WearTech positions Phoenix as center of wearable tech industry

Center brings together ASU researchers, industry and local economic partners to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in wearable technology

October 25, 2019

The future of health care is wearable. Handheld, on-body and in-body devices that monitor health status and help guide therapy will become integral to health care over the next few years.

And the newly opened WearTech Applied Research Center is positioning the Phoenix metropolitan area as the hub of high-impact wearable and medical technology innovation. Phoenix skyline with wearable devices The WearTech Applied Research Center, a collaboration between Arizona State University and local government, economic and health care organizations, is positioning the Phoenix metro area to be the hub of wearable technology innovation. Graphic by Rhonda Hitchcock-Mast/ASU Download Full Image

“Arizona has long been known for high tech,” said Gregory Raupp, research director of the WearTech Applied Research Center and professor of chemical engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy at Arizona State University. “We’re going to continue with high tech but in a different way. We’ve come to a point in time where you can take the rich functionality of microelectronics and put it in new forms, fits and functions … It’s as simple as putting on your clothes to adapt to this new technology.”

Industry analyst firm CCS Insight estimates the wearable technology industry, with more than 245 million devices sold in 2019 alone, is worth $25 billion globally.

The first-of-its-kind applied research center — a partnership between the Partnership for Economic Innovation, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU and industry and local economic organizations — will support an entrepreneurial ecosystem to improve quality of life and human performance through the development of innovative wearable technologies. 

“Our goal with this institute is that we become proud Arizonans of an Arizona-based intellectual property generation,” said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. “It’s less about importing other states’ and other people’s technology and (more about) building our own.”

The 5,000 square-foot facility located at Park Central mall in uptown Phoenix opened at the end of September. The space provides validation and prototyping lab space for companies to test devices and direct access to expertise from Fulton Schools researchers for local startups.

“This collaborative center converges our world class faculty and impactful research with industry partners’ ideas and needs,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools. “It embeds our ability to effectively translate fundamental research into the marketplace at the pace of industry and make ASU’s backyard the competitive home of wearable medical technology.”

Jeff Guldner, president of Arizona Public Service, says the collaborative nature of an applied research center is what creates results.

“The idea is to bring resources from industry to move from a technology or research breakthrough to investment and then to manufacture — that benefits our state,” Guldner said. “It provides (researchers) with resources and support to develop technologies and solutions that the global marketplace is demanding, and we’re doing it right here in Phoenix.”

Jeff Weninger, a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, says the WearTech Applied Research Center will mean more companies are founded in Phoenix and will expand in Phoenix to stimulate the economy.

Underutilized fundamental research will lead to the design of new products and technologies to simplify our lives, create more jobs and tax revenue and attract elite faculty to ASU to enhance the experience of the next generation of the tech workforce, Weninger says.

Leveraging a strategic location

The Phoenix metro area is growing and developing, but it's also drawing on its existing strengths in technology with various tech corridors and top medical institutions; across the street from the WearTech Applied Research Center is the Barrow Neurological Institute, the largest neurosurgical center in the country. 

BNI President and CEO Michael Lawton says the organization is all about bringing engineering together with neuroscience to help people.

“The future in neuroscience is really bringing engineering together with patients and building these devices that make a difference,” Lawton said. “We have access to the kind of clinical material that this community needs to take their technology and test it out, see if it helps patients, see if it helps surgeons do better operations, and really make a difference.”

Lawton says he believes the hub has the capacity for great things.

“My vision for this little part of Phoenix is this will become the envy of the country,” he said, noting that the area will become the neuroscience center of the country like Houston is for spaceflight. 

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego is also ready for the center to kick off worldwide impact from the area.

“The people who will work at this hub probably could be anywhere in the country, and we’re excited that they’ll call Phoenix home,” Gallego said. “We want to grow our own businesses that will put roots down here and help us build the Phoenix of the future.”

Incubating innovation

The WearTech Applied Research Center currently hosts six research-based startup industry partners developing and testing wearable technology products at the center. Many of them involve ASU and Fulton Schools students, alumni and faculty.

FlexBioTech is an interdisciplinary effort between ASU faculty, students and industry and medical professionals to develop an at-home rapid diagnostic patch that uses sweat to detect alcohol and drugs. It was co-founded by Mayo Clinic medical oncologist and immunologist Karen Anderson and Jennifer Blain Christen, a Fulton Schools associate professor of electrical engineering.

WearTech helped connect the startup with a local company, True Mobile Health, which provides clients with a personalized approach to health care that mirrors what FlexBioTech is doing with diagnostics. 

Blain Christen calls it a partnership that is greater than the sum of its parts, enabling each partner to approach individualized health care using their own expertise.

“WearTech has really allowed us to focus on the research in this partnership by providing us with both financial and ‘red tape’ support,” Blain Christen said. “They have done an amazing job of determining how to facilitate the partnership and worked within ASU to allow us to work on the project without needing to focus on the details of contracts and negotiations.”

Hoolest Performance Technologies is a student-led startup co-founded by biomedical engineering graduate student Nicholas Hool. Guided by principal investigator Raupp and supported by research coming out of the lab of Hool’s advisor, Fulton Schools Associate Professor William “Jamie” Tyler, the team is creating a noninvasive vagal nerve stimulator.

The device is being tested in clinical trials for use by people with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder, and can be used to calm anxiety. 

Other companies in the WearTech Center include GoX Labs, led by Fulton Schools Professor Thomas Sugar and the startup's CEO Joe Hitt, who is also the executive director of the Wearable Robotics Association. They are developing exoskeleton and external devices worn to assist in human mobility and performance.

LevelUP, led by Debbie Crews, is a neurofeedback and performance enhancement startup.

Neurocea, LLC, led by Fulton Schools Professor Thurmon Lockhart, is developing a method to alleviate the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to help people in their daily lives.

Vantronics, LLC, led by Fulton Schools Professor Hanqing Jiang, develops edible sensors for monitoring gastric pH levels in people with acid reflux and similar disorders in a more accessible and comfortable way.

These companies represent only the beginning of what is possible as they come together to at the WearTech Applied Research Center to create solutions to brighten the future of health care and beyond.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU research finds how marketing can spark 'deep thinking' in consumers

ASU study: Mismatched messaging prompts consumers to think more, buy more.
October 25, 2019

'Mismatch' messaging can lead customers to identify more with products

Would you buy an outdoor water fountain for your dog? Or a bendable power strip? Or a coffee table with a built-in refrigerator?

Those are some of the entrepreneurial projects looking for consumer support to get launched, thanks to online platforms like Quirky and Indiegogo.

This process, called “co-created innovation,” depends on catching the interest of customers who are bombarded with products every day. One way to get the message across is by sharing a personal story. For example, the dog fountain inventor came up with the idea after the family dog became dehydrated.

Marketing is a crucial part of selling a product, and a recent study by Arizona State University researchers has found that sharing a personal story, called a “genesis story,” works — but in an unexpected way.

Sungho Park, associate professor of marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business, said that the research teamBesides Park, the team included Helen Si Wang, who was a PhD student in the W. P. Carey School of Business when she began the research and is now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Hong Kong, as well as Charles H. Noble, the Henry Professor of Business and associate dean for research and faculty in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, and Darren W. Dahl, senