 hours of battery life. Collar, £20.48 and lead, £28.17: www.squeakerdogs.com/collections/value-combo
The SunnyCam glasses are capable of recording 720p HD (1280 x 720) AVI video and also capturing 1600x1200px JPG photos as you go about your day. The glasses have a battery life of two-and-a-half to three hours and lenses are designed to be switched out for a range of different conditions. On sale for £99.99: sunnycamglasses.com/online_store/index.html
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, this DIY wearable kit lets you customise your own smartwatch or smart jewellery thanks to its 16-bit colour, 96x64px OLED display that can communicate with your smartphone. Users can also play games using the button either side of the screen.
The Trellie ring is being developed to allow the wearer to disconnect from their smartphone but still receive notifications whilst away from their device as the ring discreetly vibrates with every notification.
Visijax commuter jacket
This hi-viz cycling jacket (also available in black) has three sets of high intensity LED lights – white for the front of the jacket, red for the rear and amber for the turning indicators. These indicators activate using Visijax’s iMASS motion sensor technology when a cyclist raises their arm to indicate and stay on when they return their hands to the handlebars. Available for £99.99 at Amazon, Halfords and Cycle Republic.