Material world: What future wearables will be made of

Wearable tech may be the future, but we’re still heavily reliant on the materials that we’ve been using for years in bigger devices like smartphones – largely metal and plastic. The problem is, these are simply too bulky for many wearable innovations. What we need is a whole new range of flexible smart textiles to get us to the next level.

From energy-harvesting copper yarn to fabrics inspired by electric eels, here are just a few of the next-gen materials that future wearables will be made of…

Ferroelectric material

Material world: What future wearables will be made of

One group of scientists has pinpointed a material that can harness kinetic energy, heat and sunlight – all at the same time. Known as KBNNO, the substance is a type of mineral called perovskite. The material is ferroelectric, and so can be used to generate electricity by applying heat or pressure. This could supplement the battery in wearable gadgets and eventually even replace batteries altogether.

The researchers, from the University of Oulu in Finland, hope to build a multi-energy-harvesting device within the next year, so it’s possible that KBNNO could be used in consumer gadgets by the end of the decade…

You can read the full article at Wareable (originally published 28 February 2017).

How VR and AR could turn you into a bona fide space explorer

12444-c9a15545b69790cfe97a93810d1c1e12Mainstream virtual reality is still in its infancy but it’s been tackling the final frontier – space – for years. Now the latest hardware, such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR headsets, combined with sophisticated 360-degree filming techniques, is finally bringing space exploration to the masses.

VR’s ability to produce large-scale 3D environments not only offers armchair astronauts a glimpse of what life is like in space, it is now also more helpful than ever at aiding real-life astronauts in their jobs both on Earth and out there. 

What’s more, augmented reality can offer spacemen and women a new perspective by merging the worlds of Earth and space. Compared to VR, though, augmented reality still has some way to go before we start to see smartglasses and AR helmets both on our faces and in our homes.

Training astronauts

While virtual reality has been relatively slow to catch on in the mainstream, NASA has been using it for more than 25 years because it’s simply one of the best ways to replicate space while remaining safely on home soil.

“Simulated environments have always been important in astronaut training,” explains Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronaut crews all spent at least one third of their training time in simulators and contemporary crews use VR simulations to train for tasks on the International Space Station (ISS).

Early NASA headsets were improvised affairs – the first prototype of the Virtual Environment Workstation headset was built from a motorcycle helmet – and the American space agency has continued to update the tech involved. Astronauts now use NASA’s Virtual Reality Lab (VRL), located at the Johnson Space Center, to train for missions aboard the ISS. Using a headset, real-time graphics and motion simulators, astronauts train to carry out tasks during microgravity spacewalks.

A vital part of the training involves using their powered jetpack – the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) – which carries very limited fuel, to navigate their way back to the ISS should they get stranded in space. 

The ability to recreate a life-size 3D environment makes VR ideal for astronaut training and now NASA is looking at using augmented reality to keep reality in the frame.

You can read the full article at Wareable (originally published 20 April 2016).

The wearables from NASA that made it back to Earth

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What has spaceflight ever done for us? A hell of a lot, actually – and aside from trying to get humans to Mars, NASA’s technology has trickled down to a host of wearable gadgets.

NASA makes a huge investment in technology and each year it releases a report called Spinoff. This details all of the innovations that have been developed as a result of space travel, from Sony’s latest ‘magnetic fluid’ speakers to more realistic 3D mapping in video games like SSX.

NASA estimates that over the last decade or so, its spinoff innovations have saved 449,850 lives, created 18,888 jobs and created $5.2 billion of revenue.

From healthcare to aviation, sports and product manufacturing, the benefits of spaceflight have filtered down into almost every aspect of our lives, and there are several pieces of wearable kit that have been developed as a result of space exploration. Here are some of the best so far…

Zephyr Bioharness

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NASA was in need of a gadget with real-time sensors for astronauts to track their own physiological symptoms in order to prevent vomiting caused by microgravity.

Step forward Maryland-based Zephyr Technology which developed a product for the space programme, while also giving it the opportunity to improve its own technology. The Bioharness is now used for tracking health and fitness by the US military, firefighters and several pro sports teams in the NBA, NHL and NLB as well as numerous college teams.

Jockey Staycool

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Famous US underwear maker Jockey’s Staycool range was created using the ‘phase change materials’ that NASA developed for astronauts’ space gloves. The special material is designed to maintain a suitable temperature for optimum comfort. Basically, space pants.

Jasper Systems compression wear

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NASA’s Ames Research Centre originally developed liquid-cooled garments to keep astronauts’ airtight spacesuits from becoming hot and humid. The technology has since been used by California-based Vasper Systems to produce compression garments which are designed for more efficient exercise by concentrating lactic acid buildup in the muscles.

You can read the rest of the article at Wareable (originally published 8 April 2015).

Super Bowl XLIX: How wearable tech is changing the NFL

Wearable tech in the NFL
Like most other major sports, the NFL is currently enjoying a wearable technology explosion that’s changing the game. As the players walk out to contest the 49th Superbowl on Sunday, their training, preparation, tactics and plans will have been influenced by technology like never before.

From on-field tracking to improved safety and tactical HUDs, wearables are ushering a new era of football. Not only does this help coaches to get the best out of the players by monitoring their stats on the field and in practice, it also offers fans unprecedented insights into the game.

The stat-heavy nature of American football is why NFL works so well as a fantasy league compared to other sports and one of the reasons why it’s important for fans to have access to this kind of in-game performance data.

On the eve of one of the world’s greatest sporting events, here are the wearables dominating football.

Catapult trackers

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Founded in Australia, Catapult Sports is one of the biggest suppliers of athletics tracking tech in the sports world. The company’s gadgetry is used by a quarter of all NFL franchises, along with 10 college football teams and is used primarily for preventing injuries.

GPS trackers around the size of a small mobile phone are worn by the player, usually on the back using a chest harness, although some teams have sewn special pockets into the back of training tops.

By monitoring key data, coaches can monitor players’ work rates and inform game rotations and practice schedules. The technology can also be used to safely rehabilitate injured players.

The NFL doesn’t currently allow use of GPS devices during games, but they’re fast becoming a must-have for training.

GoPro

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As NFL players wear helmets, the sport is well suited to player cams, which can be integrated into their head gear to help coaches with tactics and provide ‘player cam’ POV for the fans.

Several teams in the league, such as the Cincinnati Bengals, have already started using GoPro cameras in training, while New York Giants rookie Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jnr – and the man responsible for the most amazing one-handed catch we’ve ever seen – has also been spotted wearing a GoPro on a chest harness in a Pro Bowl practice session.

GoPro has just done its first major sports league deal, signing up as official partner to the NHL. Could the NFL be next on the list?

Reebok CheckLight

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Produced in conjunction with tech company MC10, Reebok’s concussion-busting skullcap was designed to tackle one of sport’s most dangerous problems. American Football has worryingly high concussion rates – not surprising, given the physical nature of the game.

CheckLight aims to keep players safe by using multiple sensors to capture head impact data during play. A green light indicates a low impact, yellow indicates a moderate hit, while a red light means a heavy impact – giving an indication of when a player needs a medical check before returning to the field.

You can read the rest of the article at Wareable (originally published 30 January 2015).