Wearables Tech Digest - May 2017

Hearing a tattoo

Skin motion, the company behind Soundwave Tattoos, has created tattoos that can be read by a smartphone app to produce audio. The tattoos are shaped the same as the soundwave of any audio one wants, for example a poem, a song, or a message from a loved one. The user sends an audio clip to the Skin Motion team the soundwave of which is then tattooed onto the skin and when read by the Skin Motion app is converted into the original audio. The app is planned to be launch in summer 2017. 

Emma Watch 

Microsoft researchers have created a watch that helps reduce some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The so-called ‘Emma Watch’, after the sufferer using the watch, Emma Lawton, is a wrist worn device that reduces the limb tremors associated with Parkinson’s. The watch uses vibrating motors like those in mobile phones, to distract the brain’s focus onto something else other than controlling the limbs. In Parkinson’s the tremors are caused by contrary signals - one attempting to move the limb, the other stopping its movement. In a video Emma is shown using the device to write – something that would be incredibly difficult without the device.

Flexible connector

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Japan Aviation has developed a thin connector that could make wearables more comfortable when incorporated into clothing or other items worn around the body. The thin connector (2mm thick) is made of two pieces of highly flexible elastic rubber materials that are bonded together. It allows batteries, sensors and communication components to be attached to clothing in a non-invasive way. Planned uses of the connector would be in the sports and medical fields.

Braille watch

Dot has created a braille watch designed for partially sighted and blind users. The Dot Watch looks like any other smartwatch with the exception that the face is designed with an adjustable braille display function. The dotted surface of the watch will raise or lower 24 pegs – one for each dot – to spell out text for the braille reader to read. When the user receives a notification the watch will vibrate, the user feels the watch face and can read who sent a message and the content of the message. 


Lowe’s, an American home improvements retailer, and Virginia Tech have developed a robotic exosuit for use by Lowe’s employees. Four of the suits are currently being trialled in Lowe’s Christianburg, Virginia, store to assist staff with lifting and moving products around the store. The suit is designed to reinforce proper lifting form and make it easier to lift heavy objects. It does this by absorbing energy and delivering it back to the user. Carbon fibre in the suit’s legs flex like a bow as the worker bends, and when they stand the energy is released.
In a related piece of news, researchers at Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed a prototype robotic exoskeleton to prevent the elderly from falling. The Active Pelvis Orthosis (APO) exoskeleton consists of a waist brace holding motors on the hips that move links connected to thigh braces. An algorithm monitors leg movements and gait, if it spots something suggesting an immanent slip it will activate motors to apply force to counteract the slip. In a trial with eight elderly people and two leg amputees wearing prosthetics, the device reacted to a potential slip within a third of a second, correcting the wearer’s gait for a quarter of a second. The team is working on making the exoskeleton less bulky – it currently weighs 5kg – and untethering it from the algorithm-crunching external computer. 

Sleeping mask 

Sana Health has developed a product that promises to help insomniacs fall asleep in ten minutes. Sana is a high-tech eye mask that monitors the user’s overall health and vitality over time and uses this data to provide a personalised sleep treatment, the company says. The device uses neuro-modulated light and sound stimulation and heart rate variability monitoring (readings for both are taken by sensors embedded into the eye mask). It is planned to be commercially launched in mid-2017.  

Vibrating watch 

“doppel” is a wrist wearable that delivers rhythmic vibrations to the user which can calm a user down according to a study by the Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. Previously, doppel has been shown in studies to have a positive impact on users’ alertness and focus. In the most recent study of 52 participants, subjects were tasked with writing a public speech while; for one group the dopple was providing vibrations at a rate slower than resting heartrate. Only the group wearing the device showed a significant decrease in stress. 

Energy harvesting gait recognition wearable

Researchers from Australian CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) have demonstrated a method of gait recognition that promises to overcome the problems of high levels of battery drainage that the current methods face. Currently wearable gait recognition technology uses accelerometers to identify an individual’s unique walk. The CSIRO team has created a wearable kinetic energy harvester (KEH) that uses information on energy generation to identify gait. It is claimed this reduces energy consumption by 78.15% compared with accelerometer based systems. The device was tested on 20 subjects and was shown to be slightly less accurate than accelerometer-based systems when a single step is used. However, the team believes that this could be overcome by using a multi-step classification system.

Stretchable electronics

Scientists from the University of Tokyo, Japan, have developed a printable elastic conductor that is able to stretch to five times its original length. The material is a paste-like ink substance – composed of micrometre size silver flakes, fluorine rubber, fluorine surfactant and an organic solvent – that can be printed onto textiles and rubber surfaces making it a potentially important material for use in wearables. In an unstretched state the material showed conductivity of 4,972 siemens per centimetre (S/cm). Stretched to triple its initial size measurements of 1070 S/cm were recorded and stretched to five times its original size it still maintained 935 S/cm conductivity. The scientists say that this high conductivity under stress makes the material well suited to uses in wearable electronics. 


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