January 12, 2016
Today’s wearable technologies — from eyeglasses that surf the Internet to bracelets that monitor bodily functions — are just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come: the worldwide market for wearable technologies is expected to reach $70 billion in 10 years, up from $20 billion in 2015.
But the anticipated advancement of this market depends upon the development of new technologies to store an adequate amount of energy — safely. UL scientists are working on developing new testing methods, protocols and strategies, many of which are summarized in a newly published white paper to help manufacturers meet demand for this exciting industry.
Consider, first, that the risks of harm from wearable technologies are greater than the risks associated with other technologies. That’s because wearable technologies are, by definition, held closely to the body for long periods of exposure. So safety tests for the device and the device’s battery must help wearables perform to safety standards under those conditions.
In many ways, the testing for wearable devices is similar to any battery-powered device that UL studies. The device, and battery pack, must withstand electrical tests (including external short-circuiting, abnormal charging or forced overdischarging), mechanical tests (such as crushing, shocking or dropping) and environmental tests (including heating, temperature cycling and altitude).
Moreover, UL has developed specialized tests to address specific wearable applications. For instance, UL tests for electromagnetic compatibility to help ensure that the electrical devices do not create unintended electromagnetic interference with other electrical devices. The batteries and energy storage systems are tested for emission and immunity characteristics.
Additionally, wearables that use wireless technology are tested for specific absorption rate (SAR). This verifies the amount of electromagnetic radiation produced by a device, taking into account the distance from the wearable to the human head or body.
Lastly, wearable technologies are measured for chemical content and biocompatibility. The materials and components used in batteries and energy storage systems may include chemicals that can be harmful from prolonged exposure to the body. As a result, UL provides a chemical content assessment to help ensure that the batteries and final product meet standards.
Given the complexity of international compliance requirements, UL recommends that manufacturers develop a comprehensive testing strategy early on in the design process to reduce overall testing costs, save time and help avoid product delays.
Comprehensive testing strategies should include a thorough risk assessment, research into current and anticipated regulations in target markets, and an evaluation of marketplace requirements and consumer expectations. By keeping the focus on the consumer, with an eye toward the regulatory requirements in its markets, manufacturers can successfully bring to all of us the next generation of wearable innovations.