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Will Wearable Technology Be Prêt-à-Porter in 2014?

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?

— Brad Albing, Editor-in-Chief, Planet Analog and Integration Nation Circle me on Google+

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61 comments on “Will Wearable Technology Be Prêt-à-Porter in 2014?

  1. fasmicro
    December 27, 2013

    >>  prêt-à-porter (ready to wear),

    First, you just taught me that phrase or word. 

    Secondly, most of the wearables are not standalone yet. They need a phone nearby to function optimally. I think we need two phases of miniaturizations to get to the level where these wearables will be plug and play (they become the device and the transmitter) with no support from phone. I see that in 2016 and not 2014.

  2. fasmicro
    December 27, 2013

    >> As above, we'll need a Bluetooth com-link that ties the clothing to a controller/data collection device such as your smartphone.

    There is a chip from Nordic Semiconductor which does the job better than Bluetooth and it also power-efficient. Anyone working in this space should check http://www.nordicsemi.com/. It is better than using BT. You just have to read the chip datasheet and wire it into your design.

  3. goafrit2
    December 27, 2013

    One challenge with the Noric Semi RF chip is that it is a transceiver which means you need to have the receiver and transmitter sides. Without global adoption, it does not give a lot of scale. Yet, many medical wearables are using the chip owing to its effective power management. One of the foremost EEG wearables was made out of it.

  4. etnapowers
    December 28, 2013

    Many companies are working on this type of application, to make a single chip that can receive and transmit at the same time being powered by solar cells and storing smart capacitors, I cannot see a forecast for the completion but I guess it will be very soon.

  5. Netcrawl
    December 29, 2013

    @Brad that was great! very interesting, I think health is the huge area for wearable technology, it has a huge market potential, here we could used wearable technology to monitor heart rates, exercise trackers and many more. Many companies recognized the huge potential of wearable technology, with Google Glass as the most recognisable player in the market. @etnapowers powers supply and processing power are still some of the most challenging issues here. I dont see any development here, but overall I think we could see some advances by 2014.

     

  6. Netcrawl
    December 29, 2013

    Effective power management is probably one of the most important design goal in building mediacl wearables, low power consumption could contributes not only to prolonged lifetime of the device but also to system minituarization because of the bulk size of the power supply which could occupies more than 50% of the system volume, and it is widely known that the power hungry component in the wearable device is the wireless transceiver, choosing a very low power transceiver could be a good idea-probably less than 10mA in transmission mode and 22mA in receiving mode, I think this one is good.

  7. Victor Lorenzo
    December 30, 2013

    @fasmicro, “There is a chip from Nordic Semiconductor which does the job better than Bluetooth ” I agree with you, they have several interesting products for low power consumption, low data volume and low data rate applications.

  8. Victor Lorenzo
    December 30, 2013

    @Brad, thanks for bringing us this post, it was an interesting reading.

    Many years ago a frind of mine had a watch that deeply called my attention. On the contrary of what we (the kids from the same classroom) were used to see, his watch did not require him to wind it every day. It was automatic! Fortunately he was also curious about that and it did not took me too much effort to convince him to remove the back cover from the watch… and see inside!

    I feel also curious like that again but this time to see what will they (or we 😉 put in that wearable technology, specially in patient monitoring applications.

  9. Victor Lorenzo
    December 30, 2013

    I think It will be possible to find some day energy harvesting devices and sensors embedded in our clothings using printable electronics.

  10. SunitaT
    December 31, 2013

    I think It will be possible to find some day energy harvesting devices and sensors embedded in our clothings using printable electronics.

    @Victor, I totally agree with you. There are many advantages of using such clothing. For example at the 2011 scouting combine, about 30 players will be wearing clothing technology that allows coaches and scouts watching the various drills to receive specific technical data about the players.

  11. SunitaT
    December 31, 2013

    I cannot see a forecast for the completion but I guess it will be very soon.

    @etnapowers, which are the companies which are primarily working in this domain ? How soon do you think we will be able to implement solution for this ?

  12. SunitaT
    December 31, 2013

    Anyone working in this space should check http://www.nordicsemi.com/. It is better than using BT.

    @fasmicro, thanks for sharing this info. This technology looks very promising. This technology is definitely better than BT and eventually might be used as an alternative for BT.

  13. SunitaT
    December 31, 2013

    Secondly, most of the wearables are not standalone yet. They need a phone nearby to function optimally.

