Wearable Technology

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Wearable technologies are non-obstructive clothing or accessories that are in close proximity to the human body (worn by you) with a portable information processing system. As such, the wearable technology will be capable of inputting, processing or transforming, storing, and outputting information[1].

Being portable means that a wearable technology must be carried around with ease and are battery powered. Being capable of input/output suggests that the device can communicate with the outside world, such as with users, or another information processing system. Hence, wearable technology should have the ability to receive data and signals (input), and share that information with another entity (output). During this process, wearable technology should be capable of processing or transforming information from one form to another in a meaningful and organized manner. For example, body bands can translate body movements into steps taken, and a head cap can signal the severity of head impact with green, yellow, or red lights[2].


Ubiquitous Computing

Ubiquitous computing is the method of enhancing computer use by making many computers available throughout the physical environment, but making them effectively invisible to the user. Mark Weiser is often referred to as the father of "ubiquitous computing". He worked as the Chief Technology Officer at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the late 80s and early 90s . In addition to coining the term for ubiquitous computing, Weiser also researched on what he defined as the three waves of computing[3].

The first wave of computing was mainframes, which were standalone devices dominated by many people serving one computer. According to Weiser, the mainframe computing era started in 1940 and ended in 1980.

The second wave was the era of personal computing, where each individual has their own computer. Weiser passed away in 1999, while this era of computing was still peaking. Currently, smartphones should still be considered as part of the personal computing era.

Finally, the third era of computing is what Weiser defined as the era of calm technology:

"In the twenty-first century the technology revolution will move into the everyday, the small and the invisible. The impact of technology will increase ten-fold as it is imbedded in the fabric of everyday life. As technology becomes more imbedded and invisible, it calms our lives by removing annoyances while keeping us connected with what is truly important. This imbedding, this invisibility, this radical ease-of-use requires radical innovations in our connectivity infrastructure" — M. D. Weiser[3]

Wearable Technology falls into Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing as it can be the bridge that brings us from personal computing to the calm technology era.

Supporting Technology

Currently, many wearable technology products lack the hardware specifications on its own to manage all of its own functionality. The lack of battery and processing power has made the smartphone a necessary complement to many wearable technologies. For example, with the Nike FuelBand, while the activity tracking functionality is done through the band itself, the actual visualization of the data collected from your activities is presented through a mobile application or on a computer.

Furthermore, internet connectivity is essential for data analysis, such as calorie burned versus calorie intake. It is for this reason that smartphones may be a necessary complement to today’s wearable technology because mobile data can be drawn from the user’s smartphone. The demand for these types of use for smartphones could mean that wearable technology is driving the evolution of smartphones into a “smartphone-as-server” device.

History of Wearable Technology

While wearable technology has only recently drawn the attention of the general public, it has had a long history. This section will highlight some of the cornerstones in the history of wearable technology, as well as past successes and failures.

Milestones Description
1966 – Roulette prediction computer[4] The very first wearable computer was created by mathematics professor Edward Thorpe, the “father of wearable computing”. In a joint venture with Claude Shannon, they developed the very first wearable computer to predict roulette wheels. The final version of this computer was about the size of a cigarette pack with twelve transistors. The input was done using microswitches in the shoes, one switch for initializing the computer and one for timing the ball and roulette wheel. After the input was processed by the computer, a musical scale would be transmitted to an earpiece where each tone marked certain reference points on the roulette wheel.
1977 – HP 01 algebraic calculator watch[5] The very first calculator watch was invented by HP in 1977. The HP 01 was the first and only calculator watch that HP ever developed, manufactured, and sold to the public. In addition to basic calculator features like addition and subtraction, HP 01 also includes time conversions, date arithmetic, alarm, stopwatch and timer. Although HP 01 does not satisfy all the criteria for our definition of wearable technology, this innovation of combining two existing technologies and the idea to make calculators portable was a huge step for wearable technology.
1980 – Steve Mann Mann first developed his wearable computer in the 1980s as a way to control his photographic equipment. He used a camera viewfinder CRT attached to a helmet as a head mounted display for the camera. The system was controlled through the use of microswitches built into a flash-lamp handle. The complete system was attached to 6502 computer that was fitted into a steel-frame backpack[6]. With the invention of his head mounted display, Mann created the first truly portable wearable computer with visual output abilities[7].
1993 – Thad Starner[8] Thad Starner is seen as one of the world’s leading experts on wearable computers. He has been wearing his custom wearable computer since 1993. His wearable computer had a display and keyboard attached to the belt, and also included a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive[7]. The two main uses of his computer were to look up information and answer livestream questions while lecturing[9]. Today, Thad Starner is the technical lead and manager for Google Glass.
2003 – 2004 – Fossil Wrist PDA , SPOT Watches In 2003, the Fossil wrist PDA was introduced to the market. The watch carried out most PDA functions such as synchronizing with a PC, infrared port, and virtual keyboard[10]. Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) was Microsoft’s initiative to improve the function of everyday objects through the integration of software[11]. SPOT used FM radio signals to deliver information such as weather, news, and stock prices. The very first SPOT product introduced in 2004 was SPOT watches[12]. However, SPOT was discontinued in 2008.
2011 – Future In 2011, we saw the introduction of Sony’s SmartWatch, which looks to be the first of what seems to be the next generation of smart watch products set to be released in 2013 by companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft. 2013 also looks to be a big year for smart glasses as Recon Jet is set to be released at the end of the year and Google Glass has already begun its beta testing phase.

Current Applications

While wearable technology is involved in many product categories on the market, including tattoos that can measure how tired or dehydrated one is[13] and pharmaceutical devices like bandages that can monitor bacteria growth[14], this Wiki focuses on four main product categories—body bands, smart watches, smart glasses, and smart fabric. Examples of how products mentioned in this report fit into our wearable technology definition are summarized in the Product Summary PDF here: Media:ProductSummaryFinal.pdf.

Body Bands

Many of the wearable technology products in the body bands category today are health and activity monitors. These powerful, accurate, and smart devices evolved from traditional pedometers. They are often designed to fit seamlessly into people’s lives without being a distraction. These products are worn close to the user’s body either as a wristband or a strap around the torso, and they track user’s daily activities. Popular consumer products include Fitbit Flex[1], Jawbone UP[2], Nike FuelBand[3], and Under Armour 39[4] .

Data tracked by the device is logged in applications that can be accessed either through a smartphone or on a computer. Users receive detailed insights on their health and daily habits such as food intake, number of steps taken, distance travelled, calorie burned and even sleep patterns. Through the use of this information, consumers can be more conscious about their daily habits, and can be motivated to improve their overall health and quality of life. These insights also help professional athletes keep track of their training performance.

Smart Watches

Sony SmartWatch

Smart watches are computerized wristwatches that function beyond just timekeeping; they perform a variety of information transfer abilities. Current smart watches in the market have relatively limited functionalities as they lack the necessary processing power to run their own native applications. They communicate with users’ smartphones via Bluetooth technology, and alert users of any incoming emails or text messages, calls, appointments, and social media updates such as Twitter.

The three major players in the smart watches category are the Pebble watch[1], Sony’s SmartWatch[2] and Apple’s iWatch[3]. Smart watches act as an extension of the smartphone as they provide users convenience and reduce the need for users to check incoming updates on their smartphones. Although the future of smart watches depends largely on battery life and their processing abilities, there is still potential in the development of smart watches in connecting to users’ home automation systems, or implementing a voice recognition system similar to Apple’s Siri[4].

