Tag Archives: wearable tech

Progress in the World of Internet of Things

Although many in the electronics field lambast the Internet of Things (IoT) as an inappropriate or inadequate acronym, IoT is a space to huge to be confined to these narrow adjectives. In reality, IoT requires a blanket description, as it covers a vast arena. Problems arise from compartmentalization and although various spaces such as industrial and medical have established a big head start, others have yet to launch their true separate identities.

For the electronics designer this means taking the general palette of IoT features and functionalities and tailoring them specifically to the application at hand. The designer must be knowledgeable about state-of-the-art technologies such as those required for cloud connectivity, wireless design infrastructure, interface ergonomics, and internal power management. The designer must be familiar with the methods of manifesting them in their design, as these may be critical aspects.

For instance, there are several suggestions for scaling the IoT from smart factories to smart homes. Although there are blueprints for pollution reduction, city traffic management, and electrical energy distribution, the purveyors of industrial-grade operating systems do not yet have a detailed plan for the smart home.

According to Wei Tong, Product Marketing Manager of Dialog Semiconductors, wearable technologies can do far more than simply functioning as personal items. Using Bluetooth, a communications standard protocol, wearable devices can connect to a larger network, allowing them to communicate with other devices via beacons and sensors, thereby manifesting the larger Internet of Things.

However, despite the birth of the phrase “the Internet of Things” 18 years ago, and the first connected IoT device 35 years ago, consumers are yet to adopt wearable IoT in mass quantities. According to Nick Davis, this is due to two factors—first, ease of use, or lack thereof, and second, lacking the purpose or serving the wrong purpose.

For instance, take the case of “smart” light bulbs. Some are easy to connect to and control with smartphones, while others give users a hard time. According to Nick Davis, once people face such difficulties, they tend to give up on the entire IoT and smart device concept.

Another example Nick Davis gives is that of a smart toaster or smart refrigerator and the purpose they serve. According to Nick, most companies have not done proper market research into the actual requirement of people who use toasters and refrigerators, and what the consumers expect in such smart devices. However, several new products on the market are potentially useful to designers.

Another example of wrong purpose is the video sunglasses from Snap, the parent company of Snapchat. These are basic sunglasses with a video camera attached. They allow users to capture and post videos more easily to Snapchat. According to Nick, Snap is stuck with hundreds of thousands of their unsold spectacles. Apparently, Snap did not realize that people are not very keen on walking around taking videos with their eyewear.

Despite such debacles above, newer products are appearing on the market that help designers achieve better energy-efficient IoT products, voice recognition engines, and flexible and smart motor-control options that are also lightweight and compact.

Sneaker Technology: Headlights on Your Foot

Sneaker technology is going places. Not that it is traveling, but manufacturers are imbibing the humble sneaker with special powers that help the wearer. One of such gadgets is the Smart Concept Sole from Vibram. Sneakers made by the company have a remote controlled LED lighting system. Wearers can choose to illuminate the ground ahead at night as they walk. In addition, Vibram is planning to embed more sensors within the soles of their sneakers to warn the wearer of environmental hazards invisible to him/her.

The LED lights on the Vibram sneaker soles work like mini flashlights. This concept is useful for tactical boots, running shoes, work shoes and more. In addition to the front LED lights, the sole also has a red tail light, making the wearer visible from behind. Vibram demonstrated their Smart Concept Sole at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in the Salt Lake City at Utah.

According to Vibram, inspiration for the Smart Concept Sole came from tactical needs for things such as firefighting, law enforcement, and military operations. The sole has an integrated electronic board controlling the integrated hardware and a fob-sized remote control unit. The user can replace the standalone remote with an application on his/her smartphone.

The lighting system forms the most universally useful application for the Smart Concept Sole. Switched on by the user, the integrated LEDs throw a diffused array of light on the path ahead. This allows the user to see where they are going in the dark. This is a better than using a hand-held flashlight, as the lights on the sole allow the user to maintain a low profile. The front LEDs come with three brightness settings, with a flash setting for the red LED tail light. That increases the wearer visibility when indulging in activities such as running at night.

Although kids have been using flashing lights on their shoes for long, the Smart Concept Sole has unique capabilities going farther than path illumination alone. According to Vibram, they are planning to stock the sneaker soles with a variety of sensors that can provide a warning system for users. For example, a gas sensor could monitor for hazardous gases. This is particularly useful in law enforcement and for firefighting.

Similarly, a proximity sensor on the foot could monitor if there were any obstacles in scenarios such as in smoke-filled buildings, unfamiliar territory, and dark places. In the same way, a temperature sensor could warn of high temperatures underfoot.

Apart from LEDs on the soles, Vibram also makes special soles that allow the user to have maximum grip on ice, slippery terrain, and wet surfaces. That improves the safety of the user in difficult conditions. They make the sole from three layers. The outer layer is made of rubber, the next from a special fabric and the inner layer is of a polyurethane compound. These layers help in improving the grip of the sole in slippery terrains.

The special sole from Vibram is highly adaptive to low temperature conditions because of its soft make. The rubber and fabric provide perfect adhesion without the risk of delamination or abrasion.