While 4G technology made possible high-speed mobile browsing and wearable connectivity, 5G promises that those wearables will become even more prominent, smaller, and more efficient. That goes for ones already in existence, like smartwatches and health trackers, and those still on the drawing board (like, believe it or not, tattooables).
How that happens comes down to 5G’s accessibility to the cloud, its lower latency, and its speed, which can theoretically be 100 times faster than 4G.
Real-time data transfer will now be possible, and some experts believe that in the not-too-distant future, virtually everything we wear (clothing, shoes, contact lenses, even sensors placed under the skin to track health data) will transform us into walking, talking connected devices.
Certainly skeptics remain, but Fortune cites International Data Corporation projections indicating that wearable sales will reach $49.4 billion this year, and soar to $69.8 billion by 2024. Sanyogita Shamsunder, Verizon’s vice president of 5G Labs and Innovation, told Fortune that ‘2024 will in fact serve as an “inflection point,” as that will be the year that medical sensors will become commonplace.
Already available, Fortune notes, are smart glasses, smart earbuds (a.k.a. “hearables”) and yoga pants that make those wearing them aware if their yoga technique leaves something to be desired.
And those tattooables? While still in development, they are expected to be constructed of wafer-thin electric mesh, according to Fortune, which will enable them to store data and do things like deliver drugs.
The reason wearables are expected to shrink in size, according to TechRadar, is that they will no longer need physical space to store data; 5G can simply zip data right to the cloud. Instead, wearables of the near future will consist of ultrathin sensors, and little else.
An increase in sensors and a decrease in size is precisely what will cement wearables as part of the Internet of Things. Until now, we’ve mostly thought of wearables as items such as smartwatches that the user wears on their wrist. But these sensor-packed devices could just as easily be connected to objects rather than people to read and process data in real-time.
Consumers may also be happy to know that relieving some of the processor’s job means that a device’s battery will be more efficient. The ability to charge wirelessly within a wider range — up to 30 cm away — will allow devices to charge without cables or docks, even when in use.
All of this will take time, however. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have all begun rolling out 5G, but it will be years before most of the country, let alone the world, has coverage. Then, manufacturers must create devices that harness the power of 5G.
In addition, there are privacy concerns about sensitive personal data being widely circulated, location data being easily accessible, and even foreign manufacturing threatening national security.
Such matters give one pause, to be sure. But for now, it’s full speed ahead for 5G, at 100 times the pace of the existing technology. While there are potential hurdles, there are also vast possibilities that make 5G’s future look extremely promising.
The problem with wearable sensors over the years has been one of durability. When repeatedly folded and bent, they developed micro-cracks that curtailed their conductivity.
Nothing a little red wine won’t fix. Or coffee. Or black tea.
The tannic acid present in those liquids was found by a team of scientists at the University of Manchester, England, to be crucial to improving the mechanical properties of wearables.
The team had previously used the same idea to develop artificial hands and capacitive breath sensors. Prior to the discovery of tannic acid as a useful tool in the creation of wearable technology, there had been many failures due to a lack of effective resources.
Tannic acid is the reason it is so difficult to remove red-wine stains from fabric: It firmly adheres to the material on the surface of the fiber. Such adhesion is, team leader Dr. Xuqing Liu, leader told Phys.org, “exactly what we need for durable, wearable, conductive devices.”
While scientists have been purchasing tannins to create these technological items, they tested fabrics by soaking them in coffee and black tea. They found that these liquids had the same effect on the fabrics that red wine did. This assured them that the adhesive properties of black coffee and tea are just as effective.
Using that knowledge, scientists are hopeful that in the near future they will be able to create wearable technology devices that are not only more comfortable but also longer-lasting and more cost-efficient.
Through the use of red wine, black tea and coffee, developers can create devices that, instead of being made of nylon, are made of cotton instead. The technology that is enabled by the use of tannic acid means that a device’s circuits will be attached to the surface of the fabric. This replaces the previous rigid circuit board with one that the wearer of the device isn’t even likely to notice.
While the technology industry is changing in many ways, wearable technology is among this and next year’s largest aspects. It has been predicted that sales of wearable technology around the world are set to reach a monetary value of $27 billion by 2022.
Yesterday’s wearable devices used conductive yarn. However, the coating on this material often peeled off, rendering it useless. Substituting tannic acid eliminates this problem.
Only time will tell what further research on this subject uncovers. But this latest breakthrough represents a quantum leap forward, in that it improves the durability of these widely used sensors. Moreover, it shows what can be accomplished through an outside-the-box approach — how a problem can be solved, if only it is approached from a different angle.
Just as smartphone usage has evolved from phone calls and emails to being an essential part of an employee’s work life, wearables such as smartwatches are also continuing to enable employees to be more productive, efficient and safe. Wearables are projected to be a $60 billion part of our workforce by 2022, and usage is steadily increasing as devices grow their capabilities and employees are more comfortable using the technology.
