Wearable Technology
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Wearable Technology

Wearable technology, wearables, fashionable technology, wearable devices, tech togs, or fashion electronics are smart electronic devices (electronic device with micro-controllers) that can be worn on the body as implants or accessories.[1][2][3][4]

Wearable devices such as activity trackers are a good example of the Internet of Things, since "things" such as electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity are effectors that enable objects to exchange data (including data quality [5]) through the internet with a manufacturer, operator, and/or other connected devices, without requiring human intervention.

Wearable technology has a variety of applications which grows as the field itself expands. It appears prominently in consumer electronics with the popularization of the smartwatch and activity tracker. Apart from commercial uses, wearable technology is being incorporated into navigation systems, advanced textiles, and healthcare.


Wearable technology is related to both ubiquitous computing and the history and development of wearable computers. Wearables make technology pervasive by incorporating it into daily life. Through the history and development of wearable computing, pioneers have attempted to enhance or extend the functionality of clothing, or to create wearables as accessories able to provide users with sousveillance -- the recording of an activity typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. Tracking information like movement, steps, and heart rate is part of the quantified self movement.

The origins of wearable technology are influenced by both of these responses to the vision of ubiquitous computing.[6] One early piece of widely adopted wearable technology was the calculator watch, which was introduced in the 1980s. An even earlier wearable technology was the hearing aid.

In 2004, fashion design label CuteCircuit unveiled a Bluetooth-connected electronics called the HugShirt at the CyberArt Festival in Bilbao, Spain, where it won the Grand Prize at the festival.[7] The HugShirt, designed for tele-transmitting touch over distance, differs from previous early wearable technology examples (e.g. watches or the helmet designs of wearable computing in the 1990s) because the product is the first wearable technology that took the form of a garment of clothing.[8] As such, it is also the first piece of Bluetooth-connected and internet-connected clothing. This product was included in Time magazine's "Best Inventions of the Year" special issue.[9]

In 2008, Ilya Fridman incorporated a hidden Bluetooth microphone into a pair of earrings.[10][11] Around the same time, the Spy Tie appeared, a "stylish neck tie with a hidden color camera".[12]

A survey conducted by Vanson Bourne in the UK in 2015 found that almost half (56%) of those surveyed said that wearable tech was a fad.[13]

Fitbit released its first wearable around 2009; Fitbit products have primarily focused upon activity tracking.

In the following years smartwatches began to be released by major electronics companies. One of the first offerings was the Samsung Galaxy Gear which dropped in September 2013. Apple quickly followed suit with the Apple Watch in April 2015.[14]


In 2009, Sony Ericsson teamed up with the London College of Fashion for a contest to design digital clothing. The winner was a cocktail dress with Bluetooth technology making it light up when a call is received.[15]

Zach "Hoeken Smith" of MakerBot fame made keyboard pants during a "Fashion Hacking" workshop at a New York City creative collective.

The Tyndall National Institute[16] in Ireland developed a "remote non-intrusive patient monitoring" platform which was used to evaluate the quality of the data generated by the patient sensors and how the end users may adopt to the technology.[17]

More recently, London-based fashion company CuteCircuit created costumes for singer Katy Perry featuring LED lighting so that the outfits would change color both during stage shows and appearances on the red carpet. In 2012, CuteCircuit created the world's first dress to feature Tweets, as worn by singer Nicole Scherzinger.[18]

In 2014, graduate students from the Tisch School of Arts in New York designed a hoodie that sent pre-programmed text messages triggered by gesture movements.[19]

Around the same time, prototypes for digital eyewear with heads up display (HUD) began to appear.[20]

The US military employs headgear with displays for soldiers using a technology called holographic optics.[20]

In 2010, Google started developing prototypes[21] of its optical head-mounted display Google Glass, which went into customer beta in March 2013.

Wearable events

Amsterdam's 5 Days Off festival included a free show called "Wearable Technology: Powered Art and Fashion".[22]

In 2014, the Fashion Law Institute held a panel discussion which focused on patents on wearable technology.[23]

In 2015, a number of other events related to wearable technology were also planned, such as the Enterprise Wearable Technology Show in Houston, the Wearable Technology Show in London and the Wearable Tech Conference and Exhibition in Moscow.


