Wearable Functionalities Featured Pattern: P1303 January 2019

Author: Sean R. Barulich (Send us feedback.)

As wearable technologies advance, functionalities of an increasingly wide variety become wearable.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

Researchers from Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana) and other institutions produced an armband that wraps around a user's forearm and enables communication via haptics. During testing, subjects wearing the device received vibrations from 24 integrated tactors. Under stimulation, the tactors "emitted a vibration against the skin, changing quality and position in the process." The researchers mapped the 39 phonemes—distinct units of sound in a language that distinguish words from one another—in the English language to the signals from specific tactors. For example, stationary sensations on certain parts of the arm indicated consonant sounds, and sensations that moved around, down, and up the forearm indicated vowel sounds. These sensations enabled subjects to receive and interpret messages.

Another set of research efforts is exploring wearable technologies that augment the functionality of everyday objects. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, California), and the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Madison, Wisconsin) developed LiveTag technology, which uses printed copper-foil tags that absorb specific frequencies in the Wi-Fi spectrum to enable the creation of "interactive controls or keypads that can stick onto objects, walls, or even clothing." The tags can also see use as wearables in the form of armbands that can operate digital devices. Other wearable technologies can enable everyday objects to become simple robotic devices. Researchers at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut) developed a sensor- and actuator-equipped elastic robotic skin that enables otherwise inanimate deformable objects to move or perform various tasks. Such technologies may also find use in wearable technologies such as assistive smart clothing and exosuits.

Several industry players are accelerating research in novel textiles to enable advanced wearables. For example, between mid-2017 and mid-2018, W. L. Gore & Associates (Newark, Delaware)—maker of Gore-Tex fabrics—met with about 500 materials and sensor start-ups to make joint development agreements for and equity investments in the development of smart fabrics. Ultimately, Gore plans to fill its new Gore Innovation Center (www.gore.com/innovation-center) in Santa Clara, California, with a number of rotating start-ups to accelerate research and development in the field of smart fabrics. The center's location in California's Silicon Valley will enable interactions with many start-ups.