Google caused a lot of online buzz this month with its headband glasses (video above) that float any type of information you now receive on your smartphone directly in front of your eyes through voice commands.
Look outside and Google’s Project Glass prototype gives you the temperature and weather for the day. A text from a friend pops up and you dictate a reply – all hands-free without ever having to dig your phone out of your pocket.
Google Glasses are only in the prototype stage right now but they give an exciting glimpse into how wearable technologies will turn our bodies and what we wear into communications devices. On the weird side, smartphone maker Nokia recently filed a patent for a magnetic tattoo that would tingle your skin when a phone call or text comes in. It also could contain your username and password to open access to your computer when you get near it.
While everyone is still scratching their heads about why you’d want a skin-tingling tattoo, a practical medical tattoo is in the works at Princeton University where researchers have developed a 'tooth tattoo.' When the wireless sensor is tattooed onto your teeth it monitors your breath for early signs of sickness or infection. It’s only one atom thick so you don’t even know you’re wearing it!
Wearable healthcare and fitness applications are leading the way in actual wearable technology that you can buy today. There are sensors in shoes that allow runners to be tracked on a map in real-time during marathons. As well, a slew of wearable fitness gadgets measure heart rate and vital body stats on real-time exercise benefits, sending data to mobile apps. Nike’s Fuelband lets you set how much exercise you want to get in a day, then alerts you when you’ve reached your goal.
In a recent news release, ABI Research said, “The market for wearable devices will reach more than 100 million units annually by 2016…These devices, ranging from heart rate monitors for measuring an individual’s performance during sports to wearable blood glucose meters, will all enable greater detail in tracking, monitoring, and care – often through connections provided by mobile phones.”
Smart fabrics or e-textiles are being developed with circuits, sensors or electronics woven into them. For example, Wake University researchers are developing a fabric made of nanotubes that could soak up your body heat and transform it to re-charge your smartphone while its in your pants pocket. The British Army is experimenting with smart fabrics for uniforms to recharge batteries in devices they carry into combat.
Careers in wearable technologies are only beginning to be defined because there are so many ways to combine communications, computing and electronics either through implanting on our bodies for medical uses or blending devices with fabrics we wear. You can train on the technology side or use fashion and fine arts programs to combine existing technology with your own creations. For related wearable tech skills see CareerMash Career Profiles on electronics engineering, electronics technician, computer engineering.
Ryerson University’s School of Fashion says its recent research projects “incorporating technology into apparel have included: the design and development of work apparel for urban search and rescue dogs; and the development of a garment for infants with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
OCAD University in Toronto has a Digital Futures graduate program that includes wearable technology elements and an undergraduate program is being launched this fall. OCAD also has a Social Body Lab. Its director, Kate Hartman, says the lab explores the social implications are for having technology that lives close to our skin while constantly receiving and transmitting data with other computers. Watch the video of Kate describing some of the fun wearable technologies OCAD students have developed.