Wearable tech has been a slowly rising trend over the past decade. Most wearables these days are health-related, and tracking the body is a difficult task. We’ve seen tech such as sleep trackers and fitness trackers prove beneficial for consumers, but wearables have yet to achieve their full potential. With graphene, that may just become possible.
Graphene is well-known as a “wonder material,” and looking at its properties, it’s easy to see why. Graphene is one of the thinnest materials known to man; it is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms, all connected and interlaced into a lattice, honeycomb-like formation. In addition to being thin, graphene is also incredibly light. But don’t let its size fool you — it’s nearly 200 times stronger than steel, and possess technological capabilities far beyond our current materials provide.
Graphene is excellent at conducting heat and electricity, and the material is a frontrunner in replacing copper and silicon in tech devices. For instance, graphene is particularly good as a sensor, and is being researched for a variety of sensor types, including for gas, DNA, pH levels, environmental contamination, pressure, and more.
Graphene can also potentially impact wearables by powering them for greater capability and lasting power. Using graphene to create next-gen flexible batteries, University of Glasgow researchers have successfully created a graphene supercapacitor that is capable of recharging using solar power and discharges enough energy to power advanced wearable devices.
The most recent and perhaps most important breakthrough in graphene wearables to date were featured at the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in their Graphene Pavillion. Research nonprofit organization ICFO presented revolutionary graphene-based health-monitoring wearables; these devices are less like the watches and bands that currently occupy much of the wearable tech space, and instead acts like a dermal patch. This means that the graphene wearable can be applied directly to the skin, which can result in improved readings when monitoring health metrics.
ICFO supposes that this graphene tech would be useful in monitoring hydration and blood oxygen levels. This would be particularly helpful for when people are in extreme conditions, such as at the Earth’s poles, high altitudes, or anywhere far from civilization. In such situations, someone could apply the patch, which would use graphene to create miniscule sensors, circuits, and batteries to power the wearable and allow it to track internal data.
The patch would then be paired with a smartphone to allow for real-time communication, and will notify users when they are at risk of dehydration or other severe medical statuses. The patches will also be made to be disposable, and the researchers at ICFO are working to ensure that all components, even necessary adhesives, are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
With the newly revealed patch-like wearable, graphene is beginning to show the world how it can disrupt various tech-based industries, and the healthcare and medical fields are sure to benefit from graphene research. With the wonder material in its hands, the wearable tech industry is sure to continue making leaps and bounds moving forward.
This post was originally featured on TechCrunch.com
Marijuana is an ancient plant with borderline mystical properties — just ask the 266 million people who smoke it every year. Hemp, the industrial strain of Cannabis sativa, has been used for many purposes — food, fuel and textiles among them — for tens of thousands of years. Unlike its sister strain, hemp can’t get you high. But much like the drug, it has extraordinary qualities.
America is no stranger to hemp. In fact, Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag with hemp and George Washington farmed it at Mt. Vernon. Unfortunately, its full potential was never realized; drug restrictions that banned marijuana suppressed hemp, too. This spurious conflation quashed the industry for about 60 years, until a 2014 farm bill defined it as an agricultural crop, leaving the door ajar to American farmers.
As marijuana laws continue to loosen across the country — and the world — it looks like hemp could be brought back in a big way. With China leading in worldwide hemp production and Canadahaving capitalized on it during America’s drug war, now is the time to get in the game. In today’s fast-paced and tech-driven world, this means re-adopting the plant for today’s innovation economy.
Hemp could make a huge difference in everyday products, certainly. But even more exciting are the groundbreaking research and high-tech products it’s already spearheading.
Before we launch into some of hemp’s cooler applications, it’s important to understand just what makes hemp so unique.
First and foremost, hemp is incredibly environmentally friendly. Instead of depleting the land’s nutrients, like cotton does, hemp actually puts nitrogen back into the soil. It takes less water, but produces more plants per acre (for reference, one acre of hemp produces four times the paper an acre of trees does.) Its low lignin content and natural brightness reduces the need for pulping and bleaching, meaning fewer chemicals are needed all around.
Hemp grows in a wide variety of soils and climates, so it can be harvested in all 50 states (though only about half legally). It’s one of the strongest plant fibers and is naturally resistant to weeds and pests. It harvests quickly, growing 10 to 20 feet in just four months.
Then you have hemp seeds, an incredible source of protein. More than 25 percent of their calories come from high-quality protein, considerably more than similar foods like chia seeds and flax seeds. Various studies have linked them to a reduction in risk of heart disease and easing of PMS and digestion.
Hemp is also ideal for the production of ethanol, the cleanest-burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline. Combustion releases water vapor and CO2, which plants absorb.
It’s no wonder hemp is called a smart plant, as it seems almost too good to be true, especially in a world rife with environmental and climate concerns. Considering farmers need the DEA’s approval before sowing seeds, there is still a barrier to entry — for now, anyway.
Restrictions aside, preliminary research has yielded results that only confirm hemp’s potential, and not just as an everyday alternative to cotton and wood, but for high-tech innovations.
