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Smartwatches, Wearable Electronics and Electronics Incorporated into Apparel Begin to Enter the Marketplace, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

While Google Glass was a big newsmaker for its wearable electronics, many other interesting products are entering the market that may have strong appeal to consumers.  This trend will build rapidly as the price of chips and components, such as highly sensitive motion sensors, has plummeted, and some devices will offer true convenience as well as a cool factor.  Researchers at major labs, including PARC and Intel, are deeply involved in exploring the potential of electronics integrated into shoes, jackets, shirts, belts, gloves, wristbands or watches, eye glasses, hats and more.  The integration of custom designed mobile apps, created specifically for wearable electronics, will become widespread.  The sweeping and inexpensive availability of Bluetooth, cellular networks, Wi-Fi and cloud-based databases will enhance this trend. 

Hoodies (hooded sweatshirts) with earphones built in to the hoods are offered by Hoodie Buddie and sold on Amazon and other outlets.  The Hoodie Buddie has a standard headphone jack that plugs into any headphone-compatible device, like an MP3 music player, iPod or iPhone.  The sound travels through the Hoodie Buddie and into the built in headphones at the end of the hood’s drawstrings.  It is machine washable in cold water, including the headphones.

Japan-based apparel retailer Uniqlo offers Heattech clothing that utilizes a special fabric with air pockets to encourage body heat.  The air pockets utilize moisture evaporating naturally from the body in order to heat items like knee-high socks for use in cold weather.  WarmX clothing, made in Germany, sells clothing that has silver threads woven into the fabric.  When the clothing is hooked up to a battery pack, it bathes the body in heat.

Google’s Glass is an eyeglasses-like computer interface.  The device enables wearers to access the Internet, take photos and shoot short videos.  The interface is two-fold, as some voice commands are available, along with the ability for the user to tap on the side of the unit to bring it to life.  A tiny display resides on a top corner of the unit where the eye can easily watch it.  A soft introduction of the product, put in the hands of a small number of users, created widespread concerns about privacy, since the on-board camera could potentially be used without a photo subject’s awareness, despite a small light on the device that indicated usage.  In early 2015, Google announced that it would not, for the time being, put Glass on the consumer market.  Instead, it will concentrate on refining Glass while continuing to make it available to firms that have found commercial, industrial or medical uses for it.

Oakley Airwave goggles for snowboarders and other sports enthusiasts retail for about $500 and include built-in GPS and streaming features.  Oakley includes a built-in heads-up display that integrates GPS, Bluetooth and more.  Onboard sensors give the wearer instant access to snowboard jump analytics that show distance, height and airtime.  Additional features include preloaded maps, music playlist control and buddy tracking.  Oakley describes it as a “mobile dashboard.”

Another twist on wearable electronics is the use of conductive fibers, which are typically substrate fibers such as cotton, polyester or nylon coated or embedded with electrically conductive elements.  The result is lighter and more flexible than using metal wires as conductors, making it easily wearable and washable.  Conductive fibers can be used in a wide variety of applications, including in military uniforms (which can power equipment), RFID tags in clothing and sensors in active wear that can measure heart rate and distance covered

 

Internet Research Tip:

For more about conductive fibers, see the web site for the Conductive Fibers Manufacturing Council, www.cfibermfg.com .

 

Industrial applications for wearable electronics will also evolve.  For example, police officers, soldiers and emergency medical technicians may benefit from the ability to see up-to-date data on a wearable dashboard such as Google Glass, while built-in cameras and microphones may exchange vital real-time information with experts and analysts in remote locations.  This could move remote collaboration in highly-critical situations to a new level.

Wearable electronics can even be embedded in thin plastic or fabric strips that can be applied directly to the skin like an adhesive bandage.  Cambridge, Massachusetts-based MC10 (www.mc10inc.com ) is working on the technology.  One of its first products is the Biostamp sticker for the fitness, consumer health and medical markets.  MC10 also helped develop the Reebok CHECKLIGHT, a thin soft skullcap that measures the impacts an athlete sustains during contact sports

Wearable electronics will be heavily utilized by the mobile personal health market (especially in wearable heart rate, temperature and exertion monitors), which is expected to skyrocket. 

Smartwatches are rapidly coming on to the market, with prices in the $200 to $400 range.  These devices have a lot of potential.  Initially, their primary use is to communicate with the user’s nearby smartphone, enabling the user to see and respond to incoming text and email messages from the wrist.  The devices can display everything from weather conditions to text messages to personalized graphics in addition to the time.  This may turn into a very serious product category if manufacturers can make the devices appealing enough to convince consumers to buy and deal with one more mobile device.  Apple launched its version of a smartwatch during the spring of 2015.  Google gave wearable electronics a big boost in 2014 with the launch of Android Wear, an operating system specifically for wearables.  Initially designed for smartwatches, the system opens the door for wearable app designers who need a broad, easily accessible platform for their products.

 

SPOTLIGHT:  CuteCircuit

London-based CuteCircuit is a fashion house that produces women’s and men’s clothing made of fabric embedded with micro-electronics that create changing, lighted patterns, shapes and texts.  CuteCircuit projects include the Kinetic Dress, which lights up and changes patterns in response to the wearer’s movements; the M Dress, which accepts an SIM card and allows the wearer to make and receive calls without the use of a cellular phone; the Hug Shirt, a garment that generates the warmth, pressure and duration of a hug from a friend of loved one (it is activated by a message sent via cellphone); and the Galaxy Dress, which is a wearable LED display with 24,000 full color LEDs.  CuteCircuit produces custom clothing through its Haute Couture line, and offers ready-to-wear through its web site, cutecircuit.com .

 

 


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