Is Wearable Computer Technology in Your Future?

By Jill | Medical Devices

When the first iPhone was introduced a mere 7 years ago, only a few visionaries saw the device as the latest development in medtech. Today, with 1.75 billion smartphones in use, the devices are revolutionizing the way people monitor their health. Sales of wearable sensors, activity trackers, and other gadgets that interface with smartphones reached $1.4 billion in 2013. Market analysts predict that number to jump to $19 billion by 2018. But even as the market explodes, most wearable computer tech is currently geared towards fitness enthusiasts rather than those who wish to monitor chronic conditions.

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Those who make bets on the future of wearable technology are watching the company where it all began. In early 2014, Apple began building a team of prominent biomedicine, biotechnology and medical professionals. Many are working on biosensor technology, an area Apple CEO Tim Cook said was primed “to explode.” Apple-watchers believe the company is moving to release wearable technology that monitors blood sugar and nutrition.

Of course, Apple is not alone in its pursuit of wearable medical apps. Masimo Corporation has developed a pulse oximetry device which monitors respiratory functions and oxygen saturation in the blood. Vital Connect is developing devices which track heart rate and body temperature. Sensonics is working on a wearable glucose monitor.

While the benefits of such devices are obvious, they still face technical challenges, particularly when it comes to power. Wearable computers depend on batteries required to function continuously for long periods of time. Because the devices are worn on the body, they must be lightweight. Finding a balance between size, weight and runtime is a constant challenge. While rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the industry gold standard, the batteries are too large for some applications. This has driven Accutronics to worked with a medical imaging company to develop a new lithium polymer smart battery that is 50 percent thinner than other batteries.

Wearable medtech, along with implantable devices, are on the healthcare horizon. Someday these devices will seem as indispensible as the smartphone and essential to the wellbeing of patients.