What will the second generation of wearables look like?

While the first generation of wearable devices have been constructed using rigid technologies with a components-in-a-box design, what can the industry expect future wearable products to look like?

IDTechEx believes that conductive inks could be a key driver in making wearables truly wearable.

While current wearables have little flexibility and most are derivatives of mobile phones, IDTechEX suggests that the second generation of the tech will be clothing-based in design, with more flexibility and deriving from clothing and patches.

“New conformal, clothing-based components are emerging,” said Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, research director at IDTechEx. “Recent announcements from Google’s Project Jacquard, in collaboration with Levis, shows that the technology and fashion industries are starting to make real progress through collaboration.”

Dr Ghaffarzadeh believes this project is just one example of work being done in crossing over the wearables and fashion sectors.

IDTechEx has found in a new report that electronic textiles (e-textiles) are on the cusp of rapid growth, forecasting the market to increase from under $150m in 2016 to over $3.2bn by 2026.

The firm finds that there is tremendous interest and progress right across the value chain. This includes material suppliers, traditional textile companies, contract manufacturers, brand owners, etc.

“Conductors will inevitably play an indispensable role in any e-textile system. Naturally, therefore, conductive inks suppliers are all very interested,” said Ghaffarzadeh.

While IDTechEx’s ‘Conductive Ink Markets 2016-2026: Forecasts, Technologies, and Players’ report forecasts that the combined market for the previously well-established photovoltaic and touch screen edge electrodes will achieve a measly CAGR of 1-2% between 2016 and 2026, this is causing the industry to become hugely interested in new high-growth applications areas such as e-textiles.

“Conductive ink suppliers are touching and feeling their way into the e-textile market. Many have launched specially-designed inks on the market. Some examples are shown below. Most are also having to proactively help form and develop the nascent value chain. This is currently still more of a push than a pull market,” explained Ghaffarzadeh.

“This is a complex space since conductive inks are one of many approaches being concurrently developed for e-textiles. To name a few, these approaches include metal cabling, textile cabling, conducting knits, conductive wovens, conductive inks, etc.”

Ghaffarzadeh warns that while he believes the future of wearables is one full of clothing and patches containing conductive inks, ‘achieving washability, direct-on-fabric printability, and high stretchability’ are challenging technical requirements.

“The industry is only beginning to accumulate expertise here. Therefore, this is the beginning of the beginning and we expect better e-textile conductive inks in the future,” he concluded.

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