While you may not realize it, the notion of wearable technology has been around for a while. It’s a well-played science fiction trope. The futuristic soldiers go into battle with aliens while back on their ship there’s a command center monitoring their progress, heart rates, and other vitals.
Those space suits are a wearable tech.
Back in the real world, we aren’t there yet, but there have been great strides made in the tech you can wear market.
We’re not talking about gear that you can wear in outer space. Instead, we’re talking about smartwatches, fitness trackers, virtual and augmented reality.
What is Wearable Technology?
Brief History of Wearables
The quest for wearable devices goes back quite a while as we’ve always looked to innovate and take tech mobile.
Fitness was a big motivator in the advancement of wearable trackers. There were clip-on pedometers that would tell you how many steps you took. Those simple devices are the ancestors of the world of Fitbit, Garmin trackers, and other fitness products.
As Smartphones grew in popularity, and quality, the urge to wear a version on our wrists grew and smartwatches started being produced, leading the popular Apple Watch Series.
Wearable tech then moved from the wrist to the head, and virtual reality (VR) became the next frontier and led us to products like the Google Glass and Oculus Rift.
Any device that you wear or otherwise attach to your body qualifies as wearable tech.
That’s the simple definition as the world of wearable tech is diverse and constantly expanding.
Smartwatches are the popular devices in this market but advances in wearable tech have opened up possibilities with augmented reality — integrating real time digital information into your environment, and virtual reality with head-mounted displays.
This technology also opens the world of Internet of Things (IoT) which allows for people to share and send data to each other and between devices, all remotely.
How Does Wearable Technology Work?
Using microprocessors, wearable tech have an impressive amount of computing power.
With that computing power, these devices use sensors that allow them to communicate, and sync with smartphones to transfer data, usually about us, to our phones, using Bluetooth. Stand-alone devices are available and connect your watch, or other wearables, to the internet using a 4G LTE connection, and some connect via WiFi.
This functionality opens the door to several different uses.
Virtual reality headsets open up a new world of entertainment and gaming options. There are business applications as well, with the ability of using IoT Technology where data can be shared and reviewed in real time.
Fitness trackers allow for tracking both physical and mental health by the use of heart-rate monitors and other biometric monitoring.
Smartwatches blend all of these applications and give you a mini computer that can fit on your wrist. With that power you can connect with friends, colleagues, and with your own personal health.
As stated above, smartwatches are in essence, mini-computers that you wear on your wrist. They’ve taken off in popularity and sync to your phone, giving you access to applications and notifications on your phone.
The tech in this market has exploded, and there are general smartwatches like the Apple Series, but you can also find one that fits your lifestyle and needs. It’s not just Apple who have set up shop in this market. Samsung has also jumped in as have companies like Fitbit and Garmin.
Not only are you able to tell time with these watches, but you can access your email, send text messages, read and interact with your social media, and listen to music synced through your headphones. For more information and detail on smartwatches, read our article on what a smartwatch is and why you need one.
Are you an athlete who wants to track your workouts, monitor your heart rate, performance, sleep, and calories burned? Fitness trackers do all that for you, but they aren’t just for the hardcore.
With the use of optical heart monitors, GPS, altimeter, gyroscope, and accelerometers, fitness trackers monitor more than just your heart rate and calories burned. They track and record the intensity of your workouts, the amount of oxygen in your blood, resting heart rate, and elevation gains.
Fitness trackers have made it so anyone, no matter what fitness level you’re at, can track how you’re doing during the day.
There are basic trackers that meet these needs as well as smartwatches that give you tracking as well as more non-fitness related features.
The fitness tracking market is a crowded one with big and small players. Brands such as Biostrap, Healthwatch, Letsfit who offer various trackers at affordable prices. Fitbit and Garmin are the big players who offer popular trackers like the FitBit Charge 3, Versa, Viviosmart.
Tracking your general fitness and steps is one thing, but wearable tech also covers you if you are into a specific sport. These watches go beyond the basic tracking of calories and are designed with features to assist with specific sports.
These features may include designed workouts, trainer tips, and in some smartwatches, video tutorials to help you get through your training.
Runners may like a gadget like the Garmin 245 Music, which comes with GPS to track your route, connects with Spotify, and provides advanced metrics on your performance. Grab your headphones and hit the road.
The Garmin Approach S20 is geared for golfers and keeps your statistics and helps you with club selection and other course information.
Swimmers can find tech aimed at helping with laps, splits, intervals, calories and number of strokes. You can even load information detailing the length of the pool you’re jumping in. Apple Watch Series 3 is one such watch and is water-resistant up to 50 meters.
