Wireless

The future of wearable IoT devices

1st May 2020
Alex Lynn

At the end of 2019, Google took control of Fitbit in a £1.6 billion deal just so that they could rival Apple in the electronic wearables market. That should give you an idea of how much value tech giants are placing on the wearable IoT device industry.

When we think of wearable technology, the first things that come to mind are smartwatches and wireless earbuds, but the future of wearable tech holds a much broader scope of applications, especially in the workplace.

As well as standalone devices that can be attached to clothing, IoT-compatible technology can be worked into jackets, boots and other items of clothing. Here’s what that could mean for the future of IoT wearables:

Worker safety

Manual labour industries such as construction and manufacturing are set to benefit significantly from wearable IoT devices. Safety regulations in these industries have long included the wearing of hard hats, protective goggles, boots, gloves and high-visibility clothing. Wearable technology will enhance the protection of workers even further.

On construction sites, the use of drones can help to map out the area without risk to worker safety, highlighting any dangerous areas. Rather than just sharing this information with a computer, it could also be shared with wearables, such as augmented reality goggles, similar to the Google Glass that can map out the area and safe routes around the site before the workers’ eyes.

Wearable IoT devices can also be used to track worker locations and detect falls, meaning accidents can be more easily prevented and the response can be quicker if they do happen. This technology currently exists in the form of trackers and other small devices that can be clipped to a belt, but with the advancement of smart textiles, it may soon be commonplace to have this technology built directly into work boots or jackets.

IoT devices built into equipment can also provide warnings to the worker themselves. Devices can provide audible or vibration-based alarms that warn workers of dangers such as moving equipment or unsafe terrain, as well as warning them of physical stressors such as bending, twisting and when they are suffering from exhaustion.

Planning and training

Another application of AR goggles is for project planning and employee training. For example, with a project that requires a scale model, wearable AR or VR headwear allows a person to scale up and move around a 3D model of the project and make changes in real-time by sending messages to a connected computer. This same technology could also be used to better display a product in a pitch or presentation setting.

Wearable technology is also being used in a limited capacity to train staff in highly-skilled professions. Some surgeons are using wearable AR to practice keyhole surgery on models whilst the technology simulates a living organism. This simulation can also be altered in real-time from a computer to represent the complications that could occur. It is likely that these practices will soon be adopted by other highly-skilled professions as well.

Healthcare

IoT wearables have also made their way into the medical profession, to better understand a patient’s physiology and provide more personalised treatment. Wearable tattoos are made from a thin rubber patch that contains a circuit of flexible electronic components and are stuck directly to the skin.

These ‘tattoos’ can be used to monitor a patient’s vitals and build a complete health profile on them over a period of time, with little to no discomfort to the wearer, and this information can be transmitted in real-time to healthcare professionals.

Not only do wearable tattoos provide more accurate and comprehensive data about a patient, but they can also detect signs that the patient may have a health profile that makes them susceptible to certain diseases or health problems. Having access to this data means that some future health problems can be prevented against early, as well as giving doctors a better idea of which treatments will be suitable for the patient and which may cause previously unseen complications.

Analytics

Using wearable IoT devices for analytics will have long-term benefits outside of healthcare too. Being able to track worker activity, location and stress levels will help businesses to streamline their practices and make the workplace more efficient in its layout, as well as seeing where time is wasted. Athletes are already using analytic IoT technology to measure their performance and techniques to see where improvements can be made.

Some businesses may want to utilise wearable technology to assess the overall health and wellbeing of their employees. They can use it to create a more supportive workplace that prioritises worker satisfaction by reducing exposure to the situations that cause stress.

Currently, much of the wearable IoT technology is in the form of external devices that users have to equip themselves with, such as goggles, smartwatches or movement sensors, but as the technology evolves, we will likely see more and more traditional items of clothing being upgraded with IoT capability.

Whilst the construction and medical industries are likely to receive the most immediate benefits from the development of wearable IoT, this technology will become more prevalent in all business sectors, as well as for home use.

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