In this guest blog, Julia Hudson looks at the wide range of possibilities available in the ever-developing market of wearable technology.
As the world becomes more and more mobile, people depend on the gadgets they travel with to provide them with information, communication, and, increasingly, health and safety. Since mobile tech doesn’t get much more streamlined or traveller-friendly than wearables, developers around the world are creating fantastical new materials to make a mobile life a healthy one. If you’re on the road and find your mobile device, GPS, portable radio, or even medical device such as a glucose monitor running low on battery, never fear: soon, your clothing could be a back-up battery.
A collaboration between Singapore’s Ministry of Education, the Asian Office of Aerospace Research, and the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, has resulted in the development of a fibre containing flexible supercapacitors using a pure carbon called graphene. The fibre has the potential to provide 10 times the longevity of traditional rechargeable batteries.
The energy storage of this fibre would be significant, as well as its efficiency, meaning fabrics could be highly transportable.
Since the team sees no limit to how long a functional fibre they can manufacture, this technology could be incorporated into nearly any type of textile. From personal devices to potentially powering aid camps or medical tents, the possibilities of this sort of remote power source are nearly endless.
What about a fabric that can help detect illness and keep you safe even when far from a doctor? Companies such as New Zealand’s Footfalls and Heartbeats, or Britain’s SmartLife, are developing fibres with incorporated sensors that can monitor vital signs.
Using fabric instead of a clip-on monitor brings the sensor closer to the wearer’s body, increasing the types and accuracy of the body signals being processed. So far, prototypes have successfully incorporated EEG sensors into hats for brain monitoring, and athletic outfits that measure and report on muscular effort, breathing, temperature, and sweat.
Some early samples even give the wearer instructions, for example telling them if they may be coming down with a virus, so that it can be caught early.
For people on the go, these packable, washable, and discreet fabrics could actually become lifesavers, anticipating health issues for the wearer and potentially linking together to provide population-wide health data.
Solo women are the fastest-growing segment of the travel market, yet still many would-be adventurers are held back by the fear of assault while they’re away from their usual support networks.
American undergraduate students at North Carolina State University, however, are creating a tool that should help women feel safer about going out and enjoying themselves. They are developing a nail polish that can detect the presence of drugs in a person’s drink. Drugs such as Rohypnol are well known to be colourless and odourless, but the fledgling company Undercover Colors aims to give people a way to subtly and accurately determine whether their beverage is safe.
Wearable technology such as this is getting more and more discreet, making it easier than ever to imagine it seamlessly incorporated into our lives. And as people travel farther and wider, it’s important that this technology - whether it provides vital stats, battery power, or food-safety information - helps us protect our health wherever we are.