You’ll also find watches for scuba diving, hiking, and other sports.
It may sound like something reserved for the movies, but head-mounted displays are an exciting part of the wearable tech world. Using augmented reality and virtual reality the possibilities of head-mounted devices are endless.
These gadgets deliver information directly to your eyes via headsets like with the Oculus Rift, or in glasses like Google Glass.
A virtual reality head-mount, like the Oculus Rift, has gaming and entertainment possibilities. With a headset that blocks out all other light or distractions, immerses the user into whatever world they want and increases the video game experience.
Google has tinkered with the idea of smart glasses since 2013 with Google Glass, but they did not catch on. Unlike virtual reality mounts that block out your vision, the idea behind the glasses was that you could still see the room around you, but with a display projected into the frames
This augmented reality superimposes data onto your field of vision, allowing for hands free multitasking. We’ve seen this idea in scient fiction, but augmented reality is becoming more and more prevelant and realistic.
Those sci-fi suits from the movies are here. Well, maybe not exactly like the movies. However, there have been exciting advances in smart clothing over the years.
Smart Clothing refers to any garment with embedded electronics. This can include heart-rate sensors or other biometric trackers as well as music playback and other smartwatch abilities.
There are military benefits, as seen in the movies, but it’s also beneficial to athletes.
Just as fitness trackers populate every gym, running trail, or bike lane, more and more athletes are wearing garments that have the same tracking capabilities.
A company like Athos offers wearers athletic gear that tracks heart rate and muscle data. Their shirts and gym clothes sync with an application that gives athletes real-time data on their workouts, allowing for optimal performance and improvement.
However, smart clothes are not just for tracking how hard you’re sweating. Do you want a smart coat? One that lets you control how hot or cold you are? You’re in luck because Emil and Eris have such a product.
We’ve put chips and tech into watches, clothes, and glasses and yes, jewellery.
Perhaps the best is the Bellabeat Leaf Urban which works as a necklace, bracelet, or clip-on. It tracks your all-day activity such as exercises, steps taken and calories, as well as sleep and women’s health data (menstrual cycles).
While many of this jewelry is aimed at women, there are products for men as well. Rings, such as the Oura Ring, put fitness tracking into a stylish ring. It tracks your movement like other trackers will but also will monitor your heart rate and body temperature during the night to track the quality of sleep you’re getting.
With the exteriors of our bodies concurred with wearable tech, the next frontier had to be internal.
Implantables use near field communication (NFC) and radio frequency identification (RFID) which are wireless methods of communication. With this technology, implanted chips can be used to open doors, start cars, and open up the world of IoT applications.
There are obvious health benefits from this technology as doctors can use it to get readings and updates on patients remotely. There are cyber-pills being developed that can monitor if patients are taking medication, something that is helpful for people suffering from mental illness.
Beyond medical uses, implantables have the ability to act as a virtual key. They’ll allow you to open doors with the wave of a hand, log on to your computer without remembering your pass word, and even starting your car without a key.
Wearable tech is undoubtedly exciting. Having wearable computers gives us easy to access information, connection, and in some cases, it is just fun.
The medical benefits of wearables are undeniable.
Tracking bio metrics via smartwatches, implantables, give doctors and researchers unprecedented access to a patient’s vitals and conditions. They can get them in real time and without the need for the patient to come into the office.
In other words, wearable tech, could end up saving lives.
Where will wearable tech take us in the future?
Indeed, virtual reality and head-mounted displays have just begun to scratch the surface, and will offer new and exciting forms of entertainment.
Implantables continue to evolve, but it and all wearable tech do bring about some questions and concerns about privacy. How much information about our bodies, health, and daily activities do we want tracked and available in real-time?
The technology has grown and gets better with each release. Not only could wearables replace smartphones at some point, but the positive, medical uses can also save lives. All those wild science fiction tropes we’ve seen in the movies for years, may just be available to us in the everyday, real world.
What is Wearable Technology - History, Definition and Examples Explained
Otherwise known as wearable computing devices, wearables are increasing in popularity in the consumer's electronics market. What are they and how do they work? In this article, we walk you through the history of wearable technology and types of wearable products in the market today.
Andy is a long-time writer covering sports, tech, and the local arts scene in Seattle, Washington. He is an avid hockey fan, weight lifter, and fitness tracker fanatic. His work has appeared on ESPN Seattle, Sportsnet in Canada and most recently NHL.com.