We are huge fans of the emerging wearables market -- check out our coverage of Will.i.am's PULS line -- and are fascinated by the continuous stream of new concepts that are coming to light in the industry. We're all familiar with the wearable accessories though and what's caught our attention now is a form of wearable that is more part of your body than accessory to it. Cambridge, Massachusetts company MC10 is working on a line of computers the size of a piece of gum that will adhere right to the user's skin. Like a Band-Aid or temporary tattoo, these ultra tiny computing devices are stretchable, bendable and razor thin. The design possibilities are endless -- they could blend exactly with skin or could be a complete work of art. They are inexpensive to produce and show greater accuracy as the sensors are directly on the skin. And most of all, you'll never forget it! This isn't a bracelet or a pair of glasses that you'll wear for a while then eventually end up leaving on the dresser. These little guys live on you.
Of course the more familiar wearable pieces have more clear cut functions, things we would expect like a phone app or Google search capability. These new wearables are currently being used to collect biometric data tied to motion and the like. They feature wireless antennae, temperature and heart rate sensors and very small batteries. There are very creative uses for the information they can collect though. Use it to determine which brand of deodorant to purchase by monitoring your sweat levels and it will then email you a list of best matches. Use it while running then receive a micro-level report of your workout. Use it to monitor a baby's breathing and be immediately alerted to any issues. The uses will only become more complicated and varied, making these wearables the first to really involve the human body in this burgeoning new technology.
The team at MC10 has collaborated with John A. Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has himself been exploring the world of worn and implanted technology for the better part of a decade now. Rogers explains, “We’ll eventually see a more intimate integration of electronics and biological systems. Without that kind of intimate physical contact, it’s going to be difficult, or maybe even impossible, to extract meaningful data.” And the data thus far has been incredibly meaningful. Rogers and his team have been working with Parkinson's patients to monitor their motions, giving new hope to helping the sick. They have also been investigating skin disease treatments with dermatologists and even helped beauty companies like L’Oréal to develop digital stickers for tracking skin hydration. The practical uses here are a bit more complex than the standard wearable, but the world of possibilities that has opened up is astounding.
And the design potential has many extremely excited. “There’s a lot of potential to combine fashion and technology" exclaims Anke Loh, the chairwoman of the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. These patches are a far cry from the clunky wearables we see now, and the sleek designs Loh has been formulating will be veritable body art. These will be like having the opportunity to get all those crazy tattoos you always kind of wanted without the lifelong commitment.
The most fascinating realm of this new wearable though is e-skin. Scientists at the University of Tokyo have been working on creating electronic skin that sits atop your real skin and can be rigged with a layer of LEDs, thereby making your forearm into a touch screen. We'll take two please!