5/06/2014

AFP News agency

A new generation of wearable technology, including smart wristbands, watches and clothing, is promising not only to log data about users' health but to predict and avert crises -- from drivers falling asleep at the wheel to runners wearing themselves out in a marathon. Wearable technology is the fastest growing category at this year's Computex, Asia's largest tech trade show which kicked off in Taiwan on Tuesday, with health-tracking a dominant theme. Health and fitness sensors and the data they collect are fundamental forwearable computers. Sales of wearable tech items are predicted to triple this year to 19 million units worldwide, growing to 111.9 million by 2018.

Samsung unveiled a new digital health technology platform last week that uses sensors to track a range of body functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. Apple alsolaunched its 'Health' app this week, with speculation mounting it will move into hardware later this year. Taiwan tech firm Acer also revealed its first wearable computer at Computex -- a fitness-tracking wristband which links to a smartphone.

Taiwanese smartwear company AiQ's has developed smart clothing, a lycra cycling top. Stainless steel fibres in the fabric and electrodes in the sleeves sense heart rate and other vital signs as well as calories burned, sending the data to a Bluetooth clip which can transmit it to a phone, tablet or other smart device. The technology will appeal to sports fans, but it is Taiwan's bus drivers who will wear smart shirts to monitor them in case they fall asleep, or in case any vital signs are not OK, and it will provide a signal or a warning to the bus company. The clothing was trialled for a year on discharged hospital patients to track their condition. Current sensors are not very accurate, but there will be improvements.

Sensors in wearable vclothing monitor everything from steps taken to sleep patterns to electrical current flowing through the heart.  Smart wearables could also be set to re-educate athletes so they can measure "stamina" and be warned when they might be pushing too hard. The device can predict lactic acid build up and other physical factors which can affect performance.