Carbon Fiber Technology Could Give New Life to Wearables

When Fitbit introduced its first wearable in 2009, there was plenty of speculation that they were ushering in a whole new world of wearable technology. Unfortunately, Fitbit devices never really enjoyed the mass-market appeal industry experts were expecting. The next savior of the wearable industry was the Apple Watch released in 2015. It didn’t make a whole lot of waves either.

So where are we? And what does the future of wearables hold? The answer might be found in a brand-new carbon fiber watch developed via a partnership between McLaren Applied Technologies, Richard Mille Watches, and the University of Manchester (UK).

It’s no exaggeration to say that the world doesn’t need another watch. This one is important though. Being made of carbon fiber, it is extremely light and certainly more durable than aluminum and steel products. But that’s not even the important part. What’s most important is the fact that the actual casing of the watch has a smaller skeleton, allowing more room for internal components.

Adding Graphene to the Mix

The new watch, dubbed the RM 50-03, weighs in at only 1.41 ounces (40 g). Engineers were able to come in so light by introducing graphene to the equation. Graphene is lighter and stronger than carbon fiber, so adding it to their carbon fiber matrix meant using less carbon fiber material.

The total amount of added graphene makes up just 2% of the matrix. Yet it is enough to significantly reduce both the weight and size of the watch case. According to researchers, their work has proved that adding only a small amount of graphene can significantly enhance the already impressive properties of unidirectional-reinforced carbon fiber composites.

Again, that doesn’t mean much for the watch market. Watches have not changed very much, functionally speaking, for hundreds of years. Creating a graphene and carbon fiber watch would only halve limited appeal to people wealthy enough to afford one. So why is the research so important?

Lead researcher Robert Young said that his team’s work “could have future impacts on precision-engineering industries where strength, stiffness and product weight are key concerns, such as in aerospace and automotive.” However, Utah-based Rock West composites says wearables should also benefit.

Expanding the Use of Wearables

Current wearable technology is a novelty more than anything else. You can buy devices that monitor your heart rate, temperature, and even the number of steps you take on your morning run. But medical science wants more. They envision a day in which wearables will become important medical devices for monitoring patients outside of the hospital setting.

Carbon fiber could make that possible. As Rock West explains, having a lighter yet stronger material to work with enables wearable designers to put more electronics inside their devices. It allows them to build wearables into clothing. This opens the door to all sorts of medical technologies.

New wearables based in carbon fiber can also change sports. Already there is a group at the UK’s Swansea University working on wearable technology for Britain’s 2020 Olympics team. They intend to utilize graphene powder along with other materials to print composite sensors that can be embedded in athletic clothing. This will allow more accurate monitoring of how the athletes are performing throughout the games.

A carbon fiber watch made lighter and stronger with the addition of 2% graphene probably doesn’t mean much to watchmakers. But it means a lot to the medical and sports industries. Combining graphene with carbon fiber could be the future of wearables that could substantially improve medical monitoring and athletic performance.