Safety Standards of Power Sources within Wearable Technology

Safety Standards of Power Sources within Wearable Technology

Wearable technology is becoming more and more popular, with smart watches that can text, count calories and monitor your heart rate becoming commonplace with today’s connected generation.

When it comes to this quickly growing sector, watches are at the fore of the public’s consciousness due to the press coverage and snazzy advertising campaigns. However, dig underneath the surface and you’ll find a myriad of clothes and accessories that all fall under the umbrella of wearable ‘technology’.

Take heated jackets, for example.

However, we have seen some rather futuristic ideas come to life in the past months.

Earlier this year, a team from Cornell University made a remarkable breakthrough when they created a line of clothing that could, theoretically, charge phones, measure vital signs, kill bacteria and even keep mosquitoes at bay.

Prior to this, researchers at MiT conjured up NailO, a wearable PCB nail cover that can change colour to match a person’s dress or mood.

But whether it be a smartwatch, heated hiking jacket or a multi-purpose fabric, how are these wearable devices powered?

How are these powered?

Different products of wearable technology are powered by various sources of energy.

For something like a smart watch, a rechargeable lithium-ion pouch cell is used. In contrast to this tiny power source, a heated jacket may require a much larger power supply, something akin to a laptop battery.

The difference in batteries is not just down to the size of the end device. Other considerations need to be accounted for, such as how often a product is likely to be used and what exactly it needs to power.

How are these batteries tested?

Any type of power source in ‘regular’ electronics is tested to an extremely high standard to ensure the safety of end-user. Some procedures used during the testing process include overcharging, short circuiting and subjecting the power pack(s) to abnormal temperatures.

However, when it comes to wearable devices, these procedures are not as stringent. This could lead to batteries failing within the product with potentially harmful or dangerous consequences, such as radio frequency exposure, electric shocks, burns, cuts, and adverse reactions to certain chemicals.

Lithium batteries – the type that is generally used in today’s array of wearable technology – are known for being a safety hazard. Here in the United Kingdom, the Royal Mail has added lithium batteries to their prohibited list (if they are to be shipped on their own) and other private couriers have strict rules that regulate their transportation.

In Canada, lithium batteries have to comply with certain standards laid out in the Dangerous Goods Act of 1992.

This raises questions as to why products are tested heavily but there is little in the way of checks and balances when it comes to their potentially volatile power supplies.

Risks Involved:

Because these power sources are not generally tested to the same degree as the finished product, batteries that could be susceptible to short-circuiting might not be equipped with the relevant safety mechanisms. In a worst case scenario, a battery could overheat, explode and, possibly, cause a fire.

These risks should be acknowledged from the outset.