How Wearable Technology Could Combat Old Age
- Wearable fitness trackers are predicted to continue to gain momentum in the coming years.
Yves Behar has furthered wearable technology by creating the Aura Powered Suit, which counteracts muscle atrophy.
Tech startups such as Fuseprojects and Superflex have pioneered powered clothing to provide daily solutions to often neglected populations.
By Sydney Vacca
While the overwhelming technological innovations of our world have seemed to alienate the aging population, new smart clothing is doing the opposite. It is no surprise that the older generation tends to prefer a less technologically-driven way of life. Working for a clothing retailer myself, I have come to expect that older customers will opt for a printed receipt rather than an emailed, virtual record of their purchase. However, recent innovations in design could encourage our older generations to be more accepting to a technology-enhanced wardrobe, especially if it enables them to lead more active lifestyles.
With the raging success of the Fitbit and other wearable fitness trackers allowing us to be more conscious of our bodies, we should have seen this coming. Smartwatches acquired “over $9 billion of sales in 2015,” according to Ben Wood of CCS Insight. CCS Insight predicts that by 2019, three times the amount of wearables that were sold in 2015 will be purchased, and over half of these products will be activity trackers. This is not surprising when coupled with the fact that the health and fitness industry continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that over the next six years, the number people employed by gyms and other fitness centers will increase by at least 8%. More and more people, especially Americans, are showing up at health and fitness clubs and paying attention to their bodies.
Despite the increasing prevalence of wearable fitness devices, for me, observing the Aura Powered Suit at The Design Museum of London was a shocking realization of where design could be heading. The athletic bodysuit appeared futuristic and alien-like. It is difficult to picture anyone, let alone an older person, wearing something equipped with so much technology. However, especially in a country like the United States, where we truly value our independence, there could be a significant market for this type of mobility aid. If technology such as the Aura Powered Suit does gain speed, it will be interesting to observe whether or not notoriously collectivist societies will provide as much investment into the product. In such countries, older people tend to expect more support and assistance from their younger family members.
So how exactly does the Aura Powered Suit function? Yves Behar’s startup Fuseprojects created the suit, which is intended to be worn as an undergarment. “Cutting-edge miniaturized batteries and motors” are stitched into the fabric to counteract muscle atrophy. Through sensor pads on the back and hip flexors, the suit is able to support a variety of muscle groups and assist older people with “such mundane and taken-for-granted activities as sitting down in a chair and standing back up.” While at first glance it may appear alien-like and rather bulky, Behar aimed to create something sleek and recognizably athletic, to fight the association of weakness and helplessness associated with muscle atrophy. The suit presently seems revolutionary in design; however Behar is hesitant to view his suit as a long-term solution. He is the first to admit that, “the challenges of aging will likely have changed by the time he and his tech-savvy peers face their own old age.”
Still, his wearable mobility aid is a striking indication of the ways in which technology and fashion will continue to be integrated. To create the Aura Powered Suit, Fuseprojects worked with Superflex, a company initially stemming from SRI International. Among numerous other projects, SRI International enabled soldiers to carry heavy supplies through creating “wearable robotics.” This solution for soldiers is yet another example of the way in which technology and clothing can work in harmony to alleviate daily struggles for many people. Considering just these two cases of ingenuity, I can envision several other solutions, especially medical, that wearable technology would provide. Tech startups and designers may no longer cater to our youth, but instead seek to solve problems for our older, often neglected counterparts.