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Social pollution masks? Winning wearable tech ideas

Frog Design asked designers to invent wearable tech concepts, with results ranging from interactive tree displays to a wristband that helps wearers navigate NY subways.

Tree Voice
The Tree Voice concept lets anyone walk up and interact with a tree and get updates on the local environment.
Frog Design

While anyone could dream up a spinning virtual GPS globe constantly updated with a slideshow of global Flickr photos emanating from a hat, competitors in Frog Design's contest for new wearable technology concepts had to keep their designs within the realm of feasibility.

The key requirement that keeps all the designs within reason is that they have to be able to come to market within three years. That doesn't necessarily mean they will come to market, but at least there's a chance.

The global design firm ran its internal competition for new wearable technology concepts last year and just unveiled the results (PDF). They include some fun and fascinating ideas that explore everything from communing with trees through technology to an urban compass that leads you into discovering unexpected parts of a city.

The eight winners came from around the world. There's Mnemo, an interactive friendship bracelet from Amsterdam that records times, locations, people, media, and music to create a record of an event. These digital memories can be shared with friends and combined into a collective memory, all wearable on a bracelet.

The Tree Voice concept hails from Austin, Texas. It involves attaching a display to a tree. The display communicates data gathered from sensors to share information on pollution, noise, and temperature levels. Anyone can walk up and interact with the tree and get updates on the local environment.

My personal favorite of the top eight designs is the CompassGo from Milan. It's a round device that fits in the palm of your hand. You tell it what you're interested in (like boutique shopping, history, independent restaurants, or culture) and it leads you through a city with visual cues. There's no guidebook to shackle you down, you just follow and discover the lesser-known parts of a city. It could add a real spark of adventure for tourists.

The other top designs include an interactive tool for the blind to navigate their environments, a device that harnesses the energy of physical movement, a wristband that helps wearers navigate the New York subway system, a pollution mask that monitors and shares air quality information, and a maker kit to get girls into creating their own wearable technology.

With so much attention being paid to smartwatches, it's encouraging to see designers branching out with creative ideas in other wearable spaces. Knowing that all these designers believe their concepts could be made real within just a few years, we may soon be welcoming some of them into the world. I, for one, can't wait to get my CompassGo.

Wearable tech kit for girls
HelloWorld is a wearable tech creation kit geared for preteen girls. Frog