We’re surrounded by technology. It’s in our pockets, it practically runs our home, we can’t do our jobs without it and even our cars run thanks to mysterious little black boxes stuffed full of inscrutable tech. It is perhaps inevitable, therefore, that the next evolutionary step on the technology path to enlightenment is wearable technology.
Although it’s been around for longer than you think, the current idea of wearable electronics is a relatively new concept that incorporates some well-established ideas, topped off with a healthy dash of innovation and technological advancements. So to bring you up to speed with this rapidly expanding and increasingly important field, here’s our rough guide to wearable technology.
#1 – So what exactly is wearable technology?
Wearable technology is also known as wearable devices, tech togs, or in some cases, fashion electronics. Unsurprisingly, it’s exactly what it says – clothing and in particular accessories such as ‘smartwatches’ that have built-in technology designed into their make-up. This can be purely aesthetic (such as tee-shirts that have LED displays on the front), or they can have more practical overtones such as the Pebble Smart Watch or Nike FuelBand.
#2 – Hasn’t that been around for a while?
You could say it has. The earliest calculator digital watches came out in the 1980s and could be regarded as the grandfather of modern wearable electronics. However, today’s technology has moved on in leaps and bounds, and now flexible plastic display technology in particular is pushing the boundaries of wearable electronics.
Major research and development companies such as Plastic Logic, whose exploration of the applications of OLED and flexible plastic screen technology is changing the face of portable devices, believes that wearable electronics will be the next major consumer marketplace. “Plastic Logic’s flexible plastic displays are completely transformational in terms of product interaction,” said Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee.
And that’s the key phrase here – ‘product interaction’. As a society that’s embraced technological advancement, we’re more than ready to interact to a greater degree than ever before with our gadgets.
#3 – What good is it for me?
How we interact with technology is changing. We’re now much more accustomed to ‘tech on the move’, thanks to the advent of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. So producing ergonomic technology that fits around your wrist, for example, yet is still light and robust enough to put up with everyday use will allow us to use our tech at our convenience.
#4 – What are the benefits of wearable tech?
Wearable technology isn’t just for the trendy young man or woman about town. There are a host of other applications, particularly in two major areas, sports and medicine. For athletes (from elite runners right down to three-times-a-week joggers or weekend warriors), wearable electronics is already enabling them to monitor their performance and adjust their training to respond to instant readouts of everything from the oxygen levels in the blood to basic vitals such as heart rate.
In the medical environment, the incredibly light and flexible nature of wearable technology means that patient care and monitoring can be done without the necessity to ‘tether’ patients to large, expensive machines, which in turn also frees up resources for other patients.
#5 – What’s next for wearable technology?
Google Glass has set the bar pretty high for wearable technology, but we’re getting increasingly used to having tech on our bodies. If you’re into sports you may have a Nike FuelBand sports monitor band, while the super-trendy will have already picked themselves up the first generation smartwatches with flexible screen technology. Shirts with sensors to monitor your body are already being used in high-tech gyms, while the military has been using wearable technology on their battledress jackets for some years.
How we move forward with wearable technology is only really limited by our imaginations, as the technology itself is well advanced enough to cope with almost any application. The development of full-colour flexible technology could really drive things forward, as Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Plastic Logic explains: “Plastic Logic’s development of a colour flexible plastic display is particularly significant, since the same process is enabling unbreakable, flexible display solutions with other media such as OLED.”
“I am delighted that Plastic Logic can now demonstrate the far-reaching potential of the underlying technology. Our ability to create flexible, transmissive backplanes has led us not only to co-develop a flexible image sensor, but is also key to flexible OLED displays.”
Our advice is to keep a close watch on the development of flexible OLEDs in particular, but expect to be wearing your tech in future, not just carrying it around in your pocket.
Verena blogs about gadgets and technology, covering everything from the latest mobile advancements to display technology. When she’s not online Verena enjoys swimming, cycling and travelling the world.