With a background in technology and fashion, Michael Reidbord is ideally suited to help guide and shape the emerging wave of wearable technology. He currently heads up the wearables division of MediaTek, one of the largest chip-design companies in the world. MediaTek’s chip technology enables wireless communications and connectivity and has led to innovations in apparel, eyewear, jewelry, watches and footwear. In addition to his position with MediaTek, Reidbord also teaches at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
Q: How is technology being incorporated into garments?
Michael Reidbord: In many different ways, such as sensors being embedded inside bullet-proof vests that detect when a policeman is shot and tracks where the incident took place so immediate help can be sent. Garments now are GPS-, WiFi- and Bluetooth-enabled and are providing additional functionality. An example is the Teiimo jacket manufactured in Germany. This garment has independent zone-heating capabilities, an enabled Bluetooth music receiver that plays on speakers embedded within the jacket, device recharging capabilities – all inside a high-quality leather garment.
Q: What sort of biometrics can wearables track, beyond the usual stats most fitness bands record, like heart rate and movement?
MR: In addition to heart rate and basic activity tracking, now sensors are monitoring: sleep quality, fast movements that detect if someone may have fallen, stride/balance detection when running or walking, pulse rate, skin temperature, muscle contraction, UV detection, hydration, blood alcohol and glucose levels. With first responders, we are building in many of the above readings, in addition to gas and heat sensors. Another important emerging area is posture management, and sensors are now being used to direct people into better positions while working and exercising.
Q: What is holding wearable tech back from being adopted widely by the general public?
MR: There are two reasons. Most devices address the needs of mature consumers with expensive watches, designer-fit tracking bands and vibrating jewelry pieces. They are lacking in the cool factor. Wearables need to be hip, comfortable, stylish and incorporate some social networking elements. They need to project “Lifestyle” and offer young people the ability to have self-expression, to share, communicate and to collaborate. Secondly, two very different industries (fashion and electronics) have not yet found a way to communicate and collaborate. This is what is holding back widespread adoption.
Q: What category of wearables do you expect to gain the most traction?
MR: With a great many new technologies, the military drives innovation, and this is happening again with wearables. New textiles and garment solutions are being created for the military, along with helmets, goggles, footwear, gloves and other classifications, which will then gravitate to the general marketplace. Extreme sports, uniforms, workwear, firefighting garments, outerwear and other classifications will then be next to incorporate new developments into their product offerings.
Q: How is wearable technology changing our relationship with our electronic devices and each other?
MR: The ultimate goal is for wearables to become another attractive garment or accessory we put on in the morning that just happens to be empowered with technology that will improve our quality of life. The problems today with electronic devices involve multiple cables, the constant need for recharging and users constantly being distracted and/or looking down at screens. Wearables will help technology become much less intrusive in our daily lives and free us from cabling and battery-life issues.