Smart Glasses

Recon Jet

Smart glasses are optical head mounted displays that allow users to have the luxury of staying connected and interacting with the environment around them while they are performing other activities. Glasses are equipped with sensors and operating systems that enables powerful information processing abilities such as tracking location, recording photos and videos, receiving alerts from smartphones, searching for information over the internet, recognizing faces, and tracking health and fitness performance. The two main consumer products in the smart glasses category are the Google Glass [1] and Recon Jet[2]. While Google Glass is aimed at regular consumers, Recon Jet targets professional athletes, such as cyclists and triathletes. Although smart glasses have yet to be released to the mass general public, there is no doubt that products in this category aim to be the forefront of the wearable technology revolution of producing a true ubiquitous computing experience for consumers.

Smart Fabric

Sensoria Smart Socks Fitness
Sensoria Smart Socks Fitness

Although smart fabrics have been long developed within military programs, their actual and potential end-consumer-user market applications are relatively scattered and still in the early stages. Smart fabrics can be divided into two categories: 1) added-on electrical components embedded onto the textile, and 2) true integration of electrical components within the yarn of the textile[3]. Apart from military uses, smart fabrics in the current market have been focused on benefiting the health and fitness industry.

Examples of two products in the smart fabric category are NuMetrex[4] heart monitoring sports apparel, and Sensoria Smart Socks Fitness[5]. Both products have electrical components woven into the fabric, and are able to be washed and dried without damaging the electronics. The electronics within the fabric track and gather information, such as your heart rate and distance travelled, and present them through a mobile application or proprietary device, very much like the functions of body bands.

Business Implications

Wearable technologies play important roles in the military and public servant, healthcare, theme park, safety & loss prevention, and sporting sectors. The following sections describe the business implications of wearable technology within these industries.

Military and Public Servant Sector

Wearable technology is especially value-adding for the military and public servant sector—those who face dangerous environments. ‘Wearable Motherboard’ is a smart garment developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology that will be particularly useful for soldiers[6]. It was first used to track vital signs and detect injuries of soldiers on the battlefield to assist doctors-on-site with prioritizing treatment[6]. With replaceable sensors, Wearable Motherboard is also capable of tracking body temperature, respiration rate, and hazardous gas levels[6], which may be useful for firefighters as well.

Golden-i for firefights in action on a mission

‘I-Garment’ and ‘Golden-i’ are two examples of wearable technology that could be used for firefighters. With built-in GPS, biometric and gas level sensors, and wireless communication, I-Garment allows the command centre to continuously track the vital signs and location of firefighter at the site, and provide commands, support, and rescue as needed[1]. Aside from possessing I-Garment’s capabilities, Golden-i is also equipped with camera, micro display, speech recognition, and infrared option to enhance firefighter’s vision in smoke-filled environments and also serve to ensure their safety during their missions[2].

Golden-I has also been envisioned to be a useful tool for police and paramedics. Functions include identifying suspects through facial recognition, scanning license plates instantly, and calling up floor plans[2]. With these capabilities, it is expected that it can improve officers’ performance through real-time information provided about the situation.

Wearable technology plays an important role in facilitating real-time remote monitoring of civilians on critical missions, assisting civilians during their missions, and reducing the response time of support actions. These ultimately may mean less casualty and more successful missions for the country. However, with Wearable Motherboard and I-Garment, the extent of security and reliability of the electronic transmission of information—Bluetooth and Wi-Fi respectively—is a major concern. In addition, Wi-Fi connectivity may not be readily available at certain geographic location for I-Garment to transmit information; information transferred could also be viewed by unauthorized personnel, so privacy is an issue. With Golden-i, facial recognition also raises controversies. It has legal and privacy implications that need to be carefully addressed.


Mamagoose Pyjamas
Mamagoose Pyjamas

Wearable technology is a major player in the future that may potentially revolutionize the entire healthcare industry and promote telemedicine through real-time tracking. Smart garment and body bands will be particularly useful in research, and detection and prevention work. There are many health issues where causes have yet to be identified. For example, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is one that still cannot be explained after a thorough investigation on the possible causes of death[3]. Smart garment like ‘Mamagoose Pyjamas’[4] are specifically designed to aid the detection of SIDS by providing immediate threat signals to caretakers. With five built-in sensors to monitor the baby’s heart and respiration rate, and a data collection unit[5], doctors are able to use information collected prior to an SIDS event to understand the causes.