    @fasmicro, I agree with your opinion that we need to remove the dependency on phone. I think we can use other wearable gadgets Google glasses instead of phone for control.

  14. Netcrawl
    December 31, 2013

    @SunitaT wearing sensors embedded in our clothings I think its possible, the buzz around wearable technology has been growing fast the past few years, it has moved beyond product concept to actual products worn by users- reality glasses, smartwatches and sophisticated health monitoring devices inside the wrist band. These wearable products tend to be more integrated in a user's daily life than mobile devices. But building this kind of technology its not an easy task, we need a high degree of specialization tools and process to design and engineer this kind of product.  

  15. Brad Albing
    December 31, 2013

    @etnapowers — I'm envisioning the new geek apparel as the cap with a solar panel rather than the classic propeller (the propeller beanie).

  16. Brad Albing
    December 31, 2013

    @fasmicro — did not know about that part. Thanks for the link.

  17. Brad Albing
    December 31, 2013

    @Victor – you can absolutely count on seeing more and more wearable medical/health related devices hitting the marketplace in 2014. Any companies involved in that would be good places to work (or to buy stock in!).

  18. SunitaT
    December 31, 2013

    But building this kind of technology its not an easy task, we need a high degree of specialization tools and process to design and engineer this kind of product.

    @Netcrawl, true building that kind of technology is not easy but with the existing technology that we have I dont think it would be too difficult to come-up with a solution. I think nano-technology will also might help us to implement such technology.

  19. SunitaT
    December 31, 2013

    Any companies involved in that would be good places to work (or to buy stock in!).

    @Brad, I totally agree with you. I am curious to know which company has invested hugely in wearable tech ? Is it existing big player like Google, Sony or some start up company.

  20. etnapowers
    January 1, 2014

    @SunitaT: I think that some major players have started a research activity on this and are waiting for the success of a little start up company that will be possibly acquired in case of wide diffusion of this technology.

  21. etnapowers
    January 1, 2014

    SunitaT: I guess Nike is one of the big companies working on this in partnership with some makers of IOT objects, some of the wearable solutions are right now on the market, more applications will be present in the next couple of years I suppose.

  22. etnapowers
    January 1, 2014

    @ Brad: nice post, thank you. I guess that some piezoelectric devices producing electrical charge when they are stressed, could be utilized as well, by storing the electric charge in smart capacitors.

  23. fasmicro
    January 2, 2014

    >> Many companies are working on this type of application, to make a single chip that can receive and transmit at the same time being powered by solar cells and storing smart capacitors,

    Any referral on these companies. I know of Nordic Semi but the solar aspect you mentioned is new. If you have some names, I will appreciate. Thanks

  24. fasmicro
    January 2, 2014

    Good points @Netcrawl >> But building this kind of technology its not an easy task, we need a high degree of specialization tools and process to design and engineer this kind of product.

    These products are still at infancy and they are challenging to make. Just wait when FDA will start requiring all these “medical app” products to be registerred, you will see shutdowns. From power management to processing to calibration, there is nothing easy in wearables especially if you want to make money. I know that one of Google founders' wife runs a company in this space. It may be a hobby as they can afford to run it at loss for decades.

  25. etnapowers
    January 2, 2014

    Yes, I agree on this, it's possible. The printed circuits has to be ESD strongly resistant and the overall reliability is a really important requirement.

  26. etnapowers
    January 2, 2014

    @fasmicro, Here there are some links:

    Jawbone

    Fitbit

    Pebble

    This is the top 3 of wearable tech startup companies. 

     

  27. etnapowers
    January 2, 2014

    @Sunita: Let me reply to your question. Between the companies that are investing hugely in wearable tech there are many major players like Google, Samsung, Adidas, Nike, and Sony, and some start up companies like Jawbone, Fitbit, Pebble, Oculus VR, Scan.

  28. Davidled
    January 3, 2014

    I guess that one of prominent technology would be wearable and embedded technology at 2014. I expect that the industrial scientific medical technology including radiation therapy with updated image would be more exposed in this year.

  29. fasmicro
    January 4, 2014

    The greatest challenge with wearables is that no one wants to do the real thing which is a biochip. Just made a chip and implant it into the human body and allow the thing to monitor and report 24/7. The problem is that it goes towards the Biblical dreaded prophesy of number 666.