Wearable technology usage can be categorized into two major categories:[24]

  • Personal usage
  • Business usage

Whether for personal or business use, wearable tech gadgets are primarily used for any one of the following functions:

  • As a fashion statement
  • As a fitness tracker
  • As a treatment for hearing impairments
  • For remote treatment of speech and voice disorders such as those in patients with Parkinson's disease[25]
  • As a sport tracker
  • To synchronize data and communication from other gadgets
  • For specific health issue monitoring, such as stress management[26]
  • As a gauge for alertness and energy levels
  • As navigation tools
  • As media devices
  • As communication gadgets

Wearable devices are rapidly advancing in terms of technology, functionality, and size, with more real-time applications.[27]

Wearable technology is on the rise in both personal and business use. In the consumer space, sales of smart wristbands (aka activity trackers such as the Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex) started accelerating in 2013. One in five American adults have a wearable device, according to the 2014 PriceWaterhouseCoopers Wearable Future Report.[28]

Smartwatches are a second high-profile sector, and while wearable devices have been around for years, they have only started gaining mass market attention with the introduction of new models by Samsung and later by Apple.

The now defunct Google Glass gained a lot of media attention, but the project ground to a halt in early 2015, with Google stopping device sales.

Smart shoe for the visually challenged is a product that is currently available and has great scope in the future.

In healthcare, wearables have long been used, for example in hearing aids and in detecting health disorders such as sleep apnea. A study in 2014 by MSI and McAfee reported that 70% of people think that wearable technologies will soon send health vitals readings to physicians.[29] Medical professionals such as Google Glass Surgeon organized themselves into the WATCH Society (Wearable Technology in Healthcare Society) in order to search for collaboration and valid use of wearable technology in healthcare.

Wearable technologies have helped make healthcare reform possible. The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare is pushing the value-based care model and technology provides the support needed for the program to succeed and the US government to save money. Telehealth is one such healthcare distribution method within the Population Health Programs model using wearable technologies to help bring down US healthcare costs. However, a great deal research and development is required to ensure that the data generated is managed correctly[1] and is of high quality.[30] This will help to ensure that the patient/user builds confidence and trust in the technology.

In professional sports, wearable technology has applications in monitoring and real-time feedback for athletes.[31][32] Examples of wearable technology in sport include accelerometers, pedometers, and GPS's which can be used to measure an athlete's energy expenditure and movement pattern.[33]

The decreasing cost of processing power and other components is encouraging widespread adoption and availability.[31]

Modern technologies

The Fitbit, a modern wearable device

On April 16, 2013, Google invited "Glass Explorers" who had pre-ordered its wearable glasses at the 2012 Google I/O conference to pick up their devices. This day marked the official launch of Google Glass, a device intended to deliver rich text and notifications via a heads-up display worn as eyeglasses. The device also had a 5 MP camera and recorded video at 720p.[34] Its various functions were activated via voice command, such as "OK Glass". The company also launched the Google Glass companion app, MyGlass.[35] The first third-party Google Glass App came from the New York Times, which was able to read out articles and news summaries.

However, in early 2015, Google stopped selling the beta "explorer edition" of Glass to the public, after criticism of its design and the $1,500 price tag.[36][37]

While optical head-mounted display technology remains a niche, two popular types of wearable devices have taken off: smartwatches and activity trackers. In 2012, ABI Research forecast that sales of smartwatches would hit $1.2 million in 2013, helped by the high penetration of smartphones in many world markets, the wide availability and low cost of MEMS sensors, energy-efficient connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0, and a flourishing app ecosystem.[38]

Crowdfunding-backed start-up Pebble reinvented the smartwatch in 2013, with a campaign running on Kickstarter that raised more than $10m in funding. At the end of 2014, Pebble announced it had sold a million devices. In early 2015, Pebble went back to its crowdfunding roots to raise a further $20m for its next-generation smartwatch, Pebble Time, which started shipping in May 2015.

