From smartwatches to smart contacts: How are wearables evolving?

5 Aug 2021

Image: © sementsova321/

Mastercard’s Keith Jordan discusses the wearables industry and how technology is evolving from tracking our fitness to reading our minds.

When we think of wearables, it’s easy to picture a fitness tracker, the latest smartwatch, or a heart rate monitor that elite athletes wear during games to monitor performance. These devices all have a single purpose: making our lives better using biometric data mapped over activity levels.

However, with technology playing an even greater role in our lives, a revolution in wearable technology is underway. We will see advances in how we manage tokenised payments, enhanced digital-physical interactions, and even ways to interface with devices mentally.

Tokenising wearables payments

Smart textiles are now available because of advancements in clothing fabrication and flexible electronics. Google launched Project Jacquard to create smart clothing that integrates touch and gesture controls for electronic devices.

And MatchMove, a Singapore-based banking-as-a-service provider, partnered with Tappy Technologies, a wearable payment integrator, to introduce tokenisation into a small, flexible chip.

The chip can be attached to a range of battery-less wearables and accessories such as watch straps or keyrings, turning them into secure contactless payments devices. Purchasing a playlist and then riding down a mountain on a snowboard while swiping your sleeve to change songs is here.

Enhancing reality with smart contacts

As companies continue to explore the development of smart glasses, Mojo Vision is bringing augmented reality directly onto our eyeballs using microelectronics and contact lenses. This system is designed to be worn all day and not obstruct the view of the user.

Mojo uses a term called ‘invisible computing’ to describe information that is displayed as needed. These smart contact lenses could show a range of pertinent information in your time of need.

The augmented content could include directions to a location, airport information when you look at a boarding pass, the script for a keynote presentation, or live translations of signposts when traveling to a foreign destination.

Augmenting the labour workforce

Beyond smart textiles and enhanced vision, there has been renewed interest in the use of wearable exoskeletons. Car manufacturers including BMW, GM, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen are piloting some form of exoskeleton suit for factory line workers.

When worn, these devices help to reduce worker fatigue, specifically in performing overhead work. During electromyography studies, significant reductions in shoulder and back muscle contractions translated to less muscle fatigue.

The benefits of this wearable technology have resulted in fewer injuries and lower costs. While the equipment can cost as much as $70,000, it is much less compared to the costs and impact of debilitating injuries on team members and shutting down production lines.

Communicating with your mind

We already see voice-first interaction with devices, but voice could evolve into brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) with wearables soon. This evolution could allow our thoughts to activate procedural commands and give us augmented powers and capabilities.

For example, neuroscientists with the BrainGate consortium have been working on BCIs for years. However, they have translated the cognitive signals associated with handwriting into text in real time for the first time. This technique could enable a paralysed human to text at a rate of 16 words per minute.

And at MindX, teams are using licensed technology from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory that can detect signals from eye movement and brain waves to know where you are looking and what you think when you look there. Using brain neuro signals, you can even send messages to other devices.

The wearable industry will continue to evolve and payments and personal monitoring are just the beginning. The digital-physical interaction of devices, health-tech tracking and physical validation will create a new level of consumer experience.

Imagine using your smart contact lenses to summon an AI avatar for assistance. Your personal assistant could read your mind and emotions, react accordingly, giving you what you need now, and anticipate what you need next. Far from dead, wearables are just getting started.

By Keith Jordan

Keith Jordan is the vice-president of Mastercard Foundry.