In the sci-fi world of the future, employees are often replaced by robots and made obsolete in various scary scenarios. In reality, wearables can actually make employees more indispensable. In fields such as construction and manufacturing, wearables can enhance employees abilities as well as keep them safe. As the workforce ages and jobs become increasingly complex, wearables can amplify hearing, sight and strength and sound alarms if anything is amiss. Headsets, augmented reality (AR) and exoskeletons mean humans can basically have superpowered senses while working.
Another safety and productivity benefit is being able to track and work with employees at any time. Through wearable tech, employee locations can be easily pinpointed in the event of a disaster or other unexpected event. Sales calls and time can be logged and monitored. Research shows a 10% increase in workplace productivity when wearables are implemented. Studies also show that goals are much more readily reached both when written down and when shared, creating accountability and community.
Wearables seem to work best when utilized in task-specific ways. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) give architects and interior designers the incredible ability to create detailed simulations of projects for clients and that surgeons can perform operations even more accurately. Wearables have also proven beneficial in improving quality of life for the chronically ill via VR and for police, security and military forces using body cams.
Office applications for wearables are also increasing and creating benefits for employees who work for the same company at different locations. Office headsets for meetings, for example, can make it seem like you are at the meeting rather than hunching over a conference room speaker. Virtual assistants keep everyone on task, translation devices ease and even erase communication barriers, and you can even improve your posture with a posture tracker. Smart suits, jackets and caps are also in the works.
Another benefit of using wearables at work is simply overall employee health. Step counters and programs to incentivize their usage promote positive lifestyle changes. Fitbit reported 1.6 billion in revenue in 2017 alone and Fitbit users take 43 percent more steps than non-users. This promotion is one of the most powerful pros to workplace wearables, as it is key to prevention of health issues and general employee wellbeing.
Given the general increase in adoption and overall benefits of wearables in the workplace, it stands to reason that more innovation and ease of use will mean these devices become more commonplace over time. And since they collect data, the real-time feedback they provide allows changes and adjustments can be made and pushed out quickly. All of which means that fitbit or smartwatch you already rely on is only just the beginning.
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.
As personal health technologies such as wearable fitness and sleep trackers increase in popularity, we continue to see advancements in the convenient modern tech that allows us to monitor our health in increasingly complex and accurate ways. These steps forward leave us asking ourselves about the other ways we can use technology to improve our health. Recently, science has discovered that our intestines are much more important to our overall health than we previously thought, and as a result, we may just see gut trackers become the next big thing.
The importance of the gut stems from the enteric nervous system within our gastrointestinal tract. It is a lining made up of over 100 million nerve cells that span from the esophagus to the rectum that covers the entire gastrointestinal tract, and is commonly called our “second brain.” The gut has a direct relationship with the actual brain, and after sensing food or bacteria it will inform the nervous system, which relays this information to the brain and can affect behavior. Because of this connection, we are beginning to realize how we might treat particular disorders and conditions that may have links to the brain and to stress, such as obesity, anorexia, autism, and PTSD.
While our deeper understanding of the gut’s importance is still relatively fresh, the development of gut tracking technology has already begun to make headway, though most deal primarily with digestion. FoodMarble, a digestive health tech startup, is one of the first to produce a digestive tracker: a pocket-sized breath analysis device for users to track their digestion in real time.
When food isn’t quite fully digested, it ferments in the gut and produces hydrogen, most of which is exhaled naturally. FoodMarble users manually input what they’ve eaten and what relevant symptoms they are experiencing into an app, and the breath test is able to discern if the food has been fully digested. As you use the tracker more, the app will give you greater insights into how different types of foods, sleep quality, and stress levels affect their digestive health.
Other advancements in gut tracking are slightly trickier than a breath test. It’s hard to say what a “wearable” gut tracker would look like, but the closest thing to it is an ingestible tech pill developed by researchers at RMIT University in Australia. The pill closely tracks digestion through measuring the gases commonly found in the digestive system, such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Testing has already revealed new information to researchers. One such discovery is that the stomach releases oxidizing chemicals to break down foreign compounds that stay in the stomach longer than normal. The pill is a much less invasive option for monitoring gut health and human trials have been successful, so it may not be long before doctors are regularly using ingestible pills to help patients with gut problems.
Gut tracking options these days tend to have a purely digestive slant, but there remains great potential for gut trackers to dive into the gut-brain connection that is relevant to a multitude of issues. What if we had a gut tracker that could monitor the enteric nervous system and recognize when the synapses are being relayed from the brain and affecting the way the gut behaves? We are not quite there, but FoodMarble’s digestion tracker and the newly developed ingestible pill to track gut-gases are significant steps forward. Trackers that can monitor the gut-brain connection could very well be just around the corner.