  30. fasmicro
    January 4, 2014

    Thanks. I know Pebble and co which are largely communication based with the extension of the phone or tablets into the smart watch ecosystem.  The IP system in these firms are so low that most will disappear when Apple unveils its iWatch.

  31. fasmicro
    January 4, 2014

    >>  I expect that the industrial scientific medical technology including radiation therapy with updated image would be more exposed in this year.

    One of the problems why some of those technologies cannot be miniatururized is not the electronics but the cabling. It is like the ultrasound tools. You can reduce the electronics but the cables are still real issues. It will be a great leap if radiation therapy tools can be remade.

  32. goafrit2
    January 5, 2014

    The printed circuits has to be ESD strongly resistant and the overall reliability is a really important requirement.

    The material quality of PCB is the most important determinant of its performance. You can do all great designs but when they make it in a very lousy material, you have a problem. That explains why that has not been well outsourced out the US. There are many PCB plants that support the industry right here in America.

  33. etnapowers
    January 7, 2014

    Yes DaeJ , I think that there is more interest in medical technology than in the past because many wearable medical sensors are being engineered and launched to the market and, moreover, the Internet of Things approach enhances the interest in this type of activity.

  34. etnapowers
    January 7, 2014

    @fasmicro: you're welcome.

    Pebble works just like any smartwatch does, but what makes this company worth noting is how it turned to crowd-funding and this raised very much money. I don't think that this company will suffer too much the Apple iwatch concurrency, because it has a solid economic background.

  35. etnapowers
    January 7, 2014

    @fasmicro, here you can find an interesting link about how Pebble has raised money.

  36. Davidled
    January 7, 2014

    I wonder whether IC package will also affect the EDS depending Wafer processing including the size of wafer: Thin and Thick. I think that this type testing could be tested in the package level itself.

  37. goafrit2
    January 8, 2014

    The medical industry, pending FDA playing along, will be the greatest beneficiary of the wearable tech revolution. As the industry looks to reduce cost model, medicine has to become specific and personal. Only wearable can make that happen. The key challenge tough is how the trial lawyers react to the learning windows in these systems. 

  38. goafrit2
    January 8, 2014

    >>  I don't think that this company will suffer too much the Apple iwatch concurrency, because it has a solid economic background.

    I sure wish them good luck. Sure, they raised about $10M from Kickstarter which is a lot of money. However, if Apple decides to move into the era and combine many things – health, leisure, phones etc into one, I except Pebble to have a challenge. It has nothing to do with technology, it is branding. It is Apple and you look special on your wrist. That is the problem.

  39. goafrit2
    January 8, 2014

    @Daej. >>I wonder whether IC package will also affect the EDS depending Wafer processing including the size of wafer: Thin and Thick.

    Your question is not clear. Do you mean if the way IC is packaged could affect its EDS? And that is associated with the way wafer is processed along with the size. I do not think the latter has any correlation with the former. Sure, IC package can have impact on EDS. But the way wafer is processed and its size should not

  40. Davidled
    January 9, 2014

    I think that IC package affects EDS in some degree. Therefore, I wonder whether wafer design engineer could consider this type level issue. I checked a few 74 series TTL Chip datasheet. There is no indication for EDS testing information. I image that semiconductor egineer may test EDS on its own lab.

  41. goafrit2
    January 13, 2014

    >> I think that IC package affects EDS in some degree. 

    It does and that is the #1 reason why people are looking at wafer level chip scale package for inertial sensors. That way, you zero out packaging and the associated probems.

  42. PCR
    January 15, 2014

       True fasmicro. I also believe that to take the real advantage of the wearable electronic devices it should be a standalone unit which can be operate without any other devices help. 

  43. PCR
    January 15, 2014

    Fasmicro, thanks for sharing the link, it will consume low power than the Bluetooth which will lead to simplify the power supply system in wearable electronics. 

  44. PCR
    January 15, 2014

    Fasmicro, thanks for sharing the link, it will consume low power than the Bluetooth which will lead to simplify the power supply system in wearable electronics. 

  45. PCR
    January 15, 2014

    True Netcrawl power is a main topic when it comes to wearable electronics. I believe that energy harvesting from the moving parts will be a great option to be consider like the energy harvesting shoo sole. 

  46. PCR
    January 15, 2014

    “I think It will be possible to find some day energy harvesting devices and sensors embedded in our clothing's using printable electronics.”
    True Victor simply it can be a solar energy harvesting unit.

