If you're looking for the future of wearable tech, there are worse places to start than the Royal College of Art's annual Show RCA. On display are concepts and prototypes for health and wellbeing smart clothing, fresh VR apps and devices to help people with Parkinson's, all from design and engineering students at the RCA/Imperial College London.
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There's a lot to see – the show is on till 1 July in Kensington, London, so we recommend you check it out. If you can't make it, read on for our picks of future classics in wearable tech and connected self design.
Talk about superhuman. Designer and material scientist Jun Kamei has created no less than a wearable gill. Amphibio is a 3D printed "amphibious" garment which lets you breathe underwater via a porous hydrophobic material. The way the patent pending technology works is that Amphibio draws oxygen from the surrounding water and at the same time dissipates any carbon dioxide.
The design is inspired by water diving insects (working model above; visual prototype main image) and Kamei is already racking up the awards including the 2018 InnovationRCA Award. With sea levels rising, the Innovation Design Engineering student hopes the wearable can be of use for our "aquatic future".
Industrial designer Melisa Lenero's project Hu-Mind tracks unconscious, cognitive biases and systematic errors ("just one drink" etc) in your brain, by linking them to specific brainwaves, then turns them into tangible stimuli that we can use as a tool to make more informed decisions.
Lenero says that the system, which uses an Emotiv-style brain scanning headset, is designed to give us an extra sense – for instance, it could suggest that your biometrics indicate you're not hungry but stressed.
This wearable accessory from Angela Oklim Lee (MA Design Products) is aiming to be a more user friendly version of big, bulky, wired devices for people with Parkinson's suffering from soft voice disorder. Vocifer is a noninvasive voice amplifier that aims to be comfortable enough to wear everyday and help to tackle the stigma around voice conditions and the accompanying tech.
The final form is a pair of glasses that cleverly uses piezo actuators on the wearer's nasal bone, which act as contact mics to pick up the physical vibration of their voice. The designer has also built an empathy toolkit including a pen that allows the user to feel what it's like to write with tremors.
The spaces of meditation and yoga have been treated to a few wearables over the years and now xHa is hoping to join the ranks. It's a collaboration between designers Andriana Nassou and Andrea Pisa, computer scientist George Chernyshov, and Takafumi Kawakami, head monk at Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan.
The device uses biofeedback in that it plays the sound of your own breath via the earbuds when your mind goes off task. Your breathing is tracked by the amulet and the module set at the throat, which captures audio. Together they can predict periods of lost focus. That's all in order to help you learn how to use your breath as a guide during meditation.
Sometimes the best wearable tech ideas are the most niche – so here's one: a wearable for the two million+ pilgrims completing the Hajj to Mecca. Rehber is a wristband and watch series and supporting service for people completing the annual pilgrimage, designed by Hamza Oza, MA Innovation Design Engineering.
The functionality is pretty simple – the aim is to be able to quickly locate family members, including children and the elderly, via GPS and without relying on clogged up mobile networks. Oza suggests Rehber could also be used for other pilgrimages including Arba'een in Iraq (20 million people annually) or music festivals.
Jintong Zhu's Wrist Analytics wearable, for her MA in Design Products, uses sensors to measure and record biometric data not for sports tracking but for skills that require precise movements from our hands like playing the piano.
The wearable tracks data on wrist elevation, positioning and relaxation and can be used with remote learning – professional pianists stay within a small range of wrist motion while playing. Zhu has working and design prototypes, the latter of which look like a regular activity tracker hidden under a glove.
Pompei MR Craft
It was only a matter of time – glass blowing comes to VR, specifically the HTC Vive, with Jiahui (Michelle) Yang's immersive episode for her MA Design Products course, which comes complete with all the tools you need.
Glass blowing is one example of a craft that is disappearing, and Yang wants to recreate these experiences for people whose only exposure to manual labour might be via virtual reality. In order to give people the perception that they are truly glass blowing, Yang has built a contraption based around a wooden frame and a pole with small balls attached to the end.
Aura is a headpiece that senses when you give and receives smiles – cute – but its wider aim is to explore the importance of physical and social interaction as we become more isolated, even as we live in close proximity to one another in crowded cities.
There's a built-in camera that can pick up when someone is smiling at you, which it translates into heat radiating across your cheeks, and when you smile, the headset enhances your smile by shining "rippling light" across your face. It's a group Innovation Design Engineering project from Larasati, Sarah Cronin Rodger, Anisha Kanabar and Orfeo Nicolai.
Aligned, from Global Innovation Design student Gregory Pepper, is a line of sportswear that tracks and corrects your – you guessed it – alignment when doing activities like pilates and yoga.
Developed with pilates master Susan Arena, it's designed to give you real time feedback to target muscles and avoid injuries, similar to Wearable Experiments' Nadi X yoga pants, the mens version of which is on Kickstarter now.
This pair of AR glasses is another take on social interactions and emotional responses, this time in the field of presentations. Jiachen Du's Transense system (MA Innovation Design Engineering) shows the presenter in real time how engaged his/her audience is, and then analyses their nonverbal behaviour to improve techniques via the companion smartphone app.
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