IoT Developments That Are Building the Future: Fashion Wearables to Medical Devices

We've been buzzing about this concept for a decade now.  Connected home, connected office, connected garments, connected retail, connected supply chain.  In this connected universe, you rely on your phone to open your front door (August) and turn on your lights (Philips) and even lace your sneakers (Nike)?! 

The future of connected devices doesn't end with these kinds of solutions.  The solutions of the future integrate much more seamlessly into our lives and closer to our bodies.  Hopefully, we won't just be chasing our own power corded tails.

The Growth of IOT

Fashion Tech and Wearable IoT

I know...  Fashion Tech and Wearable IoT are getting kind of annoying.  You might be rolling your eyes with every new "LED Dress" and "Fitness Tracker" introduced to the market.  Some of these consumer-driven devices are enabling the development of tech that will be critical for the future of this industry.  These seemingly small developments will make products that can save or at least augment lives.  There is a bigger reason why you should care.

The easier implementation becomes, the more powerful IoT will be.  Above, a bluetooth powered LED prototype made from open-source libraries and tutorials on Adafruit.

The easier implementation becomes, the more powerful IoT will be.  Above, a bluetooth powered LED prototype made from open-source libraries and tutorials on Adafruit.

Developments

Low Latency Bluetooth

Low-latency Bluetooth will enable a future generation of wireless actuation and sensing.  This might be useful for decreasing the need for wires that run from an upper extremity held computer to lower extremity sensor or actuator.  It won't be fast enough for some of the extremes, but in exoskeletons for example, low latency Bluetooth could be used in physical augmentation, rehabilitation, and assistance in tasks of daily living.  The developments go beyond Bluetooth itself.  IoT Network Infrastructure and Cyber Security are among the lessons of these past few years.

Soft Circuits and Connectors

Soft Circuits and Connectors will make it easier to have small components at different parts of the body.  Garments like LED dresses have begun to address this need.  Some companies are experimenting with Dupont Stretchable inks, more reliable conductive yarns and better information about which ones to use, and utilizing aerospace components like micro-coax.  These kinds of wearable experiments have been happening for over 20 years.  

As more sensors become available and embedded in different technology, we will be able to create devices that can sense intent not only for human walking, but for upper extremity as well.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with wearable robotics, upper extremity intent sensing is a major challenge.  We use our arms for lots of things: communication, lifting heavy objects, picking up light objects, twisting, pulling, pushing...  It's difficult to understand what a human means to do when they move their arms around.

Microfluidics

Potentially due to the market opportunities unveiled by the wearable tech market, research in microfluidics has steered towards wearable applications particularly for bio-sensing and medical diagnostics.  These teeny little electrical developments have been proposed as stretch, stress, and strain sensors to detect bending and potentially be part of a system to provide real-time position information for human subjects.  They've also been used in the development of flexible batteries, temperature sensors, pH sensors, electrocardiogram electrodes, and etc.  Google's glucose sensing contact lens team, Verily, appears to be using microfluidics for their contact lenses.  Read more here about potential applications in medical diagnostics.  

Mobile Power, Wireless Charging

The consumer market is driving demand for improved solutions for mobile power through the internet of things, especially the mobile phone market.  Studies are showing 1 in 4 people have used wireless charging solutions to power their phones.  In the future of the wearables ecosystem, every hamper, shelf liner, suitcase, and hanger will have wireless charging.   Charging range is growing further to accommodate for this wire-free possibility. 

Multi-device Platforms

Multi-device platforms enable wearers to connect a number of garments and connected devices on the same platform.  It's a step in the right direction, Under Armour.  Multi-device platforms will allow us to choose from an assortment of design possibilities when we dress every day.  With similar connected systems in different designer's garments, we will have the same freedoms for self-expression, change, and fashion taste that we desire today.  It will take a shared platform for real, wide-spread impact to set in.

Manufacturing Capabilities

As devices become more and more complex, the manufacturing will become more challenging.  Even if we're sick of hearing about these devices, these incremental developments in manufacturing capabilities are critical long-term.  Historically, sewing factories are not equipped for handing electronic components.  Domain knowledge alone takes time.  Companies like Flextronics and MAS are claiming their stake in this space. It's a net-positive for progress that they continue being produced.  Quit rolling your eyes and be patient, progress is under way!