SpirE-Journal 2014 Q1

Wearable technology – Tomorrow’s dress code?

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Wearable technology - Tomorrow's dress code?

Wearable technology may be quietly engineering a revolution in our lives. The full commercialization of wearable technology may liberate people from being tied to the home or office, increasing the importance of public spaces. And the merging of electronics with apparel promises to revolutionize the apparel industry in the same way that electronics revolutionized the automotive industry – up to one third of the value of a car now resides in the electronics. From Google Glasses and Apple’s iWatch to medical tracking devices, wearable technology is now within reach. How will it transform our lives?

Wearable Technology

Market watchers have projected wearable technology to generate USD4.6 billion in revenue by the end of 2013. Approximately 10 million smart glasses are predicted to be available in the market by 2016, growing by 250 percent on average each year. Smart watches would also come into their own as a significant, high-growth market. Without a doubt, wearable tech will see massive, early-stage growth in the next five years.

10 million smart glasses are predicted to be available in the market by 2016.

There are currently more than 25 million installed mobile operating systems that support wearable technology. It is forecasted that there will be 70 million units of wearable technology in use by 2017, compared to 15 million units in 2013.

Wearable technology innovations

An era of accelerated technological development has propelled the rise of wearable technology products in many industries.

Fitness and wellness

Innovations in wearable technology are injecting fun into the fitness and wellness industry. The current health and wellness market is expected to generate between USD2 and USD3 billion with the introduction of wearable technology.

For instance, Nike and Jawbone UP have stepped up efforts to produce more personalized wrist-pulse sensors for their functional armbands and wristbands. These can even monitor one’s sleeping and eating habits.

Wearable technology has also excited expectant mothers. For instance, wearable fetal visualization device PreVue consists of a big belt that wraps around the mothers’ abdomen and a screen that visualizes the fetus. Not only does this device allow parents to feel connected to the fetus, it also helps them monitor its peak activities.

The wearable fetal visualization device from PreVue consists of a big belt that wraps around the mothers' abdomen and a screen that visualizes the fetus.


Wearable technology will play a part in educating and empowering consumers to better monitor their health. For instance, AirWaves, Frog Designs’ pollution mask, consists of a particle filter, battery and blue-tooth module. It measures air quality, collects real-time information on the severity of pollution in the area, and conveys this useful information to the consumers via a mobile application.

American telecommunications corporation AT&T has also agreed to provide the wireless network for Zephyr’s FDA-approved BioHarness – a device inserted beneath the athletes’ shirts to measure their vital signs, heart rates and temperature. In addition to this monitoring device, the AIRO wristband keeps track of one’s food intake and heartbeat while also providing advice on body wellness. The wristband gathers information on the body’s biochemical reactions and provides recommendations for the next course of action.

Another example would be the Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) developed by medical technology company Medtronic. This device is widely used by diabetes patients, helping to track their glucose levels. CGMs can be easily attached to the patient using a disposable sensor beneath the skin.


Wearable technology undergarments can measure soldiers' performance and fatigue levels as well as determine warfare-readiness.

Protection and comfort are crucial considerations for the design of uniforms in the military. Unlike battle uniforms, an undergarment is a necessity to be worn at all times. Hence, technology built into undergarments would not be easily noticed by external parties.

Tapping on the advent of wearable technology, the U.S Army Medical Research and Material Command, working with the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center, ran tests on high-tech undergarments to monitor soldiers’ physical condition during combat. These undergarments were proven to be able to measure the soldiers’ performance and fatigue levels as well as determine warfare-readiness.

Mobile devices

Wearable technology has birthed a range of devices which aim to bring a smartphone’s functionality closer to the body. Both Google Glass, a head-mounted quasi-smartphone, and Apple iWatch, a wristwatch-like device, have features mirroring selected functions of a mobile phone. Consumers can use these devices to take photos, send audio messages, track their schedules and so forth. Competing smart watch Samsung Galaxy Gear also allows users to make calls and send messages as with a regular mobile phone.

Many device manufacturers are predicting exponential growth in this industry. The retail industry will also benefit from selling wearable gadgets to end-consumers; a trend that may hybridize apparel and consumer electronics retail.

Benefits of wearable technology

Wearable technology promises a range of benefits to the end-consumer:


Wearable technology devices have reduced the need for multiple devices. For instance, Google Glass has replaced the need for a mobile phone when it comes to GPS navigation and taking photos. On the other hand, the AIRO wristband has integrated multiple monitoring devices into one, enabling tracking of biological reactions in real-time.


As technology advances, these devices serve as a one-stop information center for consumers. For instance, MC10 – an American manufacturer for electronic sensors in military helmets – can help detect wounds to the head, ensuring that doctors attend to the afflicted soldier quickly.

Fitness tracking devices in the form of shoes, wristbands and even smart socks would enable consumers to keep close tabs on their fitness levels and lead a healthier lifestyle. These devices can also detect injuries. For instance, CHECKLIGHT by Reebok is able to measure the severity of a sports injury. Different colors displayed on the device represent an objective measurement of the impact force. This device is widely used in contact sports, where the risk of injury is higher.

Challenges ahead

Wearable technology seems to present many business opportunities. But is the technology mature? And is the market ready, or is what we are seeing today nothing more than a “faddish” false start?

Privacy and security

Could wearable technology usher in a sinister new age of zero privacy? For instance, though Google Glass’s video-recording function has made video-recording extremely user-friendly, many have raised privacy concerns because the camera could be used to record meetings without the other party’s consent. It might also be used for surveillance on the wearer herself.

US medical practitioners need to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) under Federal Law. When using devices that require wireless connections, there is a risk of information leakage. On top of that, the easy access to information from such a device might generate opportunities for hackers, thus compromising consumer and/or business data. Therefore, the HIPAA compliance initiative acts to keep all information and records confidential at all times.


Smart watches have similar features compared to mobile devices. This has raised debate as to whether smart watches could in fact distract those who wear them and make accidents more likely for instance amongst motorists and pedestrians.

Regulatory issues

Wearable technology also requires regulatory clearance. In the UK, all medical devices (e.g. CGMs) have to be approved and certified by The Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) prior to commercial use. Similar regulatory agencies around the world tend to look to the US for advice on regulatory regimes. Such regulatory approvals take time and would add to the cost of new product launches.

Will wearable technology become the dress code of the future?

Undoubtedly, wearable technology has the power to enhance our lives. It is also poised to change the economics of the retail, apparel and consumer electronics industries.

In the future, major fashion labels may compete not only on design, material quality and retail experience but also technology and functionality. Apparel and electronics manufacturers will be forced to either compete or collaborate. Apparel and consumer electronics retail will become hybridized.

The one segment which will take well to wearable technology would be older consumers, or what is sometimes termed the Silver market – a segment that is growing with aging populations world-wide. Tracking and monitoring of the wearer’s condition is an invaluable tool for home-based elder-care. Such devices are expected to find a lucrative market in countries with old and aging populations, such as Japan, Korea and, in the mid-term, China.

Lastly, wearable technology may allow consumers to untie themselves from their home or office desktops and spend more time working in open, public areas, using wearable devices that run on the Cloud. This may lay the foundations for a renaissance in urban design that puts common spaces, like parks and playgrounds, on a par with residential and commercial zones. Enough to make many of us wear a smile on our faces.

James Wilcox
Nidhi Singh
Serene Lim

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