published Friday, April 19th, 2013

From head to toe, wearable gadgets a growing trend in tech industry

Shoes that insult sedentary behavior but applaud your jump shot.

Shirts that can take and post Instagram photos.

Glasses that respond to voice commands and provide turn-by-turn navigation.

If recent announcements by tech firms are any indication, the term "smart" -- already applied to phones and tablets -- will start showing up in some unexpected places.

HEAD

* WAIT FOR IT: In April 2012, Google announced its Glass project, a lightweight heads-up display that uses voice commands and physical gestures to access many of the functions of a smartphone in a device the size and shape of a pair of eyeglasses. About six months after Google's announcement, Vuzix unveiled the M100 Smart Glasses, which function similarly to Glass but opt for a boom-mounted display instead of Google's wraparound design.

* How soon: Google Vuzix has slated the M100 for release in the second quarter of 2013. Google is projecting a consumer launch of Glass by the end of the year and should begin shipping early developmental models via its Explorer program later this month.

* Available now: Eager to have a computer screen inches away from your eye? The sunglasses-like Vuzix Wrap 1200 ($500) pairs with a wide variety of devices -- game consoles, smartphones, computers -- to project 2D and 3D content on a simulated 75-inch screen visible only to the wearer.

TORSO

* Wait for it: U.K.-based CuteCircuit is working on tshirtOS, a line of digital shirts that can pair with mobile phones, take and share photos via a belly-high camera and record and play sounds via a built-in microphone and speaker. An LED screen woven into the fabric of the chest will display static or moving images as well as updates from social media feeds. In a promotional video earlier this year, fitness apparel maker Under Armour presented a concept of future fitness suits made of fabric that could be manipulated like a touchscreen, can change color and display information such as weather conditions.

* How soon: CuteCircuit began drumming up interest in a consumer model of tshirtOS via social media last August but has not revealed a release date or price. Under Armour's touchable suit is currently presumed to be strictly conceptual, though the company's marketing promises similar technology is in development.

* Available now: Under Armour's newly released Armour39 line uses a chest-mounted sensor ($150) to track exertion and rate exercise intensity as a "score" displayed on a paired mobile phone or compatible watch ($200). Want a more immersive computer gaming experience? Don TN Games' 3RD Space Vest ($140). Its air impact technology will translate every bullet and explosion into a physical effect and is compatible with more than 60 games on PCs.

WRISTS

* Wait for it: Apple, Samsung and Microsoft all are rumored to be working on wrist-mounted "smart" watches. Details remain scarce, but industry analysts predict they will incorporate touchscreens and smartphone connectivity to enable users to view weather conditions, text message alerts, incoming phone calls and more by simply looking at their wrist.

* How soon: In February, an Apple patent application was published that detailed a device with a flexible touchscreen that can be wrapped around the wrist. The same month, Bloomberg reported that Apple has a 100-person team working on a smart wristwatch. No release date has been announced. Bloomberg reported in March that Samsung's Mobile Executive Vice President Lee Young Hee confirmed that the company was working on a smart watch. Hee said the company has been working on the device for "so long," but didn't offer a schedule for release. Earlier this month, a supplier for Microsoft told the Wall Street Journal that the company had ordered "watch-like components" from its Asian suppliers. Again, no official unveiling has been made or a release date announced.

* Available now: If you're hankering for a wristwatch to make Dick Tracy and his 2-Way Wrist Radio jealous, there are several smart models already on the market, including Sony's SmartWatch ($150) and e-paper watch and Kickstarter darling Pebble ($150, available this month). Like the proposed watches from Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, these watches pair to a smartphone, alert the wearer to incoming email or phone calls and feature dedicated apps for activities such as controlling music playback or connecting to social media.

LEGS/FEET

* Wait for it: At the 2013 South By Southwest conference in March, Google introduced a pair of prototype Internet-connected smart sneakers. The shoes monitor physical activity via a motion sensor and can comment -- somewhat snarkily -- on the wearer's activity level through a built-in speaker or via social media status updates when paired to a smartphone.

* How soon: Don't expect Google's talking Adidas sneakers any time soon. Google says they were designed as an experiment to demonstrate the changing relationship between consumers and objects in the Internet age.

* Available now: Current shoe technology may not insult your fitness level -- or lack thereof -- but it can still help you keep track of it. Nike's Nike+iPod sensor ($19) can fit into the soles of compatible shoe models or can be attached via a separate lace pouch ($10). As you move, the sensor will record the distance and calories burned and transmit that data to a connected iPhone. Aetrex also has released a line of GPS-equipped shoes ($300). With the addition of a $35 to $40 monthly plan through GPS provider GTX, the Navistar shoes report their location in 30- and 10-minute intervals to keep track of Alzheimer's patients or anyone else who is prone to wandering off.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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