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August 2014

Wearable Electronics - Now Your Clothes Are Watching

Wearable Electronics Wearable electronics and e-textiles can be seen in everything from fashion to furniture, and the growth of this technology can be both exciting and scary. This technology doesn't only cover the fancy smart watches that can monitor your hear rate or tell you how far you just walked - "Electronic textiles are distinct from wearable computing because emphasis is placed on the seamless integration of textiles with electronic elements like microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators." Different specialties including weaving, hardware, sewing, code, textiles, engineering, fashion, and applications are combined in order to realize a project.

Wearable Electronics An article in Forbes points out, "Some of it is fun to look at or experience, but much of it has real-world applications that only a handful are exploring... Look at Point Locus, haptic navigation for the visually impaired (i.e. Steve Hoefer and his Sonar for the Blind glove that he's working on). [Lynne Bruning] also highlighted two other technology efforts: eTextile carpets for neurologically damaged feet for Diabetics and the Key Glove - a great tool for those with neurological damage or Dupuytren's disease. The Key Glove offers convenience for gaming, design, art, music, data entry, device control, 3D object manipulation, and a whole host of other applications."

So, will your pants start monitoring every step you take? Will the NSA start spying on you through your glasses? For many, this is a more likely scenario than it was even 10 years ago. According to Techopedia, putting conductors and other kinds of hardware into fabrics, future engineers will be able to make clothes that collect all sorts of useful information, or that broadcast data to wearers. The possibilities are nearly endless, but many past e-textile ideas have revolved around some common goals, including:

  • Capturing health information, such as vital signs
  • Allowing athletes to track movements for sports data mining
  • Setting up first responders with valuable atmospheric and environmental monitoring equipment
  • Geo-tracking for various research purposes

Carol Torgan, Ph.D writes in her article, "Self-Tracking Meets Ready-To-Wear: Make Room in Your Closet for Smart Clothes," Scenarios include a fabric that warms you when you're cold, cleans itself when it's dirty (hooray!), lights up to ensure you're visible when it's dark, and automatically stiffens to protect you when you're falling. Smart clothes could monitor your fitness parameters as you train and give you advice to modify your workout, during your workout. And of course smart clothes would recharge your mobile device while it was tucked in your pocket.

"The sensors can detect an amazing range of physiological stimuli from you and your surrounding environment. These include mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical, optical, and magnetic signals. Once the sensors detect the signal, it's collected, processed, stored and transmitted."

Potential measurements include:

  • Physiological: heart rate (electrocardiogram, ECG), respiratory rate, movement, galvanic skin resistance, brain wave activity (electroencephalogram, EEG), eye activity (electrooculogram, EOG), blood pressure, body temperature
  • Biochemical: levels of prescribed drugs such as lithium; glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and other indicators of metabolic disorders that can develop as a side effect of medication use
  • Behavioral: obtained from correlating biochemical measures, voice analysis, and a behavioral index

The growth of the wearable electronics industry is a boon to the battery industry. "Worldwide revenue for wearable electronics batteries is expected to jump from $6 million in 2014 to $77 million in 2018. Revenue growth will be buoyed by annual shipments for wearable electronic devices, which will reach 56 million units by 2018", according to the IHS Power & Energy report. "Of the total number of batteries expected to be installed in wearable electronics by 2018, lithium polymer batteries will take the predominant share, accounting for 73 percent of total wearable electronics battery revenue. Lithium polymer batteries are typically the preferred choice as they are lighter in weight and can be manufactured into a wider range of shapes and sizes, compared to traditional lithium-ion batteries."



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