Wearable technology is actually really old
Our first deep dive into the past, present, and future of wearable technologies.
What does it mean for technology to be wearable? Perhaps the most fascinating aspect is its connection to our bodies, either enhancing or measuring our physical capabilities. My own eyesight is quite weak due to astigmatism, and from an early age, I've had to wear glasses. In my view, glasses are an excellent example of wearable technology, or 'proto' wearable technology, if you prefer.
Glasses are a prime example of how we've enhanced human capabilities through technology. What is fascinating is that the design of the glasses we wear today has remained relatively unchanged since their development in the 17th century, as we can see on this example. It is also unsurprising that new technologies are evolving around our eyes and sight, such as smart glasses or VR headsets.
Another example of common man's wearable technology are watches, allowing us to measure and manage time — a utility that has been indispensable to society. Brands like Seiko and Casio have pioneered the creation of the first smartwatches, endowing them with features such as digital displays, calculators, and data storage, long before the advent of the smartwatches we know today, approx half a century ago. These early smartwatches were capable of performing basic computing tasks, had built-in games, and even offered connectivity to early personal digital assistants. Fast forward to the present, and think about the last time your smartwatch buzzed with a calendar notification for an upcoming call or meeting. It's something that started with those early digital timepieces.
But when I shut my eyes and think of wearable tech, what I immediately see are lights flickering on a garment, transforming fashion into a Christmas tree at the touch of a button. In the early 2000s, embedding technology into fashion didn't mean smart fabrics or advanced biometrics — it often just meant adding some sparkle or movement, making them entertaining and playful at most. One of the most intriguing projects of this era was the Bubbelle Dress created by Philips in 2007. It focused on 'emotional sensing,' delving into tactility and the future of our interaction with wearable technology.
Another significant project was the 'Solar Shirt' by Pauline van Dongen, where the fashion garment became an embodied interface by integrating solar cells into the textile, enabling users to charge their smartphones.