In recent years, more attention has been paid to wearable devices since Google Inc. recently launched head-mounted displays. Wearable electronics have been said to have managed to garner a level of significance in the consumer electronics market in just a short time, and they are considered a new means of addressing the needs of many companies and industries.
Wearable technology, as an encompassing topic, has become a possible means to provide low-cost sensitive data for a more informed assessment. Presently, the market for wearable technology is rapidly growing, and this is as a result of improvements in both the computing and electronics technology.
1、What is Wearable Technology?
Wearable technology can easily be said to be a category of technology devices that you can wear, which often includes tracking information as regards health and fitness.
Wearable technology refers to electronic devices that you incorporate into wearable items that an individual can wear such as a smartwatch, fitness tracker, smart eyewear, and bright clothing etc. These wearable devices are used daily to track information. Just after the advent of smartphones, wearable technology is the next big thing in the industry.
1.1The technology in wearable electronics
The changes with electronics started with size improvements and these improvements are sponsored by battery technology, power, memory, portability and other technologies. “Shrinkage of computers, displays, and other gear have made ‘rigs’ worn today by wearable computer pioneers smaller and more comfortable than earlier versions.” (Weiss, 1999). Over time, many companies started developing chips that could have billions of transistors on them being the essential elements in the computing world.
The next feat was the sensors that are used. These sensors can respond to changes in some environment variables with some appropriate and accurate output. These variables range from audio (speech and music) to visual (light and colour) to mechanical (buttons and keyboards).
1.2 Different types of Wearable Electronics available in the market today!
The use of wearable electronics is becoming more popular day after day in the consumer market, covering areas of fitness and health tech, communication, and offering innovations we could only imagine. Below shows a table that contains a variety of wearable electronics and the technology behind them.
Smart Watches: this is not just about telling the time; it provides notifications for users when they connect it to their smartphones such as calls, messages, social media updates, emails etc.
Fitness Tracker: fitness tracker helps to monitor the heart rate continuously and also keeps the number of steps the user takes within a range of time. This device now makes use of the information collected to determine the amount of calorie burned by the user after an exercise.
Smart Clothing: in a bid to look more fashionable and highly presentable, intelligent electronic devices are incorporated into clothing.
Smart Jewelry: nowadays, we see manufacturers make smartwatches as jewelry for women, and they notify the user of calls, texts or emails when the user's phone is out of reach.
Sport Watches: these watches can be specially targeted towards athletes that are involved in sports such as running, swimming, cycling etc. these watches also come with GPS tracker and offers information on the athlete speed rate, heart rate etc.
Implantable electronics: this is another level of technology where there is the surgical implantation of these wearable electronics under the human skin. Clinical personnel suggest these implantable electronics for medical implications such as tracking insulin level and contraception.
Head Mounted Display: When you wear these devices, it brings you into the world of virtual reality.
2、The Scope of Wearable Technology
The product and consumer range of wearable technology is getting extremely wide as more industries, both public and private sectors, are investing more in the technological innovations as a tool to enhance their field of work. Some of the various aspects that were pulled in recent times into the revolution include the following:
As a result of the vast development in technology, especially in the computer and electrical engineering fields, wearable electronics is becoming a widespread and rapid growing industry. The market value is believed to reach $70 billion over the subsequent ten years. It is also apparent that as electronics and computing become more advanced, the wearable counterparts will follow the same thread. There is a high tendency that in the long run, the industry would start incorporating wearable electronics into the consumer's everyday life. Consequently, there will be a high need for more companies to invest in.
3、Key Challenges Facing PCB designs for Wearable Electronics
It is no secret that smart and cost-efficient circuit board designs are the key to the success of wearable electronics. However, designing PCBs for wearable electronics is not as easy as it appears to be as there are quite several things to be considered, which may not necessarily apply to standard electronics. Here we bring to you some of the challenges faced in designing PCBs for wearable electronics. They can either be body-based or technical challenges.
1.Size and Shape
Of course, as you probably know before that one principal difference between usual electronics and wearable electronics is the size. In a way, you have to achieve the goal of minimizing the size and producing the same functionality at the same time, which is not an easy piece of work. Also, along with the size, you have to keep the shape well suitable for the intended purpose.
You do not expect a significant use of traditional materials in building a PCB for a wearable electronic; you have to make use of sophisticated and seemingly subtle elements such as fabric, mesh, rigid-flex materials. Consequently, this requires a professional or someone who has a good knowledge of the same to operate them and use them.
