In technology, nothing is possible until it is practical. For the wearables market, nothing is practical until it is fashionable. MIT experimented with head-mounted monstrosities in the early 1990s; a time before the World Wide Web was referred to as “the web.” That concept did not work. Even today, the failure of wearables like Google Glass are still fresh in the mind of every wearable entrepreneur.
What have been incredibly profitable, however, are fashion-conscious wearables like the Fitbit Charge 2. In the years ahead, wearables will be increasingly invisible, hidden by miniaturization or within artistic designs.
A host of metrics are designed to assess the progress of technological development, such as the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts (NESTA) Innovation Index. For the majority of consumers, however, what really matters is the Orbit City Spectrum. This unofficial index measures how close our daily lives have come to the 2062 world of The Jetsons.
Entrepreneurial firms and disrupted enterprises that have strayed from the dictates of the Orbit City Spectrum end up in lists like TechSpot’s Biggest Tech Failures of the Past 10+ Years.
Early Stage Wearables
Many have indicated we are already on our way to life in Orbit City with products like consumer AI and vacuum tube transport (the Hyperloop). Here are a few similarities between life in Orbit City and life today.
• Wearables for handling robots like Rosie — There are personal assistants like Apple’s Siri or Alexa for Amazon Tap.
• Jane’s electric dress — The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston put the latest high fashion wearables on display, including a dress that displayed different patterns in response to different voices.
• George’s programmable paper — In 2013, printable paper circuit boards were demonstrated at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
For the near future, signal strength and battery life are still the most significant factors that impact how wearables can be used. The quicker the improvements in those technologies are available, the more places you will see wearables woven into the fabric of existing materials.
Another factor that has received less coverage involves inductance. It is possible to incorporate circuit boards with greater density using vias. The associated lower inductance and finer pitch arrays of via-in-pad, filled with new non-conductive epoxies, have solved some of the toughest engineering challenges to putting high-powered computing inside lightweight, flexible surfaces.
2018 and Beyond
By 2018, expect to see more wearables in jewelry and clothing. Healthcare will also see more applications for monitoring devices that can be miniaturized and made flexible.
This fusion of bio with tech will continue toward the promise of ubiquitous computing, and it will take the form of augmentations of sensory perception like zoomable contact lenses to help those with degenerative eye diseases and hearing aids using next generation bone conduction for better amplification. It will also allow sensors that adapt an environment to suit our moods, at home, work or on the road. The current age is an exciting time to be alive, and it will not be long before we surpass the Jetsons and all of Orbit City.