A squad of engineers at the University of South Florida has invented a new technology that could forever change the manufacturing of wearable, electronic sensors. They've figured out a way to speed up production without having to use polymer binders - Industry standard in printing flexible sensors, which are often used to monitor vital signs in health care settings.
This technology has taken off in a host of directions once considered impossible. The device landscape has come a long way from the earliest wrist-sized calculators or the first Bluetooth headsets. Smart glasses deliver digital interactivity as close as the wearer’s nose. Solos cycling glasses help cyclists with speed and fitness information in a simple heads-up display built on top of wrap-around shades. The highly-anticipated Vaunt by Intel promises to blend into the profile of regular spectacles, responding to subtle head-tilt gestures and transmitting only the most essential information to the user—all without the need of a bulky screen.
There’s even a rise in smart jewelry that delivers high-tech features through the most discreet of accessories. The Motiv Ring tracks fitness activity, heart rate, and sleep patterns in a slim, minimalist ring. Ringly goes a step further and alerts wearers to important notifications such as meetings and phone calls through its flashy gemstone.
People are interacting with new, never-seen-before technologies that are more connected to their cognitive processes than it is to a designer’s ability to create a stunning UI. Often unpredictable patterns emerge any time a person is presented with a tool, a piece of software, or an action that they have never seen before—to orient themselves, people use their cognitive processes as a “fall back” mechanism whenever something novel and unusual presents itself.
When designing UX for wearables, designers need to focus on how the user can best achieve their main goal. Develop a journey for the user by creating mental models and evaluating how to best align the user’s intuitive perception of the product and his or her interaction with the technology used.
Ying Zhong, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at USF, and her collaborator, Long Wang at California Polytechnic State University, found that the printing technique has broad applications, such as in health monitoring, prosthetics, and robotics. Unlike with polymer binders, there aren't sizing limitations, making the technique a strong candidate for the roll-to-roll manufacturing of large flexible sensors, which can greatly reduce production costs.
Zhong asserted that "As a new, advanced manufacturing strategy, Corona-Enabled Electrostatic Printing will potentially transform the cost structure for large-area and high-performance electronics and enable versatile applications of flexible, functional systems and the technique can help contribute to maintaining the U.S.'s leadership in advanced manufacturing." Currently, he received a $308,928 grant from the National Science Foundation to advance her research, proving the patent-pending ultra-fast manufacturing technique can be used to print materials beyond multifunctional e-skin.
As the landscape of wearable technology expands and matures, designers will have new opportunities to influence how people interact with the digital world. New technology succeeds best when it fits into or enhances natural human behavior. This is true for every interface platform, not just wearables. These devices are not meant to be interacted with in the same way as a laptop or a smartphone. Designers must consider how they are worn and how they can most discretely and efficiently gather and deliver information for the wearer. Some wearables even influence how other people react to their wearers, for better or worse.
From the screen into real-world contexts, presenting a new and unique question for designers to consider as well as challenges to overcome. It’s exciting having an opportunity to help shape the future of this technological revolution!