Wearable Technology Conference: Entering a Maturity Phase? Munich 7- 8 February 2017
The annual international conference on Wearable Technologies did not impress by innovative discoveries, but rather showed the meaningful utilization of the existing ones.
Many of the demonstrated products such as smart watches, wearable garments, smart caps or badges were based on already existing technologies, e.g., measurement or registration of the following physical phenomena: light signals (LED), heat conduction, galvanic skin response (variations of electrical conductivity of the skin), local pressure changes, fluid velocity distribution, chemical detection of substances or using electronic sensors of small electric currents.
However, there was a definite step forward. Contrary to the first wave of digital gadgets mostly preoccupied with fitness and wellness parameters such as heart rate, number of steps and burned calories, the demonstrated at the conference devices were primarily focused on collecting data relevant specifically to health.
Thus, Xsensio presented its “Lab-on–SkinTM” device developed at the Swiss Institute of Technology. Miniaturized nanotech sensors are analyzing chemical biomarkers such as electrolytes, proteins, molecular or bacteria right at the surface of the skin for real time early diagnostics.
CSEM , another Swiss company, in cooperation with Smartwatch is designing a spectrum of bands and watches with intelligent chips that will allow users to measure blood pressure, something that developers were yearning to achieve for years.
Most of commercially available blood pressure monitors and respective online applications are standardized for the “average person”. Thus, the allegedly “correct” numbers for systolic and diastolic are, e.g., 120/130 vs. 70/80 are stipulated irrespective of a person’s age, gender or physical condition. A CSEM device is linked to an application to calculate individual’s weight, age, gender and height adjusting the “correct numbers” to individual health conditions thus helping people to develop their own personal blood pressure protocols and avoid unnecessary panic or medication consumption.
Smart clothing is apparently the rising trend of the personalized healthcare. The wardrobe of wearable garments such as HealthWatch or Niturit ECG monitors is being enriched by new fashions. Bonbouton , smart T-shirts designed by a US start up, is using graphene sensors embedded in the normal textile fabric. Graphene has a strong potential for wearable sensors due to its unique capacities to ensure both thermal and electric conductivity as well as high breakage strength. The material can be used in the standard devices collecting multiple vital sings from temperature variations, breathing rate, pulse, ECG, and beyond that can be applied to the vast spectrum of healthcare objectives.
AiQ smart clothing is another attempt to merge electronics with fashionable textile.Based in Taiwan, the company is designing the variety of comfortable garments such as TouchMan gloves made of conductive yarn that is woven into the glove fingertips allowing to touch panel devices with accuracy and precision, without the inconvenience of removing your gloves; ThermoMan electronic thermo garment tracks the local body temperature. After grasping the body temperature the garment is releasing the respective amount of heat to keep its user warm; ShieldMan, an anti-electromagnetic (EM) radiation textile is designed for young mothers to protect the fetus from harmful EM radiation impact.
It is impressive how relatively small startups are successfully addressing the biggest worldwide problems such as child mortality. Nearly three million newborns die every year in the developing world due to acquired infections, injuries, birth defects or pregnancy complications. 80% of such deaths could be prevented, should medical help have been provided on time. Unfortunately, these countries are still chronically lacking professional medical resources.
Neopenda, a US engineering team of young enthusiasts, addressed the challenge by creating a small wearable device that remotely monitors vital signs of critically ill newborns. A low powered multiparameter sensor arrays are measuring pulse, respiratory rate, peripheral blood oxygen saturation and temperature. The system can be installed at the newborn’s home alerting physicians nearby or those in a hospital in low resourced areas.
Unlike their laboratory created predecessors, many wearable products demonstrated at the conference are already commercially available. SmartCap, developed by the Australian company, has now found its practical utilization among machine workers.
Tiny sensors embedded in the typical baseball cap are capturing electrical activity of the brain estimating the level of fatigue of its user. Early warnings alarm when exactly the worker should interrupt the activities to take some rest. The system is much favored by long distance drivers of heavy tracks, mining industry workers or by aviation pilots. Maybe soon office workers will be wearing such caps to estimate the best productive time for their customer meetings or politicians to vote on important public regulations.
Printed electronics such as wearable patches or bandages is another rapidly developing technology that helps to unobtrusively monitor health parameters such as local temperature, skin humidity or ECG identifying health issues on a very early stage.
Thus, professor Matti Mäntysalo from the University of Tampere in Finland is working on a bandage with electrodes printed on stretchable bandage material that measures the heart’s electrical activity transmitting signals to the cell phone.
Not only wearable devices are now actively searching for commercial utilization, they are now capable of generating new businesses and jobs. Thus, the first wave of wearable designers was practically covering the whole production cycle: from idea, design up to the finished product. Now developers tend to delegate parts of industrious procedures to professional companies. Thus, Convestro, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials, is specializing in production of adhesive tapes, badges, patches and film coating for embedded sensors incorporated in wearable devices. Since sterility, elasticity, sustainability to external factors such as pressure, heat or rupture are the top requirements for medically used materials, it is cheaper and safer to delegate the business to professionals.
The general impression is that the industry in gaining maturity. The developers are moving away from “cool technologies” to “proven and accurate” commercial products that will be able to collect and analyze meaningful data to provide healthcare industry and citizens with deep insight on their health. Who knows, maybe soon we will finally be able to try a smart dress with a fancy sensor hat in a fashionable boutique or an elegant smart bracelet in a jewelry shop.