Sales of wearable devices to grow 17% this year, spurring demand for smart sensors in everything from consumer to industrial applications.

Wearable devices continue to be one of the biggest market drivers in the electronics industry, creating new demand for smart sensors that can be used in consumer, industrial, and military applications, to name some of the largest categories. A late summer report from Gartner Research pegs wearable technology growth at 17% this year, with an anticipated $30.5 billion in wearable device sales worldwide.

Although the bulk of the wearables market is in Bluetooth headsets which will represent 48% of wearable devices sold this year, the report cites a growing market for smartwatches, which it says are on pace to achieve the greatest revenue potential in the wearables market through 2021, reaching $17.4 billion. Gartner says it expects two key sub-sectors to contribute to the growth: kids’ smartwatches, targeted at children ages two to 13, before their parents purchase a cell phone for them and luxury/fashion brands, which are launching smart products in an effort to attract a younger audience.

But what about industry? How quickly is demand growing for wearables, sensors, and all things related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on the B2B side of the coin?

Although consumer demand for products such as smartwatches and fitness bands tends to garner the most media attention, there is growing demand for wearables in industrial, military, and healthcare markets as well, according to a separate report released in September. Technavio’s report Global Industrial Smart Sensors Market 2017-2021 predicts an 11% compound annual growth rate for industrial smart sensors over the next four years, citing growing demand for their use in wearable devices that ensure worker safety in hazardous environments and that monitor field staff in remote locations, in particular. Increasingly, product designers and manufacturers are incorporating smart sensor technology into wearable devices that connect to control systems via mobile or satellite transmission, the researchers said.

Head-mounted devices, such as helmets, visors, and glasses, are key examples of how the technology is being put to use in industrial settings. Workers can use them for tasks such as equipment repair, inspection, and maintenance, and they can also be applied in warehouses, manufacturing plants, and similar environments. Often incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) technology, the devices increase safety, reliability, and accuracy in many situations. In healthcare, video-based programs that utilize technologies such as Google Glass are being used to enhance both simple procedures and complex surgeries. In military applications, goggles that allow personnel in the field to access real-time information about a particular area or territory have been in use for years.

Despite such advances, wearable devices of this sort still represent a long-term growth opportunity in 2017. The Gartner survey points out that head-mounted displays represent just 7% of the wearables market today, although the category is projected to grow to 13% of the market by 2021.

“Current low adoption by mainstream consumers shows that the market is still in its infancy, not that it lacks longer term potential,” the report authors said.

And that bodes well for manufacturers and suppliers of smart sensors and related technology alike. Gartner expects the overall market for wearables to nearly double between 2016 and 2021, going from 2.65 billion devices sold last year to more than five billion in 2021.

Victoria Kickham


Victoria Kickham

Victoria  Fraza Kickham is a Boston-based freelance writer covering manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues. She is the former managing editor of Industrial Distribution magazine, and her articles also have appeared in The Electrical Distributor magazine, Globalpurchasing.com,
Electronic Design, and Machine Design magazines. Contact her at victoria.kickham@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @vfkickham.

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