In March 2014, Motorola unveiled the Moto 360 smartwatch powered by Android Wear, a modified version of the mobile operating system Android designed specifically for smartwatches and other wearables.[39][40] Finally, following more than a year of speculation, Apple announced its own smartwatch, the Apple Watch, in September 2014.

Wearable technology was a popular topic at the trade show Consumer Electronics Show in 2014, with the event dubbed "The Wearables, Appliances, Cars and Bendable TVs Show" by industry commentators.[41] Among numerous wearable products showcased were smartwatches, activity trackers, smart jewelry, head-mounted optical displays and earbuds. Nevertheless, wearable technologies are still suffering from limited battery capacity.[42]

Another field of application of wearable technology is monitoring systems for assisted living and eldercare. Wearable sensors have a huge potential in generating big data, with a great applicability to biomedicine and ambient assisted living.[43] For this reason, researchers are moving their focus from data collection to the development of intelligent algorithms able to glean valuable information from the collected data, using data mining techniques such as statistical classification and neural networks.[44]

Wearable technology can also collect biometric data such as heart rate (ECG and HRV), brainwave (EEG), and muscle bio-signals (EMG) from the human body to provide valuable information in the field of health care and wellness.[45]

Another increasingly popular wearable technology involves virtual reality. VR headsets have been made by a range of manufacturers for computers, consoles, and mobile devices. Recently Google released their headset, the Google Daydream.[46]

In July 2014 a smart technology footwear was introduced in Hyderabad, India. The shoe insoles are connected to a smartphone application that uses Google Maps, and vibrate to tell users when and where to turn to reach their destination.[47][48][49][50]

In recent years fitness trackers and smartwatches have become increasingly common and recognizable as examples of wearable technology. Examples include Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Samsung Galaxy Gear.

In addition to commercial applications, wearable technology is being researched and developed for a multitude of uses. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the many research institutions developing and testing technologies in this field. For example, research is being done to improve haptic technology[51] for its integration into next generation wearables. Another project focuses on using wearable technology to assist the visually impaired in navigating their surroundings.[52]

As wearable technology continues to grow, it has begun to expand into other fields. The integration of wearables into healthcare has been a focus of research and development for various institutions. Wearables continue to evolve, moving beyond devices and exploring new frontiers such as smart fabrics. Applications involve using a fabric to perform a function such as integrating a QR code into the textile,[53] or performance apparel that increases airflow during exercise[54]

Wearable technology and health

Wearable technology is often used to monitor a user's health. Given that such a device is in close contact with the user, it can easily collect data.

Wearables can be used to collect data on a user's health including:

  • Heart rate
  • Calories burned
  • Steps walked
  • Blood pressure
  • Time spent exercising

These functions are often bundled together in a single unit, like an activity tracker or a smartwatch like the Apple Watch Series 2 or Samsung Galaxy Gear Sport. Devices like these are used for physical training and monitoring overall physical health.

Currently other applications within healthcare are being explored, such as:

While wearables can collect data in aggregate form, they have yet to analyze or make conclusions based on this data. Wearables cannot account for the differing health needs of an individual; they can only collect data. Because of this, wearables are used primarily for information about general well-being but not for making decisions about one's health.


Wearables have expanded into the entertainment space by creating new ways to experience digital media. Virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses have come to exemplify wearables in entertainment. Virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Google Daydream View aim to create a more immersive media experience by either simulating a first-person experience or displaying the media in the user's full field of vision. Television, films, and video games have been developed for these devices. Some augmented reality devices fall under the category of wearables. Augmented reality glasses are currently in development by several corporations.[58]Snap Inc.'s Spectacles are sunglasses that record video from the user's point of view and pair with a phone to post videos on Snapchat.[59] Many other devices can be considered entertainment wearables and need only be devices worn by the user to experience media. 

Government regulation

Currently, the FDA draft guidance for low risk devices advises that personal health wearables are general wellness products if they only collect data on weight management, physical fitness, relaxation or stress management, mental acuity, self-esteem, sleep management, or sexual function.[60]

See also


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External links

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