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Nothing to wear?

The term 'wearable electronics' has a range of interpretations. At one end of the scale lie obviously wearable consumer electronics devices, such as Google Glass. At the other end are the so called smart fabrics, where electronics is embedded in clothing, carpets and so on. In between the two extremes lie real and potential applications.

Wearable consumer electronics products are currently in focus, thanks to Google Glass. It's the latest attempt to bring people access to web while on the move beyond the use of mobile phones and tablets. Yet the apparent convenience of Google Glass has been countered by a wave of sentiment focused on privacy issues. It shows just how complex the world of product development has become.

Smart fabrics have a similarly long heritage. Some years ago, garments were produced with integrated devices such as mobile phones and MP3 players. Buttons were integrated into the sleeve, allowing the user to make and receive calls or to select music, while speakers were embedded in collars. There's not a great deal of evidence of the idea having caught on.

But applications for smart fabrics go beyond this. Integration of the appropriate sensors in clothing, for example, might allow the wearer's medical condition to be monitored, with data transmitted to a doctor, while baby monitoring 'onesies' are already on the market.

Devices such as Google Glass will always be subject to the vagaries of fashion. It's one thing to wear electronics as a piece of jewellery; it's another to don equipment which makes you look like an extra in a sci-fi movie. That problem might be solved by research that is looking to develop contact lenses which take things like Google Glass to another level.

The next step is implantable electronics, but that may be a step too far for many of us.

Glenn Jarrett is head of electronics marketing at RS Components.

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Glenn Jarrett

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