19 September 2013

Pushing the Limits of Wearable Technology

"I quit wearing a watch... My cell phone has a clock so I don't need it."
Chuck (Paul Rudd)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Wearable strain sensors
The world is fascinated with modern technology. Everyone has an insatiable need to keep up with it. But what do people look for when it comes to what technology has to offer?

From the early 1970s to the early 2000s, the direction was for portability. Phones now are no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, computers are small enough to fit in a lady's purse, and thousands of files can now be stored in usb drives the size of a thumb. With most gadgets becoming smaller, powerful, and multifunctional, portability has run its course as a selling factor for devices.

As technology approaches the nanoscale, devices are getting smaller and smaller that it can now be integrated into the clothes people wear. This advancement in science and engineering is known as Wearable Technology.


Arguably, the first iconic character to showcase the use of devices and gadgets that has been touched up by technology is James Bond. From his car that can turn into a submarines to a cigarette that can fire a rocket projectile, James Bond captivated audiences with the creativity and technical innovation of his gadgets.

In Roger Moore's first foray as James Bond in Live and Let Die, Moore showcased a watch that when pressed showed the time in digital format. The Pulsar (P2 model #2900), cost around $3000 and had a two year waiting list. In 1973, when the movie came out, it was a glimpse of wearable technology.

Fast forward to 2013 where Google, Apple, and even Microsoft are announcing the development of smart watches. Watches that will integrate computers, information technology, and of course, basic timekeeping.


Moore's Law (named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and no relation to Roger Moore) states that computing power doubles every two years. Moore's Law has been constantly accurate since it was first introduced in 1963. This means that by the year 2030 or earlier, we will find that the circuits on a microprocessor approach the atomic scale.

What this means is that wearable technology can be pushed further than just developing a smart watch. Just recently, optical fiber, no thinner than a strand of human hair, has been developed with photovoltaic properties which allows fabric to generate electricity. The fiber acts on the principle of solar cells that convert sunlight into electrical energy.

Google Glass is a computer that is built inside the frame of eyeglasses which gives the wearer computer and internet access.

Wearable technology can also be applied within the medical field. A vest has been developed in Italy consisting of strain sensors made of conductive elastomers printed onto fabric that allows doctors to monitor physiotherapy exercises at home, posture, or flexibility during normal everyday tasks of patients.


As the world is slowly introduced to wearable technology, what will come next?

Maybe James Bond has the answer to this. In the 2006 Bond movie, Casino Royale, Bond is implanted with a microchip under his skin that helps MI6 keep track of his whereabouts. This technology is based on a new science and engineering field called bionanotechnology.

Using actual DNA to construct devices no bigger than a molecule, bionanodevices can be built to hunt down cancer cells, deliver medication to specific areas of the body, or even repair damaged organs.

There may come a time when people will not need to carry or even wear devices anymore but become one themselves. And when that happens, what will come next?