Sep 10 2021

Next Generation of Wearables Will Be ‘Transformative’

Wearable technology continues to evolve, from smartwatches and ear-worn devices to more “smart clothing” solutions that can gather more detailed data and are easier to use.

Health and wellness wearable technology has grown beyond shiny accessories. Companies are developing and testing clothing-oriented wearables to enhance remote monitoring for critical healthcare needs.

“I’d say we are in the third generation of wearables, and the industry is converging the best of both the medical and wellness sides,” says Venk Varadan, co-founder and CEO of Nanowear. “It is really going to be transformative in healthcare.”

This next iteration of wearables is going beyond well-known devices such as smartwatches and exploring other clothing options to gather more detailed data and become more user-friendly.

Advances Toward Diagnostic Patient Care

Nanowear tested wearable technology for remote patient monitoring at New York City-area health systems in 2020.
A clinical trial evaluated Nanowear’s SimpleSENSE adjustable undergarment as a comprehensive diagnostic tool. It captured real-time temperature, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, blood flow hemodynamics, lung volume and fluid, and electrocardiogram readings.

The pandemic is showing patients, providers and payers the long-term need for more robust remote and continuous patient diagnostic tools, Varadan says.

“COVID-19 taught us that looking at all of those different systems in a vacuum is not really getting us to a full signature to be able to assess the risk of a patient,” he says. “All of these systems in the body work together.”

READ MORE: The benefits of remote patient monitoring are wide ranging.

More Clothing Options With Wearable Technology

Socks, gloves and vests with embedded wearable technology to measure movement are just some of the prototypes in development at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Partnering with the Toyota Research Institute, the university is testing sensor-embedded textiles to measure movement with different attributes depending on where they are worn on the body. For example, socks can predict motion and measure a user’s posture, and a vest can assess poses and movement along with where the user is contacting other surfaces.

People test the “smart clothes” by wearing them during their regular activities, says Yiyue Luo, a doctoral student at CSAIL. The garments are compatible and easy to integrate with current textile manufacturing processes, Luo adds.

“The socks and vests are made of mostly off-the-shelf, normal acrylic knitting yarn and a few functional fibers,” Luo says. “The functional component comes from the functional fibers. It was made in our lab and is able to convert pressure stimulus into electrical signal. Their weight is very similar to a normal sock or vest.”

Luo and the research team at CSAIL say the smart clothing items have future uses for rehabilitation, assisted care facilities and athletic training.

Source: gartner.com, “Gartner Forecasts Global Spending on Wearable Devices to Total $81.5 Billion in 2021,” Jan. 12, 2021

Tracking Athletes’ Health Using Wearable Technology

Wearable technology is also helping some student-athletes with rehabilitation and preventive care, says Jamie DeRollo, head athletic trainer and faculty member in the Modesto Junior College sports medicine program. The school has been testing the sensor-embedded Cipher Skin BioSleeve among baseball players and aims to expand, DeRollo says.

“We have a baseline of what their range of motion is for flexion, extension, internal and external rotation,” DeRollo says. “If they are injured, we can use the sleeves again to see what deficiencies are there. We will have a goal to get them back to what their normal is, both on their dominant side and on their nondominant side.”

Data collected from the sleeve is available on Cipher’s Digital Mirror mobile app, which shows a 3D rendering for providers and users to interact with.

“It helps with accountability, making sure that the athletes are doing their rehab,” DeRollo says. “It offers a good visual, allowing them to be able to see immediately. Or student-athletes can watch a recording to see how they can work on mental reps and improve their game in that aspect.”

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