Fitness Trackers, Smart Clothing and Smart Jewellery – The present day attractions of Wearable Technology
As the name implies, fitness trackers help to monitor and track fitness metrics such as distance, calorie consumption, heartbeat, quality of sleep etc. While there are smartwatches that serve as fitness trackers, there are wearable devices exclusively for keeping a track of physical health as well. Let us see how it monitors our fitness and help us stay healthy.
Quite simply, fitness trackers measure motion. Present day wearables contain a 3 axis accelerometer which monitors movement in every direction. Some of them have gyroscope too which helps to measure orientation and rotation. If you go on hiking a mountain or climb stairs up and down, the altimeter in fitness trackers can read the altitude. All of such data is collected to generate an overall reading and with more sensors on your tracker, you can obtain a very accurate reading. The sensors can recognize the intensity, acceleration, frequency, duration and patterns of your movement which helps the tracker identify if you are walking down the road or just saying hello to someone you know. Maybe they can catch your anxiety when you greet your crush or try to ask her out! Oops..
The Jawbone UP3 is one of the trackers packed with sensors. Along with temperature sensor and accelerometer, they also have a bioimpedance sensor. Bioimpedance sensors are equipped with four electrodes that are helpful in measuring the resistance of your skin to a tiny electric current. Fitbit Charge 2 use optical sensors to cast light onto your skin and measure your pulse through it. This lights up your capillaries and the sensor could measure the rate at which blood is being pumped.
Different devices use the different algorithm to derive information out of raw data and none of the algorithms used by manufacturers are publicly available at the moment. To measure calories, an application needs more than steps, which is why it asks you to specify age, gender, height and weight too. Along with the steps, a tracker has to add details like heart rate and how much you are perspiring into the algorithm to accurately measure the calories you are burning. One of the most popular tracking platform available is ‘MotionX’, developed by Fullpower Technologies. Philippe Kahn, the CEO of MotionX explained the process of cleaning up data to provide quality information by pointing out the example of cleaning up a poorly recorded tape of a music concert. The tape captures all the sound that surrounds you. The chatter, foot tapping, interactions etc. So, if you have to convert this to a quality recording of music, you will have to get rid of all the needless sounds. The quality of such cleaning up will differ from tracker to tracker depending upon the algorithm and kind of sensors they use. Fullpower Technologies have more than 100 specialist engineers dedicated to improve the accuracy and efficiency of its software and they have also invested more than 50 million dollars to develop next generation algorithms!
Apps work as the final connecting link as it presents your data in a user friendly manner after going through various algorithms. Most fitness tracking apps help to add data and manually exercise as well. One of the best examples is ‘Apple Health’ that allows you to combine data from iPhone, Apple Watch and other third party apps so that you can view all your progress in one place. Google Fit is another one of such app that makes use of sensors in a tracker or mobile device to record fitness activities. The improving pattern of sensors inside our phones, especially like Apple M7 and M8 also provide an excellent opportunity for developers to create unique fitness applications. So, the things to keep in mind while purchasing fitness tracker is the integrated software, the compatible apps and the algorithms that run the device.
Garmin VivoSmart HR+ won the Fitness Tracker of the Year at Wearable Tech Awards 2016. They offer a wide variety of activities and provide GPS tracking, heart rate and around a week of battery life. Fitbit Charge 2 offers resting heart rate and even maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max). They also provide breathing training to assist in stress relief. Misfit Ray calculates step and sleep and also alerts you about calls and messages from a paired smartphone. Ray uses three axis accelerometer to calculate calorie burning and also tracks activities such as cycling, swimming, dancing and yoga.
We have seen how devices attached to your wrist and arms can provide you with information that can improve the way you live. Now, what if you are not that comfortable carrying around devices in you. Would you like it if your clothes provide all that data! Smart clothing or E-textiles constitute of fabrics that allow digital components and electronics to be implanted on them. Smart clothing is a very broad term and many experts consider that as the future of wearable technology. So, let us see how beneficial they are.
Fitness and Health Care
It is predicted that in the future, many of the features in fitness trackers will be available on smart garments. One of the biggest advantages in garments is that they broaden the area of the body that can be monitored which in turn provides richer biometric data. This means that tracking can go beyond motion and heart rate to even respiration rate. HexoSkin and OmSignal have designed outfits with breathing rate sensors that show you how your lungs are working! This helps to improve your level of fitness awareness and how long you should rest before going on workload again. Additionally, the data accuracy in smart clothing will be significantly higher than in wearables that occupy your wrist. This is simply because the sensors in the cloth moves closer to the areas that it needs to monitor. The majority of smart shirts and tops make use of EKG heart rate monitoring technology and a smart dress on your lower body with motion sensors can actually track the body part which makes most of the movement when you run.
The noninvasive method called Pulse Oximetry is used in most hospitals to monitor a person’s oxygen saturation. The same method is used in Owlet Smart Sock, a smart garment designed for babies. The socks can be smoothly fit into the foot and it tracks the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels. This data is then communicated to your phone and it will notify you if something doesn’t look right!
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. It was reported that in 2013 alone, 289,758 women died due to heart disease in U.S. Keeping this in mind, Bloomer Tech has launched a Smart Bra to help women improve their cardiac health. Fitted with flexible materials and washable circuits, this device tracks electrocardiogram signals from the heart and sends them to your phone or your physician.
Fuseproject and Superflex have collaborated to work on a powered clothing prototype which could be a huge benefit for elderly people. This superflex suit is housed by motors in hexagonal pods that add muscle power and thereby reduces the effort from the wearer to make the movement. Thus, elderly and differently abled people can walk, sit, stand up from a chair, stay upright or move up and down the stairs! Physical limitations or drawbacks may not be a concern at all in the near future.
