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5 Industry Developments Driving the Future of Wearables - Advancements in Battery and Sensor Technologies

5 Industry Developments Driving the Future of Wearables - Advancements in Battery and Sensor Technologies

5.) Advancements in Battery and Sensor Technologies
 
Imprint Energy creates a zinc-based flexible battery for wearable device applications. [image via Imprint Energy Inc.]
A big reason why your iPhone is so thin is because Apple won't let you take the battery out. Doing away with support housing and protection needed for a removable battery frees up more space. With more mHealth devices and medical devices adopting wireless technology, concerns over battery size and efficacy are becoming more pronounced. “The underlying component technology is relatively immature and is a major gating item that is preventing the industry from realizing a more ideal user experience,” Ledger says.
 
Every wearable device has to confront three basic concerns: battery life; device capabilities and functionality; and size and aesthetics. “Most smartwatch manufacturers have been able to optimize for one of those, and some like Samsung, Metawatch, and Pebble have approached two. But no smartwatch manufacturer has been able to deliver a device that provides all three,” Ledger says.
 
Various technologies have been seeking to improve battery life for small devices. Some are designing batteries that can store more power in a given space, other companies like Alameda, CA-based Imprint Energy are developing flexible, non-toxic polymer cells that are as powerful as traditional lithium batteries, but smaller and more flexible.
 
Ledger sees new improvements in biosensing as another key underlying innovation. “The challenge today is that robustly measuring biological signals, such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels, or perspiration, in a non-invasive manner represents a significant engineering challenging that the industry is currently working through,” he says. Current sensors are limited by various factors including placement (certain metrics can only be captured through certain parts of the body), body composition, and physical conditions. Ledger points to the Basis B1 watch as an example because it cannot track heart rate when someone is running— a time when people might be most interested in this. Companies like Samsung are experimenting with new ways of capturing data. Belgium-based microelectronics company imec wants to use optical sensors that shine different frequencies of light into the skin as a means of measuring pulse and blood oxygen levels.
“In the next 2-3 years, we will begin to see the emergence of smart wearables that are increasingly able to provide rich functionality in the right form factor with good battery life,” Ledger says. “This likely won’t come from a radical breakthrough in one area, but strong incremental improvements across the three factors mentioned above.”
 
Learn about the latest developments in wearbles and sensor technologies at MD&M Chicago. Oct. 15-16, 2014
 
  5 Futurist Wearable Devices That Will Blow Your Mind
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