While OMsignal is a product that is still under development, this video shows this wearable tech's potential capability to enhance people's lives and promote healthcare 2.0.

Body bands like Jawbone UP can track an individual’s sleeping patterns, such as the time required for one to fall asleep and hours slept[1]. This information can be used during consultations with doctors and promote healthcare 2.0. Alternatively, with smart garment’s ability to monitor patients’ vital signs, through wireless connections, doctors are able to track a patient’s health status in real-time. Wearable technology allows patients to receive medical care anywhere and immediately when needed. By having doctors intervene only when necessary, patient’s quality of life is enhanced with the flexibility of medical care.

Wearable technology improves medical facilities’ quality of service in that the treatment environment can be more flexible, and research and detection can be more accurate with data gathered from these devices. Wearable technology initiates a step forward in the healthcare industry where home-monitoring could be the future norm. This is a particularly important step as the elderly population increases dramatically in the next few years. In the United Stated, it is expected that by year 2030, almost one out of every five Americans will be 65 years or older[2]. Lastly, with the technology’s flexibility, it is expected that operation costs of hospitals can be reduced by allowing care to be received at patients’ homes. For example, the number of beds required for certain non-critical departments can be reduced. Operational efficiency can also be improved, and resources can be better allocated to other departments that require a higher level of attention.

However, for medical centres, the use of wearable technology in their operations requires greater storage facilities for the amount of data generated. Stable and constant wireless internet connection is also required in order for real-time monitoring to be possible. In addition, some wearable technologies are costly and cannot be afforded by the general public to generate the greatest value for the society. Lastly, the reliability of data has to be diligently assessed and verified so that doctors can provide proper treatments to the right patient.

Theme Park

Traditionally, entry into theme parks is validated through a physical admission pass. This year, Disney introduced the MagicBand—a free all-in-one band that will replace the old card system. MagicBand is part of a billion dollar guest planning program called MyMagic+ that involves a mobile application to enhance customer’s experiences at Disney[3]. For example, the mobile app allows users to obtain Fastpass tickets online; the MagicBand will save this information and act as the physical Fastpass at the user’s visit to an attraction[4].

Disney's MagicBand validating admission.
Disney's MagicBand.

Through RFID and Bluetooth technology, MagicBand will act as a park entry pass, hotel room key, and credit card, and allows Disney to track customer’s travel patterns[4] . From information gathered through the device and the mobile app, Disney can provide suggestion to their guests to improve their experience and enjoyment at the park. By tracking guests’ spending patterns, Disney can tailor promotions and marketing to individual customers and maximize their spending[3]. Information from MagicBand will also allow Disney characters or rides to recognize a particular customer[3], and provide tailored services to them such as addressing them by name or customizing a birthday ride. Bluetooth reading of the wristbands allow Disney to control and be more responsive to in-park traffic and crowd[4], and enables the company to deploy real-time strategies to reduce the crowd. In summary, through data collected from MagicBand, Disney is able to better manage its guests’ experience, improve their engagement, and ultimately increase customers’ loyalty and the company’s revenue.

With Disney’s initiation, more tailored theme park experience may become the norm in the future. By putting a patent called ‘Guest Experience Management System and Method’[5] on this technology, Disney is securing its position as the first-mover among other major theme park players like Universal Studio and LEGOLAND.

On the other hand, MagicBand’s all-in-one capabilities raise concerns regarding security and privacy. This is an area that Disney has yet to address as the band in still in its testing phases.

Safety & Loss Prevention

Three components of SEAL.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s recent statistics, there are about ten fatal drowning per day[6]. SEAL is a drowning detection product that can be an important player in safety and loss prevention in the future. The product consists of three components (shown on the right): a neck band for the swimmer, one for the caretaker, and a portable warning hub . The neck device on the swimmer uses depth, distance, movement, individual swimmer’s swimming level, and time submerged in water to detect the threat of drowning[7]. Once detected, warnings are transmitted to the matching band on the caretaker and the hub through radio signal.

