Wearable technology has been a promise of futuristic fiction since the days of Sean Connery's James Bond movies. Wearables have definitely broken into the mainstream now, in large part thanks to high profile projects like Google Glass, the Apple Watch and the FitBit.

For wearables to grab market share beyond the tech-savvy, though, they need a little extra. For want of a better word, they need to be, well, wearable. Efforts to combine the technology of wearables with the reach of the fashion market have begun in earnest.

Wearable technology accessories

An obvious way to turn a wearable into a fashion item is to present it as jewellery, either as a statement piece or as an unobtrusive imitation of ‘functional’ jewellery such as a watch or brooch.

PebbleSteel

Some of the more unobtrusive pieces of functional jewellery do look really great, like the Pebble Watch you can see above. In some ways, they’re an echo of the skeuomorphic designs that were used by Apple in their smartphones. They look just similar enough to something familiar to ease people into the concept – they’re not a watch, they’re a wearable computer, but they look enough like a watch to be appealing. Eventually, maybe we’ll see a smartwatch that looks nothing like a traditional watch!

RMinkoff

The alternative route has been to fully embrace the clunky, chunky look of a lot of current tech, and turn it into a statement piece. This bracelet by Rebecca Minkoff, for example, uses bold prism shapes and a contrasting black and gold colour scheme to explicitly draw attention to the unconventional jewellery. Other wearable tech companies, like Misfit (Shine, demonstrated below), have collaborated with designers like Swarovski to create devices that look very much like costume jewellery.

If this all sounds like too much of a statement for you, there are a lot of innovative companies out there making wearable technology that’s designed to attach to your existing jewellery or watch, from the Kairos T-Band to the Montblanc e-Strap.

Futuristic fashion: clever clothing

Wearing clothing that unites technology with fibre and thread is often a much more complex proposition, but many companies have adopted the challenge with a vision and zeal to be envied. Witness Studio XO, who combine engineering know-how with designing skill to create a shared language that crosses the wearable/technology boundaries.

There are challenges ahead for such companies, for example scaling their products up for a larger, wider market. But these are challenges that are very conquerable with research and development.

One of the most common avenues for companies from the clothing side to explore is solar energy. Even big brands like Tommy Hilfiger (who collaborated with PVilion to create their solar panel jackets) are getting involved.

SolarJacket

While jackets like this have seen limited uptake so far, despite the best efforts of contestants on BBC’s Apprentice to popularise the trend, they’re a good idea and a great solution to an obvious problem posed and exacerbated by other wearables – how are we going to charge all these devices?

Cyborgpunk wearable technology

One of the most interesting subcultures to emerge in recent years poses some unnerving, but exciting, questions about wearables and how exactly we are changing as a species. Are we blurring the lines between our tools and ourselves, or were those lines already blurred?

Partly taking inspiration from the body modification scene, and partly taking inspiration from cyberpunk, a ‘cyborg’ subculture has taken root that extends beyond brave lone experimenters such as Neil Harbisson to a supportive, grassroots community.

It’s more than just a DIY aesthetic – with concepts like Project Underskin from New Deal Design already looking amazing, it’s almost certainly where wearables will head next. At a crossroads between medical, hardware, software and networking technology, the first companies to get there will definitely have a lot of research to do.

Futuristic fashion: What’s wearable?

In most senses, wearable technology has been with us for some time now. Watches in particular are extremely sophisticated, even (perhaps especially) mechanical rather than digital timepieces. Purely functional medical aids like glasses have developed into fashion statements. Even braces can be customised and modified to look attractive. This is all technology, and it’s all wearable, so where are we drawing the line?

What most people mean by wearable technology in the press is ‘wearable technology’ that’s also just a little bit ahead of its time. Maybe its perfect form hadn’t been found until just now, maybe there was more research needed into how to make the technology smaller or less obtrusive, or maybe there was just a little more development required before the technology could feature its killer application.

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Watch Gears by KellarW

The key commonality is how advanced the technology is, and how difficult it is to integrate it with clothing. Paradoxically, it’s how separate the ‘wearing’ and the ‘technology’ are that often defines a piece of wearable tech.

That means that if you’re working on something that’s classed as wearable technology, you’re working on the very edge of what’s possible with modern tech. You’re resolving technical uncertainties, and you probably qualify for research and development tax relief for wearable technology. If you’re approaching this from the fashion side, you may not consider the advances you’re making to be research and development. But working with wearable technology involves fresh new challenges and opportunities, and you could be carrying out R&D according to HMRC’s definitions.

Wearable technology and the Internet of Things

Wearable technology is already starting to work together to become even more powerful – the OMSignal Smart Shirt, for example, integrates nicely with the Apple Watch. This ties them in neatly with the concept of the Internet of Things, bringing the idea of omnipresent, computers that little bit closer to reality.

By integrating the Internet of Things with everyday life, by weaving it into the fabric of your day, wearable technology also removes an important barrier to adopting the Internet of Things.

That barrier is the friction of the user experience and input required to get the devices up and running, and using them every day. Even the simplest gadget requires the user to pick it up or touch it to activate it – by integrating devices with the user’s clothing, their use becomes seamless.

Wearable technology and R&D

Running a wearable technology company requires an adventurous spirit and a whole lot of research and development. Designing and engineering for an entirely new form factor alone will require significant amounts of R&D investment.

If you’re involved with a wearable technology company, you could be entitled to significant government support via R&D tax credits to help your business grow even faster. Get in touch to have a chat about your company and find out if we could help, or read about some of the common reasons other companies think they won’t qualify.

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