From graphene to flexible displays, this tech could revolutionize wearables

graphene and other tech ready to revolutionize wearables wearnext graphine
From corporate technology giants to garage-based startups, everyone is imagining huge possibilities for wearable technology. And crowdfunding, scaleable manufacturing, and rapid prototyping are making those dreams reality.

It seems the only limit to the future of wearable technology is the human imagination — well, that and the technology itself. Because a gadget is only as good as the technology that fuels it.

The good news, however, is that a number of exciting new breakthroughs just over the horizon may well transform the way we think about the space — and really help wearable technology vault to the forefront of our lives. As we look forward toward the dawn of a new year, let’s take a glimpse at the technologies that may well power the next generation of wearables.

Flexible displays

Even as they’ve continued to grow progressively larger, displays have always been something of a constraint on smartphones. They are, after all, the single largest contiguous piece of hardware, and as such they play an enormous role in defining the user experience. Displays are a large part of why so much of the smartphone war has played out on the software battle field.

The human body, as it turns out, is a pretty tricky canvas to work with.

This goes double for wearables, where screen size and inflexibility has served quite literally as a restraint to form factor. There’s a reason, after all, that smartwatch and fitness band displays are so damned small. The human body, as it turns out, is a pretty tricky canvas to work with. It’s curvy and angular and straight and bumpy, all at the same time. It’s one thing when you’re putting cloth on it, and another thing entirely when you’re attempting to cover it with circuitry.

Smartphone manufacturers have forever described flexible displays as the technology that will some day revolutionize the space, and that goes double for the nascent world of wearables. The difficulty of working with the body as a platform is amplified by orders of magnitude when you factor in the variation from person to person. At the moment, the vast majority of wearables are very far from being one size fits all.

Flexible batteries

Batteries certainly go hand-in-hand with flexible displays as the second largest obstacle between us and more comfortable, easily customizable wearable devices. Thankfully, companies like Samsung are working on something as we speak.

Solar, kinetic, and alternative device charging

It’s not just the size and shape of batteries, but their short lifespans. Every time you add another feature into the mix, battery life almost invariable suffers the consequences. When we’re talking about, say, a smartwatch that tracks both movement during the day and sleep patterns at night, when precisely are you supposed to take the thing off to charge it?

apple-watch-bands-sensors

Is it possible that manufacturers are missing a golden opportunity here to offer up a device that never (or rarely) needs to be taken off and charged? Solar seems like prime candidate. After all, unlike smartphones, these devices are meant to live outside the dark confines of pants pockets and flexible solar chargers are already out there.

Then there’s the possibility of harnessing kinetic energy — in other words: a you-powered device that takes its energy from your own movements. Heat-based charging could be huge, certainly. After all, those devices should get something out of having to be pressed up against your warm skin all day long.

Fabric sensors

How about this one: Wearable technology built directly into clothing. After all, even the seemingly most lightweight wearable can be a nuisance. Every day I sit down at my computer and attempt to type without taking off my fitness band. And every day, invariably, I end up removing it. Every day. The good news is I only actually forget it at home about half the time these days. I’m getting better at that.

At the moment, the vast majority of wearables are very far from being one size fits all.

Point being, scientists are currently working on developing motioning-tracking fiber-optic thread. Assuming, as we’ve previously discussed, the smartphone will remain our central information hub for the the near future, building sensors directly into our garments would greatly reduce the need to wear a million separate devices on our person at any one time. It’s also easy to imagine more forward-thinking clothing makers jumping at the opportunity to sew such tracking into their wares.

At the very least, it should take long for Nike to begin offering up gym shorts with motion sensing built in.

Graphene

You remember graphene, right? It’s the wonder material that’s we hear about every few months or so, with regards to how it’s going to change the way we think about everything forever and ever. The single atom-thin material has the potential to be embedded directly in garments like the above technology, while actually conducting charges through the clothing itself.

