In the early years of wearable technology, most growth occurred in the low-priced fitness tracker market. More recently, devices such as smartwatches, hearables, smart clothing, and a new generation of smart glasses are gaining share and attracting new audiences.
Wearables have appealed mostly to younger people. In 2015, 24.0% of those ages 25 to 34 had a wearable device, while 6.5% of those ages 55 to 64 had one.
In 2019, young consumers will still be the largest group of wearable users, with penetration among the 25-to-34 cohort jumping to 38.0%. But user penetration for older consumers will also increase substantially to 13.2%.
In this post, we will discuss 30 incredible innovations in the history of wearable technology that you cannot forget or ignore!
3D printed exoskeleton lets handicapped girl use her arms for the first time
Researchers at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware developed a 3D printed robotic exoskeleton enabling a disabled child to move freely for the very first time. The patient, Emma, had been born into a condition known as arthrogryposis and would not gain the ability to lift her arms as she developed. The WREX exoskeleton was manufactured using a 3D printer to create a prosthetic light enough for Emma to use freely while incorporating hinged bars and resistance bands to help her move her arms in space with very little residual strength. The WREX was designed to assist arthrogryposis sufferers as young as six and offers the opportunity to scale production, allowing researchers to customize and print exoskeleton designs to each patient’s unique specifications using their own CAD software.
3D printed hip fits the individual and reduces recovery time
The Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, uses 3D printers to enable customized joint replacement surgeries and successfully published its first custom hip. To begin, the clinic allows doctors to send a 3D file of their patient’s CT scan to a printer which then prints out a 3D model of the patient’s hip joint. The implants used in a hip replacement were biocompatible and made to resist corrosion, degradation, and wear. The 3D printed hip reduces the cost of creating artificial hips and allows healthcare providers to build hips that better fit the physical dimensions of specific individuals.
Biohacked, implanted headphones allow a user to echolocate
DIY biohacker Rich Lee had sound-transmitting magnets implanted into his ears, which will enable him to compensate for his loss of vision by learning to echolocate. With the headphone implants, he could begin interpreting the shape and dimensions of his surroundings based on how they react to emitted sound waves, much in the same way that a bat perceives its surroundings. Lee’s device additionally allowed him to observe sound to a high degree, using it as a stethoscope to hear his wife’s heartbeat pulsing. To make the magnets implant-safe, they were coated in a layer of gold and then encased in “implant grade bio-proofing.”
Clothing monitors body and responds with an external display
The Ger Mood Sweater by Sensoree can interpret emotions and display the wearer’s mood instantly as an interactive light display. Sensors in the dress detect bodily rhythms along with excitement levels and translate that data into a palette of colors. For instance, the sweater will turn blue if the wearer is feeling calm or pink if they are excited. The bowl-shaped, high collar is embedded with LEDs that reflect onto the wearer for instant bio-feedback, acting as a visual display for onlookers.
Diaper detects health issues for babies and communicates them to parents
Pixie Scientific developed a smart diaper that can detect possible infections and transmit the information to a smartphone. At the end of each diaper use, a parent uses his or her smartphone to take a picture of the QR code-like patch. The accompanying app then analyzes the image to determine whether the baby has a UTI, if the kidneys are healthy or whether he or she is dehydrated. The service can even detect Type 1 diabetes. The app will also recommend whether the child needs to be taken in to see a physician.
Earbuds monitor wearer’s mood to help pick the next song
Microsoft is working to incorporate health monitoring and mood detection into a pair of earbuds in a project called Septimu. Capable of monitoring heart rate, temperature, and other biorhythms, the in-ear device would be able to communicate with an associated mobile app called Musical Heart to select the most appropriate music depending on the user’s mood. Developed by researchers at the University of Virginia Center for Wireless Health, the app uses biorhythms to pick up on the wearer’s current mood and then plays a song best suited to remedy the situation. This means if a person had a sudden bout of anger while taking the subway to work, Musical Heart would select a soothing song to bring their heart rate and breathing back to normal. The earphones incorporate sensors such as thermometers, inward-facing microphones, and IMUs – which work a lot like accelerometers – to pick up on key indicators throughout the body.
