Technology in vogue

This week’s Wearable Technology and Augmented Reality Show at London’s Excel has got us all inspired! Looking at the big brands represented at the show – everyone from Intel, IBM and Microsoft to Visa, Amazon, Epson, Samsung and LG – it’s now quite certain that the concept of wearable technology is sprinting out of the health and fitness arena and into everyday life at great pace. Fitness trackers, smart watches and wristbands, augmented reality eyewear and smart clothing will all soon be on a high street shelf near you. So, whilst it wasn’t long ago that the concept was limited to sci-fi screens, we are beginning to wonder if the potential applications of wearable technology are endless, and how start-ups could get involved.

The wearable technology arena certainly presents an amazing opportunity to exercise creative, innovative thinking. The highly artistic world of fashion is already in on the act, embracing ingenuity along with its flair for aesthetics to create some ground-breaking concepts. What’s more, the resulting products could solve real pain points for many people: a smart phone charging jacket or heart-rate monitoring t-shirt anyone? The Guardian recently reported that Ralph Lauren was working on concepts like outfits that will alert parents if their children are not getting enough exercise and tops and ties that can alter pattern and colour according to mood.

And what about the B2B marketplace? Well, we’re already witnessing ideas which could transform the future of air travel. Science Park based Tekever’s Project BRAINFLIGHT is investigating whether emerging neuroscience technologies can be used in the cockpit to control an aircraft using brain signals alone, in a research project which is responding to issues that pilots are facing as a result of increasingly complex aircraft systems. The technology could release a pilot’s higher cognitive functions to other tasks and help improve safety and security in the air.

The health sector offers huge potential for wearable technologies too. With the well-publicised pressure on NHS services, the trend is towards healthcare at home and a move from treatment to prevention by helping people to help themselves. Effective monitoring of our own health, simply through the clothes that we wear, could trigger positive impacts for the nation’s health and economy. Companies who can provide integrated IT systems which interface with health-smart clothing are well placed to be part of this revolution.

And here’s where it gets really exciting: fruitful collaborations between the technology, fashion and health sectors could create a real force for societal change. If technology innovators like those here at the Science Park can lead this drive, then the resulting products will perform as expected and become mainstream rather than just expensive gadgets for fashion-forward early adopters.

One thing is for sure: wearable technology is fast becoming a hugely competitive space and it’s not just the global brands which will benefit. Smaller, agile app developers could be getting ahead now. Hot on the heels of Google going back to the drawing board on its Google Glass, brands like Sony are jumping on the opportunity to be first to mass market by releasing its SmartEyeglass to developers a year ahead of the consumer market – the idea is to enable a wide variety of apps to be created pre-launch. The unveiling of the Apple Watch in the UK in April poses another bandwagon for app creators to jump on if they’re quick.

If smartwatch creators Pebble are anything to go by, there’s a huge amount of interest from investors, as well as the media and the general public. The company’s recent Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help launch its new product Pebble Time hit its target investment level in just 17 minutes. It went on to become the fastest campaign to hit $1m in 30 minutes and $2m within 58 minutes!

So, surely it’s time for all high-tech businesses to be thinking about how the technologies that you’ve already developed can be transformed into garments that would make a science fiction movie feel, well, so eighties!