Among children between the age of 1 and 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death[6]. Hence, this device can be seen to improve safety at pools, water parks, and beach resorts. It can also be used in competitive events or water sports, such as triathlons, to add an extra layer of safety. According to a study, between 2006 and 2008, 13 of the 14 deaths reported during triathlons occurred during swim[8]. With the crowd, recognizing and locating distressed swimmers is difficult; therefore this product can play an important role in such situation.

However, as this product is still in its development stage, its effectiveness and stability to transfer information from underwater to land is still questionable. The security of the radio signal and the possibility of interception are also unknown at this stage, and hence may be a potential risk of SEAL.

Sporting Sector

Wearable technology with biometric sensors can assist professional athletes in understanding their motivation and training performance in real time, and benchmark against previous training sessions. Examples include Under Armour’s Armour39, Nike+ FuelBand, and Jawbone UP. Information transmitted by the device enables users to adjust and/or modify their routines to reach optimal performance results. Other wearable technology like electricfoxy’s Move[9] and GolfSense Swing Analyzer[10] can detect position precision. These wearable techs could be used in sports that require body precision and accuracy in order to receive better results, such as golf. Hence, wearable technology drives professional athletes to increase their level of competitiveness and self-awareness.

Adidas miCoach Elite System is particularly aimed at assisting professional soccer teams during games and practice. The smart shirt with embedded sensors can communicate a player’s vital signs and critical performance to the coach’s iPad in real-time via an encrypted service, with 200 data records transmitted per second per player[11]. The miCoach application can display multiple players’ performance details and physical status to their coach, and support coaches in making informed in-game or training decisions[11]. This system is aimed to assist teams in managing and maintaining their players’ peak physical status and performance. miCoach Elite System is expected to be adopted by most European soccer teams in 2014[12]. Therefore, wearable technology may potentially be an enabler and competitive differentiator that bring in-game managerial decisions and team performance to another strategic level, based on accurate data collected on individual player’s physical performance.

adidas miCoach Elite System

Lastly, wearable technology can potentially be an imperative accessory for sports likely to experience head impact to increase player’s safety. Head impact injuries are serious public health issues that can occur in both contact and non-contact sports for athletes of all age and experience[1]. To address this, Reebok’s CheckLight provides athletes and medical personnel information about the intensity, frequency, and location of impacts to the wearer’s head[2]. While CheckLight is not a concussion detector, data collected on head impacts can give insight into the extent and excessiveness of these impacts to the head, and address the safety of the player earlier on to prevent further damage.

Aside from requiring a supporting technology like smartphones, tablets, and computer to view information, another major flaw of these devices (e.g. Nike+ FuelBand, Jawbone UP, Fitbit Flex) is the reliability of data being generated—waving and other hand gestures can easily be mistaken for actual data[3].


Despite the benefits provided by wearable technology, it has many weaknesses that prevents full adoption by the society. These include inconvenience, limited access, high costs, and risks associated with privacy, security, and health.

Internet Connectivity Requirement

In order for wearable technology to meet its full benefits, particularly real-time information transmission, constant internet connection and smartphone are required. Most devices and accessories are paired with mobile applications to display the data collected, and to conduct further analysis such as calorie intake. While data are still being recorded offline, internet connectivity is essential for information transfer to third parties like hospitals or data analysis. Hence, one of the weaknesses of wearable technology is that some of its great functionalities are only enabled through internet connectivity[4].

Limited Display

As mentioned earlier, current wearable technologies on the market need to be coupled with smartphones to reach its full functionality. Since wearable technologies are considered as personal items, its needs to be fashionable to gain market acceptance[5]; therefore, with the exception of smart glasses and smart watches, most devices and accessories do not come with a monitor to display information. For this reason, wearable technology is limited in delivering and displaying data on its own--it requires support from a mobile application or computer.