Electronic makeup lets users activate gadgets by blinking
Electronics designer Katia Vega created a prototype for makeup products that incorporate low voltage circuitry to detect when someone winks, converting this action into an electrical signal to communicate with other devices. The range of products which include metallic, false eyelashes and conductive eyeshadow, have been used to launch a miniature drone into the air and activate LEDs adorning headwear.
File transferring chip transforms fingers into USB sticks and access key
InTouch technology is a concept that uses a ring, bracelet, or ‘smart fingernail’ to transfer information between devices and securely. Developed by researchers from the VTT Research Center in Finland, when wearers touch their device with an InTouch ring, a special icon appears that allows information to be uploaded. After reaching another device equipped with the same technology, users can initiate a download from the ring back into the device. The device has a small amount of memory and is powered by a special antenna. The ring or bracelet can also act as a password or security device to unlock doors, start a car, or power up a laptop.
GPS tracking helps coaches monitor player fitness
British rugby team, the Lions, have stitched GPS tracking software into its players’ jerseys to help the team’s management analyze all aspects of their team’s performance. GPS is currently the best available vehicle for capturing such data, and the tracking technology can reveal a player’s average speed, when a player’s intensity starts to drop, or who is performing above or below their usual levels. Some models even contain a heart-rate monitor sensor that can identify potential problems on the pitch through detailed metrics such as distances run at various speeds, muscular effort in accelerating, decelerating, changing direction and G-forces in collisions. All information can be relayed to the coaches in real-time, and they can then make replacements based on the information they see on their laptop screens.
Gaze-activated dresses come to life when people stare at them
Fashion designer Ying Gao concepted two dresses that use eye-tracking technology to light up when someone stares at them. The dresses, named No(where) and Now(here) are made of photoluminescent thread and use embedded eye-tracking technology to become activated by a spectator’s gaze. The concept of technology causes the dress to light up in novel, impromptu ways by activating in accordance with the people looking at it.
Hug simulation jacket allows parents to calm their children
T.Jacket is a jacket, controlled by a tablet to simulate hugs and calm children with autism or attention deficit disorders. Pockets of air are lined around the waist and shoulders of the jacket and – when instructed to do so via an app – inflate to produce the effect of a hug. Although initially developed with autistic children in mind, the T.Jacket may have a more comprehensive application for parents with jobs that require them to spend time away from home.
Hearing aid glasses use bone conduction to amplify sound
NuWave glasses help to amplify sound for the hearing impaired by transforming sound waves into vibrations, functioning in a similar capacity to a traditional hearing aid. Its bone conduction transducers are ergonomically positioned to carry mechanical vibrations against the temporal bone to the inner ear. The Wireless Research Engineering Resource Center (RERC) led a team of Virginia Tech students to develop NuWave glasses in the hope of helping the hearing disabled to find a new, discreet way to experience sound.
Ingestible password pill creates seamless access to devices
Wireless company Motorola successfully developed an ingestible technology that could allow its forthcoming phones to identify users. Created by Proteus Digital Health, the FDAapproved pill generates an individual 18-bit signal that is detectable by external devices like a phone, computer, and even car. After a person swallows the pill, the acids in their stomach power it, essentially converting their entire body into an authentication token to access devices.
Printed prosthetic offers the functionality of a human hand
Dextrus is a 3D printed myoelectric robotic prosthetic hand that provides much of the functionality of a human hand. Created by British roboticist Joel Gibbard, the prosthetic hand can be connected to an existing prosthesis using a standard connector. It then uses stick-on electrodes to read signals from a person’s remaining muscles, which can control the hand, telling it to open or close. Dextrus is a part of the Open Hand Project whose goal is to make robotic prosthetic hands more accessible to amputees while allowing anyone to improve and customize designs themselves for everyone to share.
Photos taken with the blink of an eye
Winky is a third-party app developed for Google Glass that enables Glass wearers to snap an image whenever the internal camera notices the wearer specifically blinking their eye. The app bypasses the need to speak a photo-taking command or use the side-mounted touch control panel on Glass to take a photo. Instead, the user winks slowly after firing up the app, and the device instantly and discreetly takes photos of whatever the wearer has in front of them. The tweak is the handiwork of Mike DiGiovanni, Emerging Technology Lead at Roundarch Isobar enabling people to more easily take pictures at the spur of the moment.
