News, Technology

4 weird and brilliant wearable tech devices

Anna Wall

Amie Haven, Journalist
@uxconnections

Wearable tech is big business, so prepare yourself for the weird and wonderful coming soon to a store near you.

Tired of that awkward transition from walking to running? Feel off balance and need stabilising? Maybe you’re finding that your baby’s nappies just aren’t cutting it? Or maybe you’re simply looking for some good vibrations? 

Not to worry, wearable tech has you covered! From the downright weird to the brilliantly liberating, personal and intimate tech is becoming increasingly popular. 

Here are 4 tasters to whet your wearable tech appetite. 

THE ROBOTIC TAIL

We all love our pet dogs and cats. But have you ever looked jealously at their tails and thought, “How I envy your stability and grace?” Probably not. That’s because you’ve been eyeing up the wrong tails. It’s the majestic seahorse that was the inspiration for the Arque, a wearable robotic tail that improves balance. 

Developed at Keio University in Japan, the tail can be strapped around the waist and worn alongside a tracker that determines the user’s centre of gravity. The tracker feeds the information to the tail, which shifts to counterbalance. Interlocking plastic vertebrae surround artificial muscles within the tail, and future developments could include linking it to brain signals or for use in virtual reality gaming devices. 

For now, it is a glimpse into how our future might look. It may become common place to greet your friends with an excited wag of your robotic tail, and it begs the question: what other appendages might we adopt from the animal kingdom? Will it be strange to see a human with wings? Or perhaps a mighty trunk? Whatever the case, enhancing our mobility and learning from more agile species with the aid of tech is certainly in our future. 

THE SOFT ROBOTIC EXOSUIT

Our sad, tired, and flabby bodies have a tough life. We get up, drive to work, sit in an office, drive home, then sit on the sofa all evening before going to bed. Asking such a poor, maligned body to easily transition from walking to running? Now that’s just too much to ask! Ok, so for the average person this isn’t a major concern, but for those with hip problems or for people who have physically strenuous jobs, the Soft Exosuit could be a real boost. 

The suit to aid with running and walking was originally designed for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as part of the Warrior Web program. Soldiers who have to carry heavy loads whilst walking long distances – who may also need to break into a run in a moment’s notice or duck and squat as battle situations require – can sustain musculoskeletal injury. Wearable tech like the Soft Exosuit provides relief from the energetic burden of walking and running. The tech is worn around the waist and thighs, with a mobile actuation system attached the lower back. The suit works in tandem with the hips and muscles and responds to an algorithm that detects the change from walking to running to ensure ease in both conditions.

For those lazy souls who can’t wait to make the walk to the corner shop that little bit easier, the sad news is you’ll have to be patient. Whilst the aim is to make it commercially available, the Soft Robotic Exosuit is currently in the development phase and has yet to be FDA approved. 

LUMI SMART NAPPIES

If caring for your child is, like, so last year, then never fear – the smart nappy is here! We used to use terry towelling cloths, then we advanced to absorbent disposable nappies, but now we have smart nappies that read your baby’s pee!

Pampers are bringing out Lumi, the smart nappy (or diaper, if you’re American). This wearable tech makes sure that even our youngest don’t feel left out. Lumi forms part of an entire system of child monitoring. It can tell you when your baby’s nappy needs changing (although most babies already do that through crying), but it also monitors your baby’s sleep patterns, and a handy app lets you keep track of their various routines. Plus, a video monitor keeps an eye on your little one, as well monitoring the humidity and temperature in baby’s room. 

The nappy sensor, app, and video monitor are not for sale just yet. But for any eager and overprotective parents in the US, you can sign-up to the Pampers waiting list to get the first packs off the assembly line in Autumn 2019. 

VIBRATING VISION

The world is not designed for the blind or partially sighted, so this tech is especially exciting for people who currently rely on white canes to find their way in unfamiliar places. Unfolding Space is a system of sensors that operates by utilising a 3D depth camera which relays information to the wearer through vibrations. 

Designed by Jakob Kilian, the wearable tech takes the form of a glove, where the vibrations create a map of the surrounding area on the user’s hand. Users can feel where objects are by sensing the vibrations on particular areas of their hand. The stronger the vibration, the closer the object. 

This technology could be liberating for the partially sighted. Instead of being cut off from the world, they can interact with objects in a sensory way that allows feeling and sight to combine in a whole new way. A liberating autonomy is the right of every person, but something often denied to people who are differently abled. Wearable tech like Unfolding Space can really make a difference in people’s lives.

IN CONCLUSION

So, when your app tells you it’s time to change the baby but you’re feeling kind of tired, just know that your exosuit will make the walk to baby’s room a little easier, and of course you can rely on your robotic tail to steady you. Or even close your eyes and let the good vibrations show you the way.

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