Nike Fuelband costs $149; Samsung Proxima will be approximately $200; OMsignal is expected to be in the $100 range; Recon Jet costs $499; and Google Glass will be $1,500. Clearly, one of the greatest weaknesses of wearable technology is its affordability. Wearable technology’s costliness may cause resistance that prevents full adoption by the society.





Future Implications

With wearable technology gaining popularity, there are important future implications related to the market environment, demand, and future trends.

Bottleneck in Battery Technology

As stated by the CEO of Jawbone, wearable technology is not held back by computing technology, but actually by battery technology[6]. Where the lack of computing power in wearable technology can be supplemented by using the smartphone as a hub for wearable technology, the solution for battery life is not as simple. The lack in evolution of battery technology also means limitations and restrictions on the design, size, and weight of wearable technology.

Apple is one company who has already patented a new type of flexible battery rumored to be used in their iWatch[7]. By combining their already long-lasting batteries with new flexibility capabilities, this patent could help Apple gain a competitive advantage against other smart watch competitors entering the market this year.

Big Data and Management

Some current sources of big data from consumers include usage data from browsers, internet service providers, and mobile. With mobile, businesses are starting to create products and services in response to the real-time usage information that they gain from consumers[8]. Wearable technology could provide businesses with even more consumer data to gain an even deeper insight into consumer habits and behavior. Wristbands currently on the market are one example of this. Products like Jawbone UP and Nike+ FuelBand tracks the health data of their users. This type of data is something that real-time mobile usage data does not provide. One application of this health data already being used is with some health insurance firms providing benefits for those with healthier lifestyles, measured through their wearable technology [9].

Reliable Mobile Data Demand

Legal and Security Issues

Summary & Conclusion

In summary, wearable technology has evolved significantly from the Roulette Prediction Computer in 1966 to today’s Adidas miCoach Elite system, iWatch, Google Glass, and more. It has various benefits including improving the quality of medical services received, enhancing the safety of civil servants during their missions, and providing more tailored experience at theme parks. While wearable technology has several weaknesses like requiring internet connectivity for real-time data analysis, being costly and posing privacy and security risks, wide adoption is still likely in some sectors, such as sporting, as the benefits provided to the society outweigh the drawbacks.

With the growth of wearable technology, it is expected that demand for mobile data, big data management, and better battery design will increase. Yet at the same time, legal and security issues regarding sensitive data collected, and BYOD will continue to be concerns.


  1. BusinessWire. (2013, July 25). Keep Your Head in the Game with the Reebok CHECKLIGHT™: a New Impact Indicator for Athletes. National Post. Retrieved from http://www.nationalpost.com
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Reebok
  3. Hill, L. (2013). It's all in the wrist. Bloomberg Businessweek, (4336), 76-77. Retrieved from Business Source Complete
  4. TaylorWessing.(2013, June). Introducing...wearable technology. Retrieved from http://www.taylorwessing.com/globaldatahub/article_intro_wearable_technology.html
  5. 'Wearable technology/ no more in James Bond movies only. (2013, March 03). The Gulf Today. Retrieved from http://gulftoday.ae/
  6. Oreskovic, A., & Shih, G. (2013, June 17). Batteries hold key to wearable devices revolution. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/18/us-summit-wearables-idUSBRE95H01P20130618
  7. Smith, J. (2013, July 16). Incredible Flexible Batteries Are Key to SmartWatches, Wearable Tech. GottaBe Mobile. Retrieved from http://www.gottabemobile.com/2013/07/16/incredible-flexible-batteries-are-key-to-smartwatches-wearable-tech/
  8. Davenport, T.H. (2012, July 30). How ‘Big Data’ is Different. MITSloan Management Review. Retrieved from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-big-data-is-different/
  9. Kar, S. (2013, June 7). Ready-to-Wear Technology Sets to Drive the Growth of the Internet of Things. Silicon Angle. Retrieved from http://siliconangle.com/blog/2013/06/07/ready-to-wear-technology-sets-to-drive-the-growth-of-internet-of-things/
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