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Wearables. That’s just smart watches and fitness trackers, right? Wrong!
Yes, it’s true that for the past decade the wearable market has certainly skewed towards fitness tracking, but not everything is as pedestrian as a pedometer, as humdrum as a heart monitor or as tedious as just another tracker.
The latest in wearable tech is positively sci-fi in style, ranging from skin-like band-aids that can measure all your vitals including cortisol levels to gauge your stress, to wearable headbands to deepen one’s sleep1 and even therapeutic underwear able to measure pH and other biomarkers in body fluid to enable awareness, prevention, and monitoring of conditions such as infections or STIs.
Not weird enough? How about air-purifying headphones2 with active noise cancellation, for those who don’t want to breathe in pollution or pandemics while on the go? Yes, that’s a product now too!
Speaking of air purification wearables, the last couple of years have sparked a hi-tech face covering3 craze, with many a notable electronics company coming out with air purifier masks with built-in HEPA filters and microphones and speakers to amplify the wearer’s voice when they’re talking, lest it sound too muffled.
Some have even taken the smart mask concept further into fashion with stylish cyberpunk reusable face masks that come complete with rechargeable and removable ventilators. Need a new filter? Simply slip a clean one into the ventilator cartridges or recharge your mask in its wireless charging case. Why does it need charging? Because it wouldn’t be complete without its embedded UV lights that can color change on command. Oh yes, and the case supposedly sterilizes the entire contraption with UV light so it’s clean and fresh the next day.
Or if you’ve missed going to sporting events, you could always go back to the ballpark and catch a game. A baseball game where players might soon be wearing wearables that could accurately call pitches!
Earlier this year, the MLB approved the wearable PitchCom, which it believes will reduce sign-stealing and speed up the game. The devices, which debuted in the minor leagues in the 2021 season made appearances for the major league teams during spring training of April 2022 and are now becoming a more common feature of regular play.
The PitchCom system has a push-button transmitter worn on the catcher’s wristband, and receivers embedded into the padding of the catcher’s helmet. It also includes sensors inside the sweatbands of the pitcher’s and other fielders’ caps.
The transmitter has buttons representing different types of pitches and locations, for example, four seam high inside, or curve hi middle, or slider hi outside… etc.
Where it gets really interesting though is that the choice of pitch and location can be conveyed using bone-conduction technology, which bypasses the ear canal, so that up to three teammates can collaborate on defensive positioning. Who said baseball was boring?!
If all this talk of wearables has you thinking about your laundry, then you’ll love the next generation of wearable clothes that don’t require quite so much washing! A recent wearable exhibit featured both men’s and women’s shirts made from a fiber extracted from discarded marine life shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth. The chitosan from the shells apparently has unique antimicrobial properties, so they don’t smell or get unhygienic for longer than regular clothes. Maybe not flashy, but very useful!
If clothes that don’t need washing aren’t cool enough, how about slim fit spacesuits? A recent wearable showcase featured a mechanical counter pressure glove that would provide compression of the wearer’s skin at extreme pressures, built to counteract the vacuum of space.
“Current space suits are bulky and heavy; NASA's Artemis suit weighs more than 300 pounds on Earth. MCP space suits have the potential to be less than 50 pounds and offer a much greater range of motion,” says Final Frontier Design, the Brooklyn based company that makes spacesuits for NASA and the commercial space industry.
The featured glove design boasts restraint lines of Spectra running down each fingertip to the palm and wrist to control human and pressure loads. The adjustable pressure on the wearer’s skin is a result of inflatable pockets that go from the fingertips to the wrist.
Most of us have a much higher chance of exploring space as part of the Metaverse or some sort of virtual reality world than on an actual rocket ship, and for that, we have smart sunglasses. Just when you thought digitally connected glasses were not a thing anymore, here they are becoming a thing again! Ray-Ban has a pair that allows their wearer to snap photos, film videos, or listen to music and calls from tiny speakers on the frame, while also allowing the sharing of content directly to a person’s social media platforms, or the metaverse.
Moto-cross more your speed? There’s a helmet app for that! The Faro Mart Helmet not only has cool futuristic LED lights so the rider can be easily spotted on the road, it can also signal turns, and can detect accidents or falls thanks to the embedded accelerometers. If an accident does happen, the helmet automatically sends out an SOS text (preprogrammed) to the wearer’s emergency contact.
Would you rather feel risk than actually be at risk? Try a gaming vest with haptic transducers that vibrate to make you feel the thuds of impact, while also engaging in an immersive audio experience. The patented Oscillating Frame Actuators, behave like a musical instrument to deliver a polyphonic haptic experience that takes virtual reality to a whole new, um, reality!
Whatever will the world of wearables come up with next? Probably more fitness trackers, but hopefully a lot more besides.
A regular speaker on the tech conference circuit and a Senior Director at FTI Consulting, SJ Barak is an authority on the electronics space, social media in a b2b context, digital content creation and distribution. She has a passion for gadgets, electronics, and science fiction.
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