WearNext-Graphine
(Image © BONNINSTUDIO | Shutterstock)

So, why isn’t this amazing stuff in everything we own yet? Cost is a big part of it. What’s the point of a wearable that costs you an arm and a leg, right? Thankfully, the price is likely to drop soon — heck, last year Bill Gates even began funding research into graphene-based condoms that would offer full protection while being considerably thinner than what’s currently on the market. No joke. And really, isn’t that the ultimate wearable technology?

3D printing

This one’s kind of a given, right? After all, we’ve already see custom-printed prosthesis. Why aren’t we seeing more 3D printed customization in wearables? Have you ever seen those super high-end injection-molded earbuds? Just think of what can be done for the wearable industry with access to a 3D scanner and printer.

What do you want?

All right, so here’s what I want from you, dear reader — with the demand for wearables front and center, and so much cool technology just over the horizon, what would you like to see the next generation of wearables do for you? Drop me a line at bheater@digitaltrends.com.

We’ll round up the best suggestions in next week’s column.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Haier’s shoe washer cleans sneakers without all the clanging and banging

At CES 2019, Haier brought a bunch of shoe-centric appliances, including its sneaker washer. The appliance douses shoes with water and detergent and scrubs them, and then you can put them in the accompanying dryer.
Product Review

Garmin’s 4G LTE VivoActive 3 keeps you safe when you’re out on the trails

Garmin takes its already great VivoActive 3 Music fitness smartwatch and adds a 4G LTE connection, courtesy of Verizon. The watch now has streaming music, independent GPS, and best of all, SMS support and various safety features. We’ve…
Wearables

Think this smartwatch doesn’t have a screen? Think again

This looks like a regular chronograph watch, but it holds a secret: It's really a smartwatch and even has a hidden screen, which is revealed only when you need it. We took a closer look at CES 2019.
Smart Home

Slip on Soma’s smart bra and you may discover you’ve been wearing the wrong size

You might think you know your bra size, but it’s probably wrong. Instead of a tape measure, Soma wants you to try on its Somainnofit smart bra, which takes measurements at four points and has an app that recommends better-fitting bras.
Wearables

One night with this sensor on your head could change your sleep forever

Get past the fact you’ll be in bed with a sensor on your forehead, and the Beddr SleepTuner may be the first step in curing your sleep problems and improving your overall health.
Mobile

The best CES 2019 health gadgets combat stress, pain, and more

We can all use some help with our health and CES 2019 was packed with intriguing devices designed to combat pain and stress, help you monitor blood pressure, reduce tinnitus, and care for the sick or elderly.
News

Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2019 Award Winners

5G. A.I. Voice assistants. Metaverse. Yes, metaverse. CES 2019 slathered on the buzzwords thick and heavy, but beneath the breathless hype and bluster, there were amazing products to back it up, too. Except metaverse. C’mon Nissan, you…
Mobile

You'll soon be able to pay for goods with the Motiv smart ring

Remember Motiv's activity tracking smart ring? It's back with a raft of new features that adds biometric identification and token authentication, all on a device that fits on your finger.
Product Review

Mobvoi beefs up the battery on its affordable Ticwatch E2 and S2 Wear OS watches

Mobvoi is known to offer excellent, low-priced Wear OS smartwatches. At CES 2019, the company unveiled new entries into its Express and Sport range -- the Ticwatch E2 and Ticwatch S2.
Deals

Before buying a Fitbit or Apple Watch, check out these fitness trackers under $50

Fitbit and Apple Watch are top of the line when it comes to fitness trackers but if you want to save, we have alternatives. If 2019 is the year you keep track of your health and budget your expenses, then take a look at these fitness…
Product Review

Apple brought ECG tracking to consumers. Withings is making it affordable

The Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $400, and the highlight function is the electrocardiogram, which has the potential to save lives. Withings’ new Move ECG has the same capability but at a fraction of the cost.
Deals

Walmart slashes prices on the Fitbit Versa smartwatch and Charge 3

We are officially halfway through January, and for a lot of us, that means the struggle to stick to our New Year's resolutions is in full force. Walmart is offering some great discounts on Fitbits to help you stay on track.