Apple Watches and Fitbits have become part of everyday life. It’s no longer just early adopters and fitness enthusiasts with wearable technology. More than 20% of Americans use a smartwatch or fitness tracker, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, the definition of wearable technology is expanding beyond what fits on your wrist. Clothing, headsets, and other types of jewelry are becoming increasingly “smart,” including these three innovations.
1. Wearable Microgrids
Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego recently published their research on what they call “wearable microgrids.” These devices, which can be screen printed onto existing textiles, collect energy from the body in two ways: sweat (using biofuel cells) and movement (using triboelectric generators). This energy is then combined and stored in supercapacitors.
A team at the University of Colorado Boulder is also capturing energy output by the human body using wearable technology. Their device places thermoelectric generators against the skin to gather body heat and convert it into electrical energy.
Both of these technologies are most effective when the wearer is warm, sweating, and/or moving, making them most effective during a workout. However, the technology has the potential to replace batteries in wearables like smartwatches in the future.
2. Wearable Feedback
In physically demanding jobs where employees work alone, it can be hard to identify and correct dangerous habits. PepsiCo is using Reflex, a wearable device by Kinetic, to help delivery drivers and other employees with physical jobs stay safe. Employees wear Reflex on their waists; the device vibrates when it feels the wearer in a “high-risk posture,” such as bending, twisting, or reaching.
This kind of personal feedback makes it easier for employees to modify how they do their job. The company can also aggregate the feedback from all of its employees using Reflex to identify tasks and processes that are more demanding or dangerous. Over time, this information can make the job safer and protect employees from repetitive use injuries.
3. Wearable Detection
The Oura Ring was designed to measure your sleep, activity, and “readiness” for the day ahead. As COVID spread across the US, University of California San Francisco researchers began studying the rings as a potential way to detect the virus before more obvious symptoms developed.
With constant information on the wearer’s body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate from the ring, researchers were able to predict which Oura users would be diagnosed with COVID with surprising accuracy. In fact, “out of 50 study subjects diagnosed with virus, 45 showed early warning signs from their rings in advance.”