What Is Wearable Technology?

Wearable technology is a category of electronic devices that can be worn as accessories, embedded in clothing, implanted in the user's body, or even tattooed on the skin. The devices are hands-free gadgets with practical uses, powered by microprocessors and enhanced with the ability to send and receive data via the Internet.

The rapid adoption of such devices has placed wearable technology at the forefront of the Internet of things (IoT).

How Wearable Technology Works

Wearable technology can be said to have existed since eyeglasses were first developed in the 13th century. Timepieces small enough to be worn have been around since about 1500. But modern wearable technology is defined as incorporating a microprocessor and an internet connection.

The growth of mobile networks enabled the development of wearable technology. Fitness activity trackers were the first big wave of wearable technology to catch on with consumers. Then, the wristwatch became a screen and more robust mobile applications were added. Bluetooth headsets, smartwatches, and web-enabled glasses all allow people to receive data from Wi-Fi networks. The gaming industry adds more wearables, with virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.

Specialized and Practical Applications

There have been some flops, too, notably Google Glass. The Internet-connected eyeglasses may yet re-emerge for specialized uses but they most definitely did not make it as a fashion accessory.

The focus in the development of wearable technology now appears to be moving from consumer accessories to more specialized and practical applications. Microchip implants are now being used to replace keys and passwords. Embedded in a fingertip, the chips use near-field communication (NFC) or radio-frequency identification (RFID) and are similar to the chips used to track lost pets. The U.S. military is reportedly considering using RFID chips to keep track of its troops around the world.

The real life-altering applications in wearable technology, however, can be found in medical devices.

[Important: Circadia Health has developed iTBra, an intelligent patch that can detect early signs of breast cancer and transmit the information to a lab for analysis.]

Examples of Wearable Technology

The past few years have seen rapid development and introduction of wearable technology products adapted for medical and healthcare uses. These include:

  • In Louisville, Kentucky, wearable devices made by AIR Louisville are being used to monitor local air quality, measure pollutants, and identify hotspots for residents with respiratory problems.
  • Circadia Health has developed iTBra, an intelligent patch that can detect early signs of breast cancer and transmit the information to a lab for analysis.
  • Wearable medical alert monitors are extending greater mobility and independence to the elderly and impaired.
  • Smart tattoos that contain flexible electronic sensors are being developed to monitor heart and brain activity, sleep disorders, and muscle function. (The tattoos are temporary.)
  • A smart watch for people with Parkinson's disease tracks symptoms and transmits the data so that more personalized treatment plans can be developed.
  • Child monitoring devices equipped with GPS are available from many manufacturers for as little as $25.

Key Takeaways

  • Wearable technology is evolving into an important category of the Internet of things, with life-changing applications in medicine and other fields.
  • The growth of mobile networks enabled the development of wearable technology.
  • Wearable technology may be worn, embedded, or tattooed on the skin.