Why looking backwards is the key to winning wearable technology

Wearable technology makers need to spend more time looking to the past if they are to make tech that people want to wear, according to Intel chief evangelist and futurist Steve Brown.

Speaking at today’s Wearable Technology Show in London, Brown argued that designers of wearables need to focus more on making products that people want to wear, and suggested that historic designs could be a key source of inspiration.

He said that failure to do this is the reason why many wearables have failed to achieve success.

“Wearables do much more for us than just function,” he said.

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Brown pointed to examples of design from history where function is only one of several benefits.

One of these was the armour of King Henry VIII, the Tudor king of England famous his many wives and his rejection of the Catholic church. Brown highlighted how the king’s armour was designed not only for protection but also to convey identity, power and myth to support his image as supreme ruler of the kingdom.

In using this and other examples, Brown showed how wearables have to convey an identity, status and attitude for people to want to wear them.

“A lot of the wearables that have come out have failed because they don’t take these other factors into account,” he said.

“Wearables will only be successful when they do things that people really care about.”

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Designers may have to work quickly if they are to capture the hearts and minds of people first.

Processors and other hardware are getting smaller and smaller, meaning that within a decade Brown believes there will be a computer in practically everything.

As with Apple and tablet computers, it seems likely that the company that figures out wearable tech on a large-scale will be the one that gets to forge the way this plays out.

Brown suggests that adding meaning and value is key to this, so any tech that is too nerdy in appearance will fail because it won’t be meaningful to the majority of consumers.

However, none of the big brand outputs have really broken free from the ‘nerdy tech’ bubble: Google Glass is certainly in this mould, and other big-name peripherals still appear to have been tailored to appeal to tech-forward sectors of society.

Perhaps the companies that really break through on wearable tech won’t be the big boys. A whole host of startups are working in the field, and the true innovation could well come from this sector.

Intel must have similar feelings: the company has launched its Make it Wearable challenge to find innovative software and hardware in the field, and with $1.3m up for grabs the challenge could well unearth some remarkable tech.


Armour image courtesy of KatieTheBeau / Flickr under Creative Commons Licence .

Featured image and video courtesy of Intel: Make It project


Spiderman’s train-stopping silk set to become a reality

Spider silk technologies, which could see the super-strong material being produced commercially, will give people the possibility of being like comic book hero Spider-Man as it will be strong enough to stop a train.

However unlike the superhero, altering your DNA to produce a superstrong web will not be necessary.

Scientists at Utah State University have been working on the synthetic silk to try and create the strong fibres, and their work shows that they could be as strong as the webs created by Spider-Man.

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Randy Lewis, a professor of biology and biological engineering at  Utah State University told Chemical and Engineering News that the spider silk could have he ability to stop a train as in the Spider-Man 2 movie.

“We calculated roughly how thick the fibers were, how many of them he had attached to the walls, how much the locomotive and people weighed, and how fast it appeared to be going.” He added: “Spider-Man would have been able to stop that train.”

The silk, which is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon, is being developed by Lewis and other scientists at the University. The team are looking at how they can synthetically develop the silks for mass production.

One of the most useful applications for the technology could be for use in bullet proof jackets. The strength of the silk, which is a protein, may help to produce jackets that will further improve the lives of those wearing them.

The university says its work could also result in spider silk proteins being able to form durable and long-wearing artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders.

It says the secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use ‘factories’ designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scaleable and efficient. In total, six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. The fibres, which have different mechanical properties, are so effective that they have hardly evolved in millions of years.

The scientists say recent developments could now see the technology becoming useable for commercial production. In 2012 the university created a spin-off company called Araknitek to help develop the technologies.

It has been working with goats that produce milk containing an extra protein that can be spun into spider silk thread. However they’re not the only ones to be working with the silk. German company AMSilk has started to sell spider silk protein to producers of shampoos and cosmetics.


Spider image courtesy of Surftideuk via Flickr under creative commons licence.