Edge of Innovation

Weird and wonderful wearables: rocket skates, mind control and selfie drones


If 2015 isn’t the year of the smartwatch (and the Apple Watch will have a say in that), then it’s certainly going to be the year of the wearable. As we’ve discussed elsewhere on IQ, wearables don’t just mean technology that you strap onto your wrist. There are some wild, weird and wonderful devices that buck the trend.

For example, scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed a temporary tattoo-like patch that can monitor glucose levels in the blood without puncturing the skin. The thin and flexible device incorporates a highly sensitive glucose sensor and works by extracting and measuring glucose levels in the fluid in between skin cells.

Tattoo-like biosensors are the ultimate wearable

Such tattoo-style biosensors are certainly a direction that future wearables will take. Electrozyme is working on its own fitness-orientated version, designed to use the chemical information in sweat to alert you to the risk of dehydration or heat exhaustion. Electrozyme envisions its screen-printed patches working with other wearables and complementing data gathered from accelerometers and heart rate monitors to give you a more rounded picture of your health and fitness.

diabetes sensor
This extraordinary diabetes sensor monitors glucose levels without puncturing the skin.
electrozyme sensor
Electrozyme’s biosensor analyses sweat and can be attached to the back of an existing wearable device.

Of course, not all wearable concepts are as futuristic. Emiota’s activity tracker is built into a motorised belt buckle. Dubbed Belty, not only will this trouser-keeper-upper track the same core metrics as a fitness band (steps, calories burned, activity time), but it will automatically loosen when you sit down and tighten again when you stand up. The Belty can also track your waistline measurement and can be set to periodically vibrate as a reminder to get up and move around.

Belty smart belt
The Belty features a motorised buckle that can automatically loosen the belt when you sit down and tighten it when you stand up.
The Digitsole fitness tracker insoles also include heat pads that you can control via your smartphone.

If the mission of the Internet of Things is to enhance ordinary objects with wireless connectivity, we shouldn’t be surprised by the existence of a smart belt. Nor smart insoles. Who needs a pair of smart shoes, when Digitsole promises a Bluetooth-equipped fitness tracker (and handy foot warmer) built into a thin and lightweight pad that slips into the footwear you already own.

Speaking of moving about, how about a 21st century spin on the roller skate? Described as the world’s first Electronic “under shoes”, the French-designed Rollkers are auto balancing skates that can potentially increase your average walking speed from 3 mph to around 7 mph. Curiously, you don’t actually skate. You simply walk and the battery-powered Rollkers slide you along as if you’re moving on an airport travelator.

Want to go faster? Strap on a pair of ACTON electric RocketSkates and you can glide along the pavement at speeds approaching 12mph. You simply tilt your feet forward to accelerate and backwards to brake.

Part of Intel’s Make It Wearable challenge

And what better way to film yourself while RocketSkating than with a Nixie wearable drone. Part of Intel’s Make It Wearable competition, the small flying robot with a built-in camera is still in development. The Nixie drone (powered by Intel’s Edison technology) wraps its rotor arms around your wrist so you can wear it like a bracelet. When it’s time to do some filming, the Nixie unclasps from your arm, takes off and automatically follow you around.

It’s not the only innovative wearable with an Intel connection. Anouk Wipprecht’s 3D printed Spider Dress is topped by animatronic limbs that unfurl like an Alien facehugger, reacting to the wearer’s respiration rate and the proximity of other people. It’s a bold collision between robotics, wearable technology and fashion that I don’t think any of us are truly ready for.

The limbs of the Spider Dress react to the wearer’s respiration, moving and responding to stimulus.

The Spider Dress might be as strange and as imaginative as modern wearables are likely to get. It’s weirder than the Melo Mind, a white plastic skullcap that claims to measure your stress levels and play calming music to chill you out; and odder than the Motorola password pill, which is designed to transmit an EKG-like signal from your insides that can be used to verify your digital identity.

Admittedly, most of the wearable technology we’ve looked at in this article is for entertainment or fitness. They’re fun, quirky and all weirdly wonderful in their own way. But for an inspiring glimpse at what wearable technology can really do, just watch the Project Daniel video below and see how 3D printed prosthetics can transform the lives of children who have suffered during the war in South Sudan.


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