A Malleable Future: The Worth of Stretchable Electronics

July 15, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley

Though few companies have marketed finished stretchable products, a new report reveals surprising findings about how massive the stretchable electronics market will be by 2023.

The future looks malleable: stretchable electronics are coming.

A new report released by Research and Markets forecasts that stretchable electronics will be worth more than $900 million by 2023. That's a far cry from the $11.61 billion that the wearable electronics market is supposed to be worth by 2020, but not precisely: after all, the two are intertwined. 

Reebok's Checklight--one example of wearable tech brought to market

Yet few companies have brought anything utilizing stretchable tech to market. Reebok's Checklight is one example: it's a $150 skullcap with embedded sensors that measure impacts to the head, useful for impact force measurements (though Reebok adamently claims it is not made to diagnosis concussions), but it hasn't seen the kind of broad adoption rate that devices like the FitBit have, and the only thing stretchable on the FitBit is its band.

Imagine if smart watches were replaced with thin, stretchable membranes that wrapped around the wrist, supplying a constant stream of health and activity data that would undoubtedly be more accurate than bulky sensors. Or if tablets were foldable. Or if internal medical devices grew and moved along with their hosts. It seems a misstep that the majority of the frenzy of IoT is focused on wearables and home networks while downplaying mention of stretchables, but wearables should be incorporating stretchable technology.

Stretchables don't just belong in the wearables market-- their use should be seen in conductors, batteries, and electro-active polymers. DuPont already developed stretchable ink, but again it's marketed mainly for use in clothing and wearables. If designers are more open to embracing stretchable electronics technology in everything from PCBs to batteries, bringing more revolutionary products to bear will simply be natural progression. 

Without adoption by designers, however, the $900 million forecast may be off mark.