Electronic for Wearables

For Bernard Vicens, Director Segment Consumer at EBV Elektronik, wearables – with the demands they make in terms of power and energy efficiency – are the ultimate applications for electronic components. That is why EBV supports its customers not only in selecting suitable electronic modules, but also with know-how in relation to the entire “eco-system” – including design, software and production.

What is your personal favourite wearable?
Bernard Vicens: At present, the smart shoes from Digitsole. They were developed from a relatively simple interactive shoe sole, which can not only measure the distance the person has walked and the calories they have burnt in the process but – with built-in heater modules – also keep their feet warm. The shoes created on that basis additionally measure the cushioning effect, have a built-in light, can be charged wirelessly, and lace themselves up automatically.

Can you give a few examples of projects which EBV was involved in developing?
B.V.: Where do I start? We helped Suunto, a Finnish company, to create its range of smart sports watches. We were involved in PIQ’s development of the Multisport sensor platform, which is used in golf, for example. Our customers also include Playertek, who make a GPS tracking system to measure outdoor sports performance; and French optician chain Atol, whose connected glasses enable wearers to find where they’ve left them using an indicator on their smartphone.

What role did EBV play in them?
B.V.: Through our portfolio of selected suppliers, our customers have access to the latest technology, best suited to their specific projects. We jointly select the right components, always striving for the ideal balance between performance and price. We provide producers with optimum logistical support – wherever in the world they may be located.

How important is the wearables market for EBV as an electronics distributor?
The wearables market is one of the fastest growing applications linked to the Internet of Things. Many companies in Europe who have not previously used the electronic components concerned are investing in the segment, and are looking for technology partners. Examples include companies in the sports sector, luxury goods, fashion and clothing, footwear, and pet tracking… With our suppliers – including the top ten leading chip manufacturers – and our partner network, EBV is ideally set up to offer exactly the right range of sensors, microcontrollers, power management and connectivity modules.

For a wearable development to be successful, it has to combine know-how in a wide variety of different areas. What role can EBV play in doing that?
B.V.: We offer expertise not only in electronic components, but also covering the entire “eco-system”, including design, software and production. For a number of years now, we have also been pursuing a vertical market strategy, as a result of which our network of technology experts in key application fields for us, such as healthcare, consumer and automotive, is continually growing. They may be institutes, universities, software companies, or experts from small businesses or from major concerns… We put our potential customers in touch with relevant market experts.

What technology trends in wearables are you currently seeing among electronics manufacturers?
B.V.: The evolution of electronic components is of fundamental importance for sensors, microcontrollers and connectivity, because it is improving precision and increasing computing power, while at the same time cutting energy consumption. We are nevertheless seeing a number of ground-breaking technologies on the horizon: wireless charging is one example. By eliminating connections for charging cables, completely sealed, water-tight devices can be made. Another technology with a big future is LPWAN: Sigfox, LoRa, EC GSM and LTE M offer connectivity directly to the Net with much lower power consumption than conventional 2G/3G modules. Devices administered on the Cloud also offer a new range of capabilities: from utilisation of Cloud resources to connectivity with other devices and services. Another major trend is printed electronics, which is enabling new applications in the fields of sensors, OLED, solar panels and displays. Chip-sized LED modules permit new designs in clothing, such as to make the wearer more visible. E-ink displays will also become increasingly important in the wearables sector. They can be read even in sunlight, and consume little power. Energy harvesting is another major trend, utilising energy from light, heat or movement.

We are at present primarily seeing products for the consumer and fitness sector. What role will wearables play in the B2B sector?
B.V.: Augmented reality glasses, for example, can be very useful in a variety of industrial applications, such as for maintenance, or in production. And the healthcare sector offers some interesting potential applications too. I also see potential for trackers, not only in telemedicine, but also in Ambient Assisted Living, or in areas with access control.

What does that mean for the products, and the electronic components in them?
B.V.: B2B applications will doubtless demand a more professional approach. The electronics might well need to be capable of operating in a wider temperature range, and be more reliable.

How do you assess the wearables market in general?
B.V.: All the market analysts agree: over the coming years, we will see significant growth in this market. Some forecasts predict annual growth rates of over 14 per cent…

What role do wearables play in EBV’s various vertical market segments?
B.V.: Wearables can be regarded as the ultimate application: their technical demands in terms of computing power, sensors, user interface, display and connectivity are high, yet they still have to run on batteries. At present, however, we are essentially seeing wearables primarily in the consumer and healthcare sectors, including in medical applications. But as I have already mentioned, there are lots of potential applications in industry too.

(picture credits: Fotolia: Login)

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