'Glimpse of the future' at Berlin wearable tech fest
International startups at Berlin’s Wear It fest show this week that "wearable technology" is about more than just smartwatches - it’s also about turning your jacket into a solar panel, placing LED lights on haute couture fashion, and even controlling a wheelchair with your eyes.
At just 14 years old, Myriam Stoetzer is certainly the youngest inventor at Berlin’s wearable technology festival - but she definitely isn’t the least impressive.
Stoetzer showed The Local and other reporters at the first day of the Wear It fest on Wednesday how she and another teenage friend designed a low-cost wheelchair that is controlled just through the eye movements of the user, who wears a special pair of glasses
“This is really good for people who cannot move anymore because, for example, of a disease,” Stoetzer explained.
Though able-bodied herself, Stoetzer got inspiration from people like Los Angeles graffiti artist TEMPT1 (Tony Quan) who became paralyzed except for his eyes due to ALS and now continues his art through the EyeWriter tracking system.
The wheelchair isn’t the first to use eye-tracking, but Stoetzer explained that it is designed to be more affordable, adapting even a non-motorized wheelchair by using 3D-printed parts. The total cost to make it yourself using Stoetzer’s guide is about €169.50.
Stoetzer is just one of many contributors at this year’s Wear It fest in Berlin, showing off what startups and students alike hope will be the future of wearable technology.
The term “wearable technology” has become a buzzword in recent years, often shortened to just “wearables”, but it just refers to any kind of gadget or device that is worn on the body.
“This is a special trend at the moment because electronics and technology worldwide have developed so that it is possible to wear electronics within textiles and right on your body,” said festival director Thomas Gnahm.
As projects like Stoetzer’s show, wearables creators have aspirations that go far beyond making a smartphone in watch form.
Many of the startups at the fest are working on ways to improve healthcare through devices that can be easily implanted in clothing
For example, Italy-based startup Plug and Wear is developing textiles that can sense movement, such as wheelchair cushions with sensors inside that can detect pressure points and help people with cerebral palsy to adapt their posture. They also develop products that can be worn directly on the body, like a glove that can sense finger movements.
“We make our fabrics by mixing materials, so that the fabric itself becomes the sensor,” explained Plug and Wear managing director Riccardo Marchesi. “This has a big future in healthcare because... fabrics are conformable, they can be sewn, they can be adapted to our bodies.”
Marchesi showed The Local another product, worn like a glove, that can detect finger movements.
“If I didn’t tell you it had stainless steel, you wouldn’t have guessed,” he said of the soft fabric.
Founder of Lumind, Kevin Röhl, was diagnosed at age 16 with diabetes. He said he wanted to find a better way to remind himself to check his blood sugar levels than just setting alarms, as well as to keep track of his measurements over time.
So the twenty-something founded the Berlin startup Lumind, which makes a wristband as well as a desktop light that changes colours to notify the user whether their blood sugar levels were too high or too low, as well as when it’s time for another test.
By syncing the wearable with an app, the user can also track how they’re doing over time and send information to family and doctors.
Kevin Röhl shows off how the Lumind wearable and app work together. Photo: Emma Anderson.
Technological advancements have also expanded the possibilities for the kinds of clothes we wear everyday, whether for making sportswear more practical, or simply glamming up an evening gown.
A portable, wearable and lightweight solar panel developed by project SOLA in Berlin allows people to wear the panel, or hang it outside, absorbing energy from the sun which then can be used to charge a phone or laptop.
Eva Hotz of project SOLA shows of their wearable solar panel. Photo: Emma Anderson.
Even high fashion designers are interested in wearable technology. Swiss embroidery specialist Forster Rohner is just one of the companies working with big names to decorate couture with, for example, dazzling LED lights - that can even be washed.
Head of Forster Rohner textile innovations Jan Zimmermann told reporters that Swiss luxury brand Akris gave them four weeks to put together a collection with electronic textiles, under the instructions to put “stars on evening wear”.
“Fashion tech is like Formula 1… what you see on the track, we will one day all have,” said Wear It fest director Gnahm.
“It is a glimpse into the future.”
One of designer Stijn Ossevoort's creations. Photo: Wear It Berlin.