A walk along any high street will reveal how popular wearable technologies have become over recent years. Young people listening to music through Bluetooth enabled earphones, people glancing at their smart watches for their latest social media notifications, or maybe, even looking at the time, are all familiar sights.
Wearable technologies are not just impacting the switched on generation (or should that be generations as you see plenty of older people counting their steps with fitness trackers), but are increasingly being used in other applications and industries.
So, we are starting to see wearble technologies in our everyday lives but these advances are going to be over-shadowed by the wide ranging uses of body borne sensors, displays and smart clothes in the future.
Head mounted displays
A head mounted display (HMD) is worn on the head and allows the wearer to view information on a screen whilst performing other tasks. For example, we are familiar with the large helmets with information displays that are worn by fighter pilots so that they can absorb large amounts of navigational and target information whilst operating their aircraft at considerable speeds.
This is a classic usage of a head mounted display in which information is overlaid on the real world environment, however HMD’s can also be used to super-impose information from augmented reality (AR) or even fully immerse the wearer in a completely virtual reality environment as found in virtual reality gaming, for example.
HMD’s are also being used in an increasing number of industrial applications where easy access to real time information coupled with hands free operation allows users to perform complex tasks such as equipment maintenance and repair.
For example, by connecting a suitable headset to remote servers using Wi-Fi, a maintenance engineer can download engineering diagrams onto his head mounted display whilst performing a delicate in-situ repair. If assistance or advice is needed an in-built microphone can be used to communicate with team members so that the engineer can perform his duties without leaving site.
You can click here to learn more about industrial uses and various types of head mounted displays, however they have an increasing role to play in hazardous environments or situations where real time information and operator skills are required.
Smart clothing incorporates technology into fabrics to provide additional and often innovative functionality. Smart clothes are being developed in a variety of ways that take traditional clothes into a new realm of possibilities.
Smart clothes can incorporate various transducers that can monitor physiological parameters for real time monitoring and diagnosis of disease conditions. In a similar way to most smart watches which incorporate heart rate monitors into their cases, clothes and fabrics can be fitted with transducers to monitor breathing rates and detect lung disease.
Whilst there are an increasing number of health applications for smart clothing, there is considerable research being undertaken into military uses of these emerging technologies. Military organisations are partnering with leading technology companies to create a $500m industry by 2021.
Military applications of smart clothing are designed to increase soldier protection and improve real time battlefield information. For example, by wearing a variety of physiological sensors and clothes with kinetic information sensors, a soldier hit by a ballistic round can be remotely monitored and assessed, even if the round hits his bullet proof vest without causing injury. This allows battlefield commanders to be more dynamic in their management of soldiers in the field as well as ensure that casualties are treated and evacuated as fast as possible.