Ever heard of graphene? Hemp fiber is also incredibly strong and light, and Dr. David Mitlin, a scientist from Clarkson University in New York, says his team has mimicked the nanomaterial’s amazing qualities using hemp waste. According to Dope Magazine:
Dr. Mitlin and his team were able to recycle leftover hemp-based fiber, cook it down and then dissolve it until carbon nanosheets that resembled the structure of graphene were left behind. They proceeded to build these nanosheets into powerful energy-storing supercapacitors with high energy density, thus creating a hemp based “graphene.”
The best part? This graphene-like hemp costs only a fraction of the price of traditional graphene: $500 a ton compared to $2,000 per gram. Dr. Mitlin also suspects the hemp-based product could outperform graphene.
Another amazing product is hempcrete, a concrete made with hemp and lime. For construction, hempcrete is essentially a super-concrete: Its negative CO2 footprint alleviates the greenhouse effect and improves air quality. Its natural insulation keeps homes warm or cool, reducing need for energy. Its resistance to cracks under high pressure makes it well-suited for earthquake-prone areas. It’s even mold, fire and termite proof.
Hemp also can be used to create bacteria-fighting fabrics. As early as the 1990s, scientists in China were developing blended hemp fabrics with superior resistance to staph in order to prevent sometimes fatal infections in hospitals. Considering at least two million Americans get staph infections when hospitalized, and 90,000 die, this could be a life-saving innovation here in the U.S.
Luckily, Colorado company EnviroTextiles is on it. The company’s hemp-rayon fabric blend has shown in preliminary studies to be 98.5 percent staph resistant and 65.1 percent pneumonia-free. In addition, EnviroTextiles offers hemp fabric resistant to UV and infrared wavelengths, ideal for military purposes.
These are just a few of the many high-tech and future-forward applications hemp has. As a form of sustainable agriculture, hemp farming holds enormous potential — for the planet, the economy, and even veterans seeking employment. Once the hemp is produced, it may not get you high, but figuratively, the sky’s the limit.
After all, how fitting is it for an ancient plant, used both 10,000 years ago and in early America, to continue its legacy in our modern world? Betsy’s hemp-based flag became a symbol for the country, which is now a leader in technological innovation. It would be foolish not to take the bull by the horns and ride it.
When mass appeal wearable devices arrived on the scene in 2009 in the form of Fitbit, skeptics wondered whether consumers would feel the need to track their steps and calories. But as technology has gotten more sophisticated and devices more sleek and intuitive, the industry has grown exponentially. As the worldwide wearables market is expected to swell to more than 126 million units shipped in 2019 (up from 19.6 million units in 2014), its applications have moved far beyond fitness trackers. Let’s take a look at three groundbreaking innovations that are poised to revolutionize the wearable tech sector even further:
1. Battery Innovation
For wearable tech to become as ubiquitous as smartphones and tablets, batteries need to be smaller and longer lasting, while also being thinner and more flexible. SamsungSDI and LG Chem have made headway recently, as demonstrated at the InterBattery 2015 exhibition in Seoul. Samsung debuted two new batteries: the ultra slim .3mm Stripe, a flexible battery with higher energy density compared to others on the market, thanks to its minimized battery sealing width. Because of the Stripe’s thinness and flexibility, there’s a big opportunity here for wearables to move into more devices, like necklaces and clothing. Meanwhile, the Band is meant to attach to smartwatch straps to add 50 percent more battery power to the original device. Contorting the battery over 50,000 times in testing its durability, Samsung’s focus on form as well as function could be a game changer when these enter the consumer market around 2017.
LG Chem also unveiled a new flexible smartwatch battery that it first began developing in 2012. Setting this one apart is its ability to fold into a tight radius of 15 mm, or half the size of current batteries on the market. The wire battery will allow for smartwatches to be much more flexible in future designs.
2. Wearable Health Patches
Ultra thin wearables that adhere to the skin like tattoos to monitor vital signs might sound like science fiction, but they’ve been around for a few years now. Until recently, the trackers were prohibitively expensive and time consuming to make. But researchers at the University of Texas have developed a “cut and paste” method for affordably producing these trackers in just 20 minutes. The process involves cutting pieces of metal on polymer adhesives and printing electronics onto the adhesives. While these patches aren’t yet widespread in healthcare settings, this latest breakthrough could make them more readily available as a way for doctors to track patient vital signs, heart rate, muscle movement, and more.
3. Nanotech Powered Wearables
Manipulating substances on the atomic and molecular level could provide a new host of wearable tech capabilities. Two years ago, Google X announced it was working on developing magnetic nanoparticles capable of seeking out cancerous cells in the bloodstream and reporting these to a smart wristband via light signals. Filing a patent called Nanoparticle Phoresis earlier this year, Google is making headway on a lofty goal that could revolutionize the way we detect and treat cancer, among other maladies.
Meanwhile, the wonder material graphene—a single atom layer of carbon bonded hexagonally, the thinnest and strongest material ever created in a lab—has given rise to over 25,000 patents since its discovery in 2003. Among the latest potential applications for graphene is wearable, coated fabrics that can detect dangerous gases in the air and alert the wearer by activating an LED light. Led by researchers at the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute and Konkuk University in the Republic of Korea, this breakthrough could be applied to industries where air quality poses a health threat and wearing a monitor will allow for quicker response time to threats. Combined with graphene’s proven heat reducing potential in electronics, the nanomaterial is poised to be a big player in wearable tech.
* This article was originally published on TechCrunch. Check out my author profile here.