More companies are getting involved in what we sometimes call “wearable technology.” This can refer to clothing with lighting effects woven into the fabric or with audio devices built in. Some of this could be classified as fashion accessories. Wearable technology can also refer to devices that monitor your health status. The latter category can include monitors that track and record heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, blood oxygen levels, blood sugar levels, and exposure to extremes of ambient temperature, pressure, and radiation.
Some of the health-related versions take the form of clip-on or strap-on devices (wrist or arm bands, clips for the fingertip or earlobe). And some are sewn into the clothing. Examples of clothing include sportswear that monitors heart and respiration rates.
As more of this technology becomes prêt-à-porter , the need to push more technology into a smaller space becomes very important. An additional driving factor is the power draw. Let's look at the details that relate to the products mentioned above.
For the clothing with built-in audio: There are a couple of applications here. For music playback, of course, speakers are needed. To provide the audio, we will need class-D amplifiers and a Bluetooth com-channel to interface with the MP3 player or smartphone. To work with a smartphone being used as a phone, add a microphone plus an op-amp (pre-amp) and a little extra miscellaneous circuitry. In both cases, we will want to squeeze all the circuitry into a tiny IC. And we will want that IC to draw very low current.
For the wristband/armband/clothing that monitors your vital signs, we'll need op-amps, instrument amps, voltage references, and ADCs. Combined, this can be treated as an analog front end (AFE), which we've discussed in several other blogs. As above, we'll need a Bluetooth com-link that ties the clothing to a controller/data-collection device such as your smartphone.
Here's some additional info on vital signs (and then some) data collection, courtesy of Harvard University and YouTube:
Circling back to where we started with the clothing with lighting effects built in, designers are working on adding LED arrays to clothing. These would see usage in (not surprisingly) theatrical settings. Here's more on the topic courtesy of PBS and YouTube:
We've discussed LEDs and LED driver circuitry in this space before. Suffice to say that, as with the other applications above, we need to squeeze lots of functionality into a small space. And, of course, it must be very power efficient and low cost.
Are you already working on any of these ideas? When will you have them turned into saleable products?
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