So-called smart wearables – from watches and wrist bands, to earwear and clothing – are on the rise, with investors spending almost half a billion dollars on wearables tech start-ups since 2009.
By 2021, the market for such technology is set to double, according to International Data Corporation’s analysis which suggests vendors will ship a total of 125.5 million wearable devices in 2017, marking a 20.4% increase from the 104.3 million units shipped last year.
Business Insider data predicts the market will be worth some $12.6 billion by 2018, up from $2.5 billion in 2014, generating revenues of almost £23 billion by the end of this decade.
“The wearables market is entering a new phase,” says IDC’s Ramon Llamas. “Since the market’s inception, it’s been a matter of getting product out there to generate awareness and interest.
“But now it’s about getting the experience right – from the way the hardware looks and feels to how software collects, analyses, and presents insightful data. What this means for users is that in the years ahead, they will be treated to second- and third-generation devices that will make the today’s devices seem quaint. Expect digital assistants, cellular connectivity, and connections to larger systems, both at home and at work.
“At the same time, expect to see a proliferation in the diversity of devices brought to market, and a decline in prices that will make these more affordable to a larger crowd.”
So, as the market grows, it is likely to expand beyond wearables designed for wealthy consumers in the developed world to feature products and services that support the needs and aspirations of people in developing countries.
As such, the term ‘wearables for social good’ has been bandied around for the last couple of years, as the NGO community in particular has started to get excited about the potential of smart wearables to have a positive environmental or social impact.
For example, WEAR Sustain, is a new project managed by a consortium of seven organisations across five EU countries, designed to bring some much needed attention to the development of sustainable wearables. A €2.4 million fund from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme will support the project which will see 48 teams, made up of designers and engineers, given €50,000 each to come up with prototypes of next generation sustainable wearables and e-textiles.
Of course, smart technology has already made inroads to support a wide range of projects – from helping to reduce energy consumption, to helping farmers across Africa gain access to accurate weather reports. But wearables open another set of channels for doing good.
Here’s six examples of how smart wearable technology can benefit people and planet:
- Tracking personal carbon footprints
Layer’s concept wearable, known as the WorldBeing wristband and developed in partnership with The Carbon Trust, would be able to track an individual’s carbon footprint. By connecting to a number of data sources it would create individual visualisation maps of energy consumption, measuring and reporting on everything from food eaten, transport taken and energy used at home.
Merely at concept stage, and recognising that some of the proposed functions aren’t achievable just yet, the WorldBeing wristband has the future in mind, when digital data is less restricted and plenty of what is being tracked could be automated without a user having to worry about feeding it with too much information about what they’re doing or buying.
- Encouraging cycling in the best possible way
Aimed at cyclists, the Levi’s/Google Jacquard Commuter jacket is a smart wearable that allows you to control your mobile device and connect to services, such as Maps or Spotify, by brushing the sleeves. Essentially, it means you won’t have to keep whipping your phone from your pocket as you ride, making cycling safer and more attractive for everybody. Of course, the environmental and health benefits of getting more people cycling speak for themselves.
- Measuring child nutrition
Proving that wearables do not strictly have to feature some sort of smart electronic device, UNICEF uses a simple paper armband to measure child nutrition out in the field. No apps, no smart tech, just good old fashioned paper can give health workers all the information they need to make the right decisions. (That’s not to say that digitisation of such a measuring tape might not make health monitoring that much more effective in the future).
- Remote medical advice
Remedy is an app to be used with Google Glass, the most well-known of wearables, which lets doctors in remote locations stream video back to bigger medical centres so that a more experienced practitioner might be able to offer advice, perhaps during surgery.
- ‘Let’s wash our hands’
Designed to encourage children to wash their hands, particularly in the developing world where the habit of hand washing is not prominent, SoaPen is a soap-crayon. Kids can draw on their hands as a reminder to wash them. When they wet their hands and rub them together, the crayon marks lather up and disappear after the optimum hand washing time of 20 to 40 seconds.
Hand washing reducing infant mortality rates by preventing the spread of infectious illnesses.
- A smart phone for the blind
Check out the smart Braille watch, DOT, a wearable device that outputs text in Braille. Making use of an app enables information on a smartphone to be transmitted to the watch via Bluetooth, outputting it in bumpy Braille, perfect for those hard of sight.