Makes Shopping Easier
LikeAGlove has introduced intelligent leggings that can measure the wearer’s shape in seconds. Thus, the next time you make an online purchase, you don’t have to filter across various brands, sizes or shapes. Their application will automatically figure out the best brands, models and sizes that suit you. So, if you have added or burned weight or have improved your height or any other physical features, you don’t have to be confused on what to buy. The smart leggings will do it for you.
Researchers from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation developed a personal safety system monitor that alerts if a mine worker’s clothing or safety equipment is incorrectly worn or malfunctioning. The system works by embedding sensors on all their protective equipment such as safety glasses, helmets, boots and it can even determine if they are worn the right way or not. Additionally, they also consider the qualification and experience of workers as well as the dynamic nature of mining enterprise using an advanced system of iOT sensors and wireless technology. Thus, a virtual barrier surrounds every individual worker and if it is crossed, an alert will be triggered to the designated smartphone! Intelligent clothing might well be the future of work safety.
Military and Defence
Intelligent Textiles based in the UK developed an e-jacket that could reduce the weight carried by foot soldiers by labor saving the number of batteries they carry. The main challenge for foot soldiers is that they have to carry around 60 AA batteries to charge all the equipment they carry. It is difficult for them to analyse what charge those batteries are at and they are very heavy too. Furthermore, wires and cables run around the system and a soldier could face dangers like getting caught on door handles and branches while on a mission. To reduce this risk, Intelligent Textiles developed a fabric wiring system that covered the soldier’s vest, helmet and backpack. The uniform was then transformed into a power and data distribution system equipped with only a single battery pack. This eliminated the use of trailing wires and the need to spend considerable time at the end of day to check if the cells have to be replaced. The system also provides soldiers with an electromagnetic screening that helps them stay hidden from enemy troops while wearing the uniform. The system can track the position and status of soldiers in action and if the wearer is shot, it can determine the bullet’s impact and send a radio message back to the base. So the vehicle’s interaction with the soldier, soldier’s communication with peripherals, communication devices and base are all completely joined up.
A team of researchers in South Korea, led by Professor Kim Sang-Woo of School of Advanced Materials Science and Engineering developed a smart fabric that could generate electricity to power wearable devices. This is a triboelectric nanogenerator and it can be used to power a wide variety of gadgets. The idea behind this research was to use static electricity as an energy source. The resistance between silver coated textile layers and the organic polymer film is what generates electricity. With this device, LED, LCD and low power devices like sensors can be powered without any external power source. Professor Sang-Woo says that in the future, the sensors could be attached to the human skin and the fabric could well be a stand alone power source for those sensors!
Apart from Owlet Smart Sock, LikeAGlove and Bloomer Tech that we saw earlier, one of the most important players in smart clothing is Athos. They are an expensive medical tech designed exclusively for gym enthusiasts. Its micro EMG sensors can determine which of your muscles are working and then relay this information onto a smartphone. Google’s Project Jacquard has launched Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket that has touch and gesture sensors on the jacket sleeve. Users can play music, access maps or even make or dismiss calls without even reaching for the phone. Samsung has introduced an NFC smart suit using which the wearer can unlock their phone, swap business card digitally or even set gadgets to office and drive modes. Samsung also has a Body Compass workout Shirt that monitors biometric data and a golf shirt that includes weather and UV rating monitoring.
The idea behind smartwatches are being vastly brought into jewellery items which have broadened the scope of wearable technology. Let us see some of the important features and players of smart jewellery.
Ringly – For quick and easy notifications
Ringly can be considered as the pioneer of smart jewellery. The cocktail ring can alert you about activities on your phone from calls to reminder schedules. Four vibration patterns and five colors can be synced and you can easily be notified about texts, calls, social media updates or even about Uber drivers around you. You can also customize the alerts that you would like to receive.
Senstone – Wearable Voice Recorder
A wonderful idea has just struck you. But you are in the middle of a crowd and it won’t be easy for you to take your mobile out and note it. You wait till you reach a comfortable state. When you do reach there, Alas! You forgot what was in your mind. Has this ever been a problem for you? If so Senstone wearable voice recorder might well be the solution you are looking for. Senstone allows you to record voice memos on the go which is then translated and organized into an app. They can be worn as a bracelet or necklace. So, even if you are in a meeting or social gathering you don’t have to worry about being impolite to note what’s on your mind.
Cuff – For Safety and Emergency
Cuff Smart necklaces and bracelets allow you to call your friends for help if you have an emergency. So, if you are stuck at an odd place at an odd timing, you just have to press the Cuff for 2-3 seconds which will send an alert to a group of people you have chosen. They can spot your location through GPS and coordinate to ensure your safety. They also have bluetooth that connects to your phone so that you can be notified about the texts, calls and emails that you receive.
Bellabeat Leaf – Sleep and Stress Monitoring
Bellabeat Leaf Urban can determine the breathing levels and the app will tell you how prepared you are for the day. They can also help women keep a track of their menstrual cycles and assist them during ovulation periods. Additionally, they also provide a step and sleep monitoring.
Simulate Body Temperature using Wristify Bracelet
How do you normally make your body comfortable during the peak of summer or winter. You normally change the temperature level of your entire premise or building, don’t you? Now, what if you could carry around a device that can provide instant temperature solution! That is what a group of MIT students are trying to achieve using the all new Wristify Bracelet. Using a thermoelectric material, this device instantly cools or heats the temperature on your body. What this means is, even if you are out of your building, the climate outside might not be a problem for you. You can simply connect the device to your body and feel comfortable!