Responsive bracelet sends thermoelectric pulses to heat or cool a person’s entire body
Wristify is a thermoelectric bracelet that directs pulses of hot or cold waveforms at its wearer’s wrist to help them maintain comfortable body temperature. Developed by MIT engineering students, the bracelet monitors air and skin temperature, and sends tailored pulses of hot or cold waveforms to the wrist to help them maintain thermal comfort. In addition to providing relief at a personal level, the working prototype is intended to significantly reduce energy consumption in buildings by cooling only individuals, as opposed to the entire structure.
Running app personalizes workouts based on current stamina
My ASICS is an app that helps runners to their own personal trainer by creating adaptive training plans that evolve as their workout continues. The app is designed to understand how a runner’s body is responding to the workout utilizing a series of software algorithms to calculate better what type of workout best suits their changing needs. My ASICS works by constantly molding a plan around the runner’s performance levels, progressively pushing them harder to increase the intensity of their workout and helping them reach their fitness goals faster.
Smartwatch responds to touch to save long distance relationships
Bond is a small module with a touch sensor inside that allows paired device wearers to ‘feel’ one another from any place in the world. Users tap the sensor twice to wake it up, then tap again for up to five seconds to register a “tickle,” and a final swipe sends it off to the other linked Bond device. The band also connects with Google Maps and lets users leave tickles as they go by ‘touching’ a fellow Bond-wearer walking by a specific location.
Smartphone enabled bracelet tailors suggestions based on mood and diet
The EmoPulse Smile Bracelet Smartphone is a phone that can be worn as a bracelet, and features sensors that can pick up on the wearer’s stress, mood, diet, and overall well-being. The smartphone wraps around the user’s wrist and features a flexible material for its twin displays. The Smile runs an algorithm-based, custom Linux AI operating system, and uses biosensors embedded in the device to gather information about its wearer, which help automate specific processes. After watching a few movies or listening to streaming music, for example, the system will recommend more content based on user tastes and emotional responses, and the accuracy of the predictions will increase over time with continued use. The sensors could also be used alongside virtual physical trainers to help keep users in shape with personal, monitored workouts.
Strap notifies user when posture is slipping
The LUMOBack is a position sensor that users strap around their waist to measure their posture and sleeping positions. The device is programmed to buzz when users slouch. With the help of an iOS app, it also tells how many steps users have walked and how many times they stood up during the day, even reminding them to stand every thirty minutes or so and offer more detailed feedback on posture. The app also offers even a posture score that rates users compared to the average LUMOBack user. The passive monitoring provides an easy way to monitor and improve daily posture.
Sensor embedded socks help prevent injuries before they happen
Sensoria developed a pair of sensor-embedded socks that not only tracks traditional fitness data such as the number of steps, speed and total distance a user has traveled, but also provides data about running form and technique. The socks keep tabs on a person’s weight distribution and the type of their feet while standing, walking and running. Using this data, it’s possible to identify poor running styles and prevent injuries before they happen. An accompanying app delivers simple advice about how to unlearn poor running tendencies. It can also benchmark and analyze performance to give sock wearers a clearer picture of how their performance improves in tandem with their technique.
Sensor monitors brainwaves to shoot hands-free iPhone footage
Neurocam is a wearable camera system that uses brainwave sensors and a smartphone camera to identify what the wearer is interested in and then automatically records the footage and saves it in an album. The system consists of a headset with a brainwave sensor. The user attaches his or her iPhone to the earphone and the iPhone camera “sees” what the wearer is looking at through a prism and analyzes the wearer’s brainwaves via an iPhone app. The app assesses the wearer’s interest on a scale of 0 to 100, and if the wearer’s brainwaves indicate an interest level of at least 60, the system automatically records the scenes and saves them in five-second GIF clips. Neurocam is the latest from the Neurowear project, which looks into devices that use brainwaves and bio-sensors.
