Group 4

Wearables are keeping tech optimism alive

A more optimistic outlook on technology is materializing with innovations in wearables for women’s health and mental health, but anxieties loom


Thumbnail: @myoovi

Banner: @myoovi, @imtiffanyyu, @lanaato

Earlier this year, a pair of headphones caught the attention of the internet. They weren’t of the wired variety, or the trendy Apple AirPods Max headphones that became an accessory in their own right after launching in December 2020. Rather, the headphones looked more like Batman supervillain Bane’s face mask, or a futuristic respirator worn in a post-apocalyptic environment. Called the Dyson Zone, they’re positioned as the brand’s “first wearable purifier, capturing city pollution [...] and cancelling unwanted noise, with “advanced noise cancellation and pure, high-fidelity audio.” After watching the Zone in action against the wildfire smog that coated New York City in June, one commenter responded, “The way my heart dropped when I realized this wasn’t a visual from an apocalypse game.”

But innovation in wearable technology isn’t all the stuff of technocratic nightmare. Tech optimism is materializing in stride with innovations in wearables — especially in the spaces of women’s health, well-being, and mental health — from devices that alleviate period pain to those that help track your mood.

Women’s health

While women’s health is still under-researched and under-funded, a new generation of wearable FemTech has emerged with a focus on exactly that. 

Myoovi Period Pain Relief Device delivers electrical impulses to cut off period-related pain when adhered to the lower back or abdomen. The wearable device utilizes TENS technology commonly used during childbirth, via what Digi Design Strategist Deanna Middleton calls a “millennial-ized” package — the Myoovi website is all the neutrals and rounded edges of the typical millennial DTC brand. Based on the shopping experience, you could be on the hunt for some FemTech, or an Instagrammable skillet, or a cream to help with acne without a trip to the doctor’s. Meanwhile, the popular Oura smart ring is now compatible with a fertility tracking app and is being used as a more convenient way to track fertility without daily Basal temperature checking. 

There are also exciting women’s health wearables that are still in development or in early stages. MIT researchers have developed “a wearable ultrasound device that could allow people to detect breast cancer and tumors when they are still in their early stages.” And a London-based designer has created a wearable cooling device to alleviate the hot flash symptoms of menopause, while researchers at CalTech have developed a wearable patch that monitors estrogen levels in sweat, in hopes that women can one day track their hormones at home and in real time. 

Beyond hardware that specifically targets issues connected to biology, there are innovations that tap into more nebulous trends in the women’s health landscape. Digestive health has become a priority for many women and TikTok is now obsessed with “healing your gut.” While the app’s gut health advice and trends have been criticized by qualified experts, Northwestern University researchers have developed miniaturized wearable devices that can monitor gut and digestive health through sound.

Mental health and well-being

As with women’s health, mental health research is under-funded and the market of wearable tech aimed at mental well-being has grown in recent years. The Apollo Neuro is a “touch therapy band” that delivers gentle, soothing vibrations to reduce stress. You can select different “vibes” to help you relax or boost your mood and energy. 

Wearable devices are also increasingly being used to track mood and mental health through tracking heart rate and perspiration — Happy Ring tracks biometrics with powerful sensors to sense stress levels, while Upmood is a wearable that “senses your body’s signals and bio-patterns to enhance emotional awareness.” With these insights, Upmood says, users can use interventions and change their environment to impact their well-being — i.e., realizing what triggers them and taking action. Mainstream and mass-market wearables have even taken a page out of this book. The Fitbit Sense 2 notifies you when there’s been a spike in vitals and asks you to input your mood at different points in the day.

Simpler well-being wearables are also trending — Meghan Markle was spotted wearing a wellness patch from NuCalm, a brand that sells biosignal processing disks to accompany its patented software. The patch emits a frequency that allows GABA to enter receptors and counteract adrenaline, producing a feeling of calm.

Wealth is health

However, there's still something a little apocalyptic about the new gen of wearable tech. Happy Ring claims to power “the next generation of personalized healthcare” — a mission that can only be truly understood against the context of widespread failing and underfunded healthcare systems. There’s often a deeper message here — health is still available, just to those who can afford the latest ergonomic ring or wristband. It can all feel a little Bryan Johnson-lite, further entrenching the idea that personal responsibility is the end-all-be-all when it comes to physical and mental well-being. You can’t change the declining conditions of contemporary life that are making us feel bad physically and mentally (well, maybe you can if you’re a billionaire with the means to make systemic change), but you can make sure they don’t affect you and yours. 

And on the everyday level, it’s easy to get caught up in tracking your biodata, especially when it’s accessible 24/7 through an app on your phone. Think the compulsion to check your steps and make sure you’re hitting your 10k a day, but applied to every aspect of your brain and body. It’s easy to see how always-on health tracking can become obsessive, especially when a “science-backed” claim is in the mix to justify these behaviors.

Ultimately, the optimism around wearable technology as a means of personalized healthcare will only continue to grow if it can work in conjunction with existing healthcare systems and for the many, not in spite of them and for the few.