A good number of wearable electronics use battery cells as a source of power. Due to the size of the electronic device, the battery has to be smaller too, and the goal is to make the consumption of power as low as possible delivering the same efficiency at the same time.
There is an apparent increase in demand for modules that provide increased connectivity (such as Bluetooth, infrared, Wi-Fi, etc.) for electronic devices over the last few decades. And getting a space for these modules on the board might be a little bit of a challenge in wearable electronics.
The human body can dissipate electrical energy efficiently, so designing antennas for use in wearable electronics can be complicated at proximity.
It is another vital factor to consider as the human body tends to give off a level of moisture that can damage your wearable electronics if you do not take some specific measures.
4、The impacts of Wearable Electronics in the Society
Let’s check out some statistics first:
• The valuation of wearable electronics jumped from $6.3 Million in 2010 to $5.1 Billion in 2014, and it was estimated to surpass $12.6 Billion by 2018, meaning a lot more people are going for wearable electronics.
• The Report says 71% of Americans admits that wearable technology has improved their health.
• According to Rackspace, 54% of Americans and 46% of Brits say that wearable technology has boosted their self-confidence.
• Since 2009, wearable tech startups have been getting up to $500 Million from investors seeing the impact of these wearable electronics in the global world. (source: Shieber)
A study was targeted at the latest push to make use of wearable electronics to improve and enhance exercise. Different sensors were attached to a set of individual runners, and they observed that data obtained and recorded over time would not only help runners in the study but also improve their ability to run as it will give them a chance to work on their weaknesses or areas they are weak.
Also, in medical applications, the use of wearable electronics has been widely encouraged as this could be a means of monitoring and managing patients' health condition. The use of a smartwatch connected to a heart monitor could be of great help for the doctor to have a constant monitoring procedure on the patient’s health and be aware of any pressing emergency.
Another useful application of wearable electronics in society today is the constant and easy access to information and computing technology. The twenty-first century has globally been called the information age where you have to stay connected to the global world to be informed and get to know the things that are happening around you. So having information at the fingertips of consumers is the fundamental goal for a good number of wearable tech companies, either small or big.
5、The pros and cons of Wearable Technology
• Hands-free experience
Wearable electronics allow users to make calls or messages while keeping the hands free. For instance, you can be driving and calling at the same time. And it gives visual assistance too.
• Convenience and Portability
Wearable electronics allow instant access to information and users can carry them around with a whole of lot accessible information.
• Greater Accuracy
In the medical sector, wearable electronics have been found to provide accurate data on the patient’s health as it monitors and records every bit of detail. A more specific determination of symptoms, side effects and several others are possible through the use of these wearable electronics
• Improved Efficiency
Studies have shown that wearable electronics have been of help to increase the efficiency of personnel, such as the physician diagnosing a patient.
• Improved Productivity
Stemming from enhanced efficiency, it helps wearable electronics on streamline workflows and increases the level of productivity.
• Personalized Information
Several wearable electronics help to keep and provide valuable information that you may need at any point in time.
• Improved decision making
Wearable electronics also help in decision making as they help to produce facts and figures as regards health and other aspects of life.
Electronic records raise potential privacy concerns, which may lead to unauthorized access to the stored information.
• App reliability
Reliability may be a source of concern as there is still more improvement to be done when it comes to wearable electronic devices
• Battery life
As discussed above, this is one of the most crucial challenges with wearable technologies. Most wearable electronics work with smartphones and need to be continuously charged to stay alive.
• App integration
Getting to upgrade or put in some functions into the wearable electronics could be a tasking process and require professional attention.
The storage capacity could be a significant concern for wearable electronics as there might not be enough space to store everything you might need at ones.
As much as wearable electronics are useful in society today, they can as well be a source of distractions to employees, thereby causing an interruption in their productivity.
Wearable electronics are becoming more and more dominant in the lives of everyday consumers. With the advent of more innovations as regards wearable electronics, consumers are getting to know how these wearable electronics can affect and make their lives better.
Making a design of printed circuit boards can be a difficult task for any design engineer because the same rules for regular electronics may not necessarily apply to wearable electronics. So PCB engineers and companies are aware of the difficulties and problems that must be solved and working at overcoming such challenges easily to create a proper PCB for different purposes in the market.