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DEAR SANTA, COULD YOU PLEASE BRING ME …

Ok, let’s be honest. Even those of us whose feet are firmly on the ground can’t resist our wants from time to time, and simply want to get something. We’d like this something to be nice, too. What passes for ‘nice’ varies from person to person, but some things are universal.

Anyone who has ever gone skiing in a group of family or friends would have faced the problem of phone batteries running down, theirs or someone else’s. If you are a mother and have to keep an eye on junior skiers, who are either too fast or too keen to explore (go off where is not good for them), or have too much stamina (they will go on skiing when you are dying for a glass of bombardino to warm up with in a cafe), communication problems become particularly acute. Throw in your fears of their getting hypothermia and your mind begins to wonder: wouldn’t smart technical jackets have been a good idea for a present under the Christmas tree?

I do sports, so I try out myself many of the wearables distributed by my company and I know how useful they can be. But thoughts of unwelcome skiing adventures at high altitudes have prompted me to look for technologies to match extreme conditions. Precisely what sort of technologies have been developed for just such conditions?

I was looking at different ideas when I found this – a dream jacket. More specifically, it is a jacket prototype designed by a company called Seymour Powell for a South Korean concern KOLON Industries. It’s got the works, including a retractable wind turbine concealed in a sleeve pocket for recharging various devices inside the jacket: batteries powering up a special thermal layer in a pocket on the back and, indeed, a phone. The jacket prototype color is a trendy yellow-orange combo. It is made from top quality fabrics which form 3 layers: Gortex shell (Gore Pro), thermal inner layer featuring the Heatex System (the world’s first conductive polymer heating system) with a stretch fabric base layer, where electronic devices can be stored, and battery pockets in close proximity to the body, or where it is warmest. The most impressive gear, of course, is the wind turbine. You’d think they must have been insane! Not necessarily. Anyone who has ever hiked in the mountains knows it can get very windy there. The higher you are the stronger the wind. People who have to climb high up or trek a long way either as part of their job or for pleasure would find this jacket a perfect present.

The extreme jacket designers claim that it is a garment that can save lives. It is more and more apparent that our health has assumed primary importance in wearable technology design. As part of the same wearables design revolution, a new trend has emerged: hearables, or electronic devices which aid hearing. Much has already been written about this new development although it is not quite clear at this point what main product this technology is yet to bring forth. Most likely the development of this idea will go in the direction of improving the quality of life of the elderly, thanks for example to devices fitted inside the ear but controlled from a smartphone. The purpose might be to eliminate certain sound frequencies (the blabbering of the daughter in law?) and such like. To a lesser extent the technology could make it easier to answer calls or listen to music.

Wearables are making the biggest inroads into children’s clothes. I know, you say ‘technology’ and think ‘monitoring of basic life functions’ while jogging, or things like that. But, in the end, you can jog without the fancy gear. Think along the lines of a baby sleeping in a room, in baby pyjamas which, like the Hexoskin shirts, monitor the breathing rate, body temperature and the tiny heart rate and stream data to an iOS driven device or the parents’ android phone. Here is a pause for thought! The trend has acquired a name for itself: Digital Parenting, and, besides clothes fitted with all kinds of sensors, has brought us dummies which use WIFI to send data about the child’s body temperature. Many a mother will look back forlornly at the times when their children sucked a dummy.

In terms of body-worn technology, the year 2015 has been unquestionably the year of watches. The 2015 list of 10 most popular wearables compiled by CNET does not contain a single shirt but features instead 6 watches and 4 wristbands. Chances are these products will drive the market in the near future, at least in the customers’ perception. But I am convinced that soon we will be seeing new, far more interesting applications which will be fully integrated with the internet of things.

But Christmas is upon us, so to all of you dear readers, colleagues and friends, Merry Christmas, good health, and a successful and prosperous New Year, 2016!

Keen readers might want to follow some of these links:

CNET best wearables list:
http://www.cnet.com/topics/wearable-tech/best-wearable-tech/

Revolutionary jacket design for Kolon Sport:
http://www.seymourpowell.com/casestudy/kolon-jacket?ref=timeline

Post about Hearables from the readwrite blog, a reputable provider of technology analyses:
http://readwrite.com/2015/10/27/hearables-wearables-components-technology

Plus some gleanings about Digital Parenting from a site about wearables:
http://www.wareable.com/parenting/the-best-wearables-babies-smart-baby-monitors

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