From the glove controlled motion commands from Minority Report to the TV glasses from Back to the Future Part II, science fiction suggests that wearable technology is an integral part of life in the future, and judging by the recent boom in wearable tech development, every large tech corporation as well as thousands of startups and venture capitalists seem to think so too.
Currently, the majority of the commercial wearable tech world is focused on marketing its gadgets as tools of convenience, predominantly in wristband form. However, while met by mild success in sales, the Apple watch and Android Wear smartwatches have barely made so much as a ripple in terms of their impact on consumer lifestyle, especially compared to the massive waves of influence the rise of the smartphone sent throughout the world. Like the epically failed Google Glass, smartwatches aren’t widely popular or revolutionary because companies fail to convince people that there is a need for them. They don’t offer many additional functions that a smartphone can’t already perform, so the main selling point of these wearables is their constant and immediate accessibility. Companies market this convenience of not needing to actively take out your phone to access data or check notifications as a way to keep yourself more connected to the real world, but having the virtual world literally strapped to your body also means that you can’t escape the distractions of cyberspace.
The real selling point of wearable tech is the way it can fulfill needs that smartphones can’t, most notably through biological interaction. By virtue of being worn on the body, wearable tech is cut out for measuring biometric and neurological data as well as altering sensory perception, functions that can enhance many aspects of lifestyle, from health to entertainment. This explains the relative success of the Fitbit or UP by Jawbone, but they still seem like a bit of a fad, which is partially because these gadgets basically just condense the long existing technologies of stop watches, pedometers, heart rate monitors, and sleep trackers into a streamlined wristband that can connect to a smartphone. It’s a valid strategy considering smartphones basically just condensed the existing technologies of cell phones, PC’s, GPS’s, and cameras into a sleek apparatus, but it is precisely because smartphones have mastered the art of uniting existing capabilities in an all-in-one device that the value of wearable tech now exists in exploring new capabilities that would require the use of an external accessory.
Wearable technologies are accessories not only in the sense that they are compatible with smartphones and other computers but also in the sense that they are accessories for your outfit. A classic watch is just as much of a fashion statement as it is a functional timekeeping tool, so if a smartwatch or fitness tracker is going to successfully replace it, the wearable must be just as intentionally stylish as it is functional; consumers shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for tech. Technological fashion statements are also inherently social statements. When was the last time you saw someone talking tensely into a chunky bluetooth-earpiece and thought, “Wow, that person is so cool?” Designing a fashionable product and branding a fashionable lifestyle are among the largest struggles of wearable tech companies, as the worlds of fashion and technology do not often collide.
To truly revolutionize lifestyle, wearable technologies must boost their coolness factor by going the extra mile in unique, aesthetically appealing design and in cutting-edge technology that makes the body an essential part of its focused, innovative purpose. Here are five cool, non-wristband-based wearable tech companies that could really change the way we live:
- Avegnat: Avegant’s flagship product is the Glyph, a portable personal theater that claims to be the first of its kind. The Glyph recreates natural sight by using advanced optics and microscopic mirrors to project complete images directly to the eyes, creating a more vivid and effortless visual experience than the pixels of a screen would. This technology avoids the headaches and eyestrain commonly associated with other head mounted displays and can accommodate a wide range eyeglass prescriptions so that users don’t have to worry about glasses or contacts getting in the way. The Glyph makes it possible to explore media like a 360-degree video or in side-by-side 3D for an even more immersive experience, while letting you see above and below the visual field so you don’t lose spatial awareness. Aesthetically, then Glyph takes after Beats’ simple, sleek design and can be rotated to be worn as high-quality audio headphones, which is a huge bonus in terms of versatility and style.
- Thync: The Thync system is a mood influencing technology composed of a module that rests on the forehead, strips that are applied to the back of the neck, and an app. The app modulates psychophysiological arousal by controlling calm and energy Vibes, which are safe, low-level electric pulses that stimulate nerves on your head and neck, the same nerves aroused by massages, kisses, and splashes of water. Energy Vibes act on your brain’s adrenaline system to help you become motivated and focused, while calm Vibes slow down the production of stress to help you unwind and sleep.
- CuteCircuit: This fashion company incorporates concepts of wearable technology into its designs through the use of smart textiles and micro-electronics, opening up new avenues of functionality and ways to express beauty. One of CuteCircuit’s most innovative pieces is the Hug Shirt, which allows people to send hugs over a distance as easily as they would send a text message. Powered by an app via Bluetooth, sensors embedded in the shirt detect the strength, duration, and warmth of the sender’s touch and actuators recreate this touch in the Hug Shirt of the receiver. Other designs include fashions with luminous elements that interact with the physical or virtual environment, such as the Twitter Dress, which can receive and display Tweets in real time, and the Kinetic Dress, which responds to the wearer’s movements.
- Magic Leap: This startup aims to use technology to free the imagination by integrating virtual reality with the real world. Magic Leap is developing a head-mounted virtual retinal display that can place 3D computer generated images seamlessly among real life objects by projecting a Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal into the user’s eye. This technology could present many new possibilities for the enhancement of film, gaming, telecommunications, and other industries.
- Quell: Designed to make physical therapy more readily available to those who need it, Quell’s drug-free OptiTherapy technology precisely and conveniently manages chronic pain. Personalized to your body’s needs, Quell delivers an optimal amount of relief by adjusting its therapy levels, which can be controlled on a corresponding smartphone app. It helps break the cyclical relationship between lack of sleep and chronic pain by automatically initiating therapy every other hour throughout the night, controlling stimulation to ensure that your sleep goes undisturbed while tracking its quality and quantity. Quell’s design is lightweight and streamlined, ensuring comfort and subtlety without compromising the power of its technology.
As the virtual world becomes an increasingly omnipresent force in our everyday lives, it is natural and necessary that technology also become physically integrated into our everyday lives. Wearable technology’s potential to enhance mood, health, and creativity in a hands off fashion can help us cope with the growing need for flexibility and efficiency that a more interconnected world demands. Because wearable technologies interact directly with the body and mind, they know us better than we know ourselves, allow us to peer into a world that only we can see, and present us with personalized abilities to control our physical and digital environments. What wearables uniquely offer is technology that’s all about us. Just ask Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man.