Is the ‘exosuit’ the breakthrough the wearables market has been waiting for?
Researchers are still working on coming up with a wearable device that will really stick with consumers, despite the first generation of the technology hitting a wall in terms of adoption. Two new full-body, physics-leveraging wearables might point to a new direction for the technology, either for sale by retailers or for use in retail operations.
Harvard engineers are working on creating an “exosuit,” constituted in part by a pair of shorts designed to drastically increase the speed at which a wearer can finish a marathon, Engadget reports. The shorts work by reducing the “metabolic cost” of a run, and have proven to reduce the length of an average mile a wearer runs in a marathon from 9:14 minutes to 8:49 minutes.
Wearables like these could allow sporting goods brands to finally make good on the promise of offering real athletic enhancement. Athletic shoes, for instance, have long purported to offer functional advantages for players of sports, but in reality they generally just feature more cushioning or slight design tweaks.
There’s another performance-enhancing exosuit being demoed, albeit one intended to increase performance at work rather than at play.
In May, Lowe’s Home Improvement staff began demoing an exosuit desgined to help them lift heavy objects without straining muscles, as reported by CNN Money. The suit, being tested by four employees in a Virginia location, uses carbon fiber shafts that flex as a wearer bends over to increase in the ease with which a wearer stands up holding a heavy object. While the next-gen capabilities of the suit are mechanical and not “wired,” Lowe’s has used a headset that monitors the brain waves of those testing it to get feedback about the user experience.
Other companies known for high-tech innovation have also been working on getting next-gen wearables to catch on where products like FitBit, Apple Watch and Google Glass either plateaued or never took off. At SXSW earlier this year, Google debuted a smart jean jacket manufactured in conjunction with Levi Strauss. The jacket allows wearers to control their headphones by tapping their sleeves.
- Robotic shorts can shave minutes off a marathon time – Engadget
- Will Google/Levi’s smart jacket finally make wearables fashionable? – RetailWire
- These Lowe’s employees are now wearing exoskeletons to work – CNN Money
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are exosuits and other full-body wearables more likely to find a good use case among consumers or as devices used by workers? What will define what makes a successful wearable device?