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How Microsoft Is Getting Wrapped Up in Wearables

Microsoft has taken an interesting spin on wearable technology, as researchers revealed a smart scarf that has been designed to work in tandem with a smartphone--and eventually work with biometric and emotion sensing devices.

The smart scarf contains a sensor that is designed to help determine when you're feeling down, and react with a warming sensation that helps soothe the body, according to a report from MIT Technology Review. Researchers believe this sensor could be particularly useful for those with disorders that make it difficult to manage their feelings, such as autism.

Researchers chose to focus on a scarf in part because of its ability to discreetly house the technology, unlike many medical devices that can be both intrusive and cumbersome. The current prototype was designed after consulting people with autism, as well as hearing and visual disabilities.

The result was a flexible, laser-cut garment made of hexagons of industrial felt overlaid with conductive copper taffeta. Inlaid within the scarf are modules that heat up and vibrate, allowing users to specifically position the modules wherever they prefer to receive the soothing sensation of heat or vibration. The modules link together with metal snaps, and are interchangeable to provide users to more comfortably meet their individual needs.

The concept of weaving wearable technology into clothing has been catching on lately, the bulk of which feature sensing technologies that monitor the body in various ways. Naturally, this movement has come hand in hand with the latest wearable technologies, many of which are already being infused into jackets, or built to attach seamlessly to your wardrobe, all in an effort to make technology readily available to go where you go.

Few garment gadgets, though, have proven to be much of a commercial success. While the scarf maintains a natural feel, the modules that lie within the garment are controlled by one master module that is also responsible for communicating with the smartphone app using Bluetooth technology.

Researchers would like to add the ability to cool wearers of the scarf, a potentially calming function since sweat is often an indicator of stress and anxiety. They even hope to infuse a music player to the garment, providing users the ability to create custom playlists based on their moods that could activate through the sensing technology.

While the project remains more conceptual in nature, researchers hope to continue the work on the garment to make the technology a reality, providing a device that can help users better understand and manage how their body reacts to the stresses of daily life. The hope is that it could even provide a therapeutic tool to those with various disorders who struggle with managing how their body reacts to their changing moods. Whether the project continues or not, the trend of subtlety when it comes to wearable technology remains to be the endgame for developers everywhere. 

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at MD&M West, in Anaheim, CA, February 10-12, 2015.

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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