  47. PCR
    January 15, 2014

    I do not agree with you SunitaT cause that if the smart phone embedded with the wearable system there will be a more positives with the phone options. 

  48. fasmicro
    January 17, 2014

    >>   True fasmicro. I also believe that to take the real advantage of the wearable electronic devices it should be a standalone unit which can be operate without any other devices help. 

    That may not be a good idea though. Imagine making the wearable smart watch to be standalone. That means, it must have all the key elements of a phone to work. That increases the cost, the weight and possibly price. My thinking is that we get a lot when you distribute the power of a hub unit. A phone can do that and drive other units with them needing its support to optimally function.

  49. fasmicro
    January 17, 2014

    The design paradigm to harvest energy from moving parts has not worked out. But hey, anything is possible in the tech world. What I see as a good roadmap is to focus on solar to power these systems with storage batteries. Moving body parts cannot generate enough power to drive anything useful.

  50. fasmicro
    January 17, 2014

    >> “I think It will be possible to find some day energy harvesting devices and sensors embedded in our clothing's using printable electronics.”

    Are there long-term health hazards on this? Putting them on shoes may be a better idea than clothes. There are many ideas there and as we know it seems grid is there to stay. We have been looking for decades to wean ourselves out of oil, but day and night, we are using more of it. We can find all these new ideas, but grid will continue to be the center of powering our electronics for a long time.

  51. PCR
    January 26, 2014

    Fasmicro, there are systems which harvest energy from the moving parts. Recently I read an article of shoo sole which harvest some energy; unfortunately I do not have the link to share. 

  52. PCR
    January 26, 2014

    True fasmicro, all the ideas and products will be there in future,  but the real problems will be identify only at the time of using those.

  53. yalanand
    January 31, 2014

    Pebble works just like any smartwatch does, but what makes this company worth noting is how it turned to crowd-funding and this raised very much money.

    @etnapowers, One of the best features of Pebble is that it connects us to all of the powerful apps on our smartphone. Pebble is also partnering with companies like Mercedes and Yelp to bring more apps and experiences to peoples wrists around the world.

     

  54. yalanand
    January 31, 2014

    Netcrawl power is a main topic when it comes to wearable electronics.

    @Ranasinghe, A young battery startup called Imprint Energy has designed a new type of battery that uses zinc and can be screen printed. It's innovation could enable entirely new types of wearable electronics.

  55. amrutah
    February 1, 2014

    “Imprint Energy has designed a new type of battery that uses zinc”

    @Yalanand:  Thanks for sharing this, but are there any products worth noting their presence in the market?  What is hindering its growth? cost or yield?

  56. etnapowers
    February 3, 2014

    “The key challenge tough is how the trial lawyers react to the learning windows in these systems.”

    @Goatfrit, I'm interested in this point , could you explain better what do you mean by reacting to the learning windows?
  57. fasmicro
    February 9, 2014

    >> Fasmicro, there are systems which harvest energy from the moving parts.

    Yes, there are systems like that. My only contention is whether the energy from these moving parts is sufficient to power or drive these systems.

  58. fasmicro
    February 9, 2014

    >>  Pebble is also partnering with companies like Mercedes and Yelp to bring more apps and experiences to peoples wrists around the world.

    Pebble is a great startup but if I am in their board, I will ask them to exit or sell right now. The deep pocketed Apple, Google and others will unleash venon this year in that space and they will find it harder to compete. Hardware business gets tougher when the margin drops

  59. fasmicro
    February 9, 2014

    >> Thanks for sharing this, but are there any products worth noting their presence in the market?  What is hindering its growth? cost or yield?

    They just started and their products are new. Hopefully in the future, they will help launch products. At the moment, they are in the process but have demonstrated enornous innovation and vision.

  60. fasmicro
    February 9, 2014

    >>  I'm interested in this point , could you explain better what do you mean by reacting to the learning windows?

    Usually, in any technology, you do not get everything right at the first attempt. If you wear an ECG app and somehow you get a wrong reading that prevented you from going to a hospital. And in the future, there is a big probem, trial lawyers may sue. There is going to be a phase of learning before the industry matures. What happens before them will be interesting as some will be bankrupted by legal problems.

  61. etnapowers
    February 10, 2014

    @fasmicro: thank you for your explanation, now it's clear. You described something similar to the process of qualification and development of a new application that has to be on time and reliable before to become mature for the real market. I guess many companies are running this kind of  qualification process of wearable technology applications and are evaluating the profit in this activity.

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