Tooth embedded sensor relays eating habits to dentist
A tooth-embedded sensor that tracks all eating habits and transfers the information to a dentist. Created by a team from the National Taiwan University, the device fits discreetly between the wearer’s teeth and is capable of being mounted to oral fixtures, such as dentures or braces. The device is 94 percent accurate, being able to differentiate between eating, speaking, coughing, smoking, drinking, and breathing.
Wireless bracelet allows users to feel each other from a distance
TACTILU is a bracelet capable of transmitting touch between two individuals even when they are miles apart. By design group Pangenerator, the bracelet is equipped with a touch sensor that converts swipes and pokes into tactile/haptic motion on its corresponding bracelet. The wearable uses an internet connection and Bluetooth technology to transmit touch between wearers.
Workout gear visualizes activity levels of the wearer in real-time
Radiate Athletics developed interactive compression wear that visually informs wearers of the intensity of their athletic performance by changing colors in accordance with their body’s thermal-output. To change colors in real-time, special atoms within the fabric gain a carbon electron when valence electrons are accelerated through the application of heat, affecting the way that the atoms reflect light-waves. The color of the garment changes to correspond with the muscle groups being targeted by specific exercise, giving wearers a visual reference for their workouts.
Wristband allows wearers to program gestures into specific actions
TapTap is a wearable wrist device that can communicate and control other apps through gestures and touch. The device has only one “button” — a capacitive sensor that is directly linked to another TapTap device through a Bluetooth connection to a phone. Its creators have isolated six distinct gestures that can be captured by TapTap’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and capacitive sensors and mapped to specific actions. For instance, if a call comes in that a wearer doesn’t want to answer, a double shake of the wrist could switch their phone to silent mode. TapTap is releasing an API to third-party developers that would allow them to map their own gestures onto games, literally making the wristband a joystick or apps that could benefit from a remote interface or its sensor data.
Wristband converts heartbeat into a unique password for devices
The Nymi wristband identifies a wearer by their unique cardiac rhythm to authenticate their identity as an alternative to using passwords or PIN codes for devices. Created by biometric technology company Bionym, Nymi functions on a 3-factor security system, which includes the wristband, the wearer’s unique heartbeat and a smartphone or device registered with the Nymi app. When the Nymi is clasped around a wrist, it powers on, and by placing a finger on the topside sensor while the wrist is in contact with the bottom sensor, an electrical circuit is completed. After feeling a vibration and seeing the LEDs illuminate to indicate the authentication process is complete, the wristband wearer can securely unlock any Nymi-paired device.
Wearable camera life blogs by snapping photos throughout the day
The Autographer is a hands-free, wearable camera that takes thousands of photographs a day and creates a daily diary of pictures for its users. Wearers drape the device onto their person, and the device uses its six onboard sensors which include GPS, color, accelerometer, motion detector, magnetometer, and thermometer, to determine the right moment to snap one of its images. For instance, Autographer might capture a picture when the wearer speeds up as they run for the bus or turns around to greet a friend and has the built-in functionality to ensure that the photo will be taken properly. The camera has a five-megapixel sensor, OLED display, 8GB of onboard storage, and Bluetooth for sharing pictures.
Wristband automatically records audio memories throughout the day
Kapture is an always-on wristband that automatically records candid moments of audio throughout a wearer’s day. The device listens in on conversations and functions as a 60-second buffered loop. The loop continuously overwrites itself until the user taps the device to save a clip. The saved file is downloaded to a smartphone where the duration can be shortened, named, tagged, filtered, and shared.
Zoomable contact lens could assist those with degenerative eye conditions
An international team of researchers created the first telescopic contact lens prototype that provides wearers the power to zoom their vision by almost three times. Developed by Eric Tremblay and colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the telescopic lens works by having a central unmagnified optical path that is surrounded by a ring of optics that magnify the view 2.8 times. Liquid crystal shutters then block one or the other of these optical paths, allowing the wearer to switch between normal and magnified vision through a polarizing filter. The telescopic contact lens is 1.17mm thick, allowing it to be comfortably worn and could be especially useful for people with age-related macular degeneration.