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.
It turns out that the future of space exploration may look more like Avatar than other popular science fiction depictions. Those cinematic organic blue avatars are a form of wearables–mechanical exoskeletons that allow for remote control of robots. The immediate implications of such technology include deep space exploration that would drastically reduce risk to humans, as well as ambulatory capabilities for those paralyzed or without full control of their limbs.
NASA worked for years to build a robotic exoskeleton with The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). Weighing in at 57 pounds, the X1 exoskeleton could both restrict and enable limb movement. The former capacity could provide valuable exercise for astronauts through muscle resistance, particularly during longer spells in space or on expeditions, replacing bulkier exercise machines. The exoskeleton can also transmit biometrics back to scientists planetside. As the technology is developed further, a machine exoskeleton could provide extra power for astronauts on the surface of a distant planet, helping them to walk with less gravity, for example.
Astronauts at the International Space Station tested another form of wearable technology: a joystick developed by the European Space Agency. The METERON (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network) research collaboration between countries like the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, and Russia is interested in giving astronauts in orbit the ability to teleoperate robots on the planet’s surface. The highly-sensitive joystick will simulate the force of objects on a planet’s or moon’s terrain, resisting the astronaut’s control.
Testing in the International Space Station will help METERON better understand how this kind of control–which most people experience in video games–feels for those operating in little or no gravity, with extended exposure to weightlessness. Officials from the European Space Agency explained their vision: “’Future planetary exploration may well see robots on an alien surface being teleoperated by humans in orbit above them—close enough for real-time remote control, without any significant signal lag, to benefit from human resourcefulness without the expense and danger of a manned landing.’”
Just a year ago, in late 2015, NASA gave MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) the R5 robot known as “Valkyrie,” that is expected to be part of Mars missions. These humanoid robots can pave the way for astronauts’ arrival, reducing human risk, and stick around to assist astronauts on missions. “‘Human-robotic collaboration’” is seen as critical for longer missions like Mars.
Most recently, DFKI spearheaded the CAPIO project, which produced an exoskeleton that remotely steers a robot called AILA. This project improved on the fine motor skills of the robotic avatar: AILA can even send sensory feedback to the wearer of the CAPIO exoskeleton. The ideal test would involve sending AILA to the International Space Station and testing the remote connection from the planet’s surface.
All this research, development, and investment indicates that wearables are seen as the way forward for space exploration, at least until it can be made safer for humans. But even with improvements, wearables will likely still be an invaluable resource for exploring the true unknown, as we venture deeper and further into space.
Thanks to the Internet of Things, we’re awash in more data than we know what to do with. Data from our cars, our watches, our toothbrushes — collecting information is the easy part, but handling it can be complicated. Machine learning can make sense of data, and the implications could help IoT — and wearables specifically — really take off.
When machines are designed to recognize patterns and update their algorithms accordingly, they can make wearable technology more useful for consumers. An article on Warable.com explains some of the opportunities machine learning already presents for technology companies and their wearable products.
Take Google as one example. Android Wear’s “Google Now” app is getting a new feature called “Now On Tap” that uses machine learning to provide contextual suggestions without any prompting. Between search, email, text, location, calendar, and apps, the amount of data that can be mined is huge, and the software can learn a lot about you and what you need at any given moment. It might suggest movie times and trailers when a friend texts you about seeing a film, or quick lunch spots based on your physical location and schedule.
Apple is working on similar technology through which the Apple Watch will recommend more and more relevant apps based on user data. Machine learning could also empower Siri to make informed, proactive suggestions.
Since fitness is the most popular form of wearable, machine learning is influencing the efficacy of health software as well. The Microsoft Band will use the company’s Intelligence Engine to learn how your daily activities influences your exercise routine. The system could, for example, determine whether a high amount of meetings correlates with a slower run, or less sleep.
On the healthcare end, wearables with sensors can inform medical professionals of patient data such as air quality, humidity, steps, times opening the fridge, or using the bathroom. This provides a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s wellness.
Wearables can also track and learn about wearer’s emotions, body movements, fertility, and medication compliance.
All of this together may seem amazing and terrifying at the same time. I see it as an inevitability of technology; we have the data, so it follows that we’ll program the technology to take advantage of it. As long as it’s being used with consent of the user to the user’s advantage, it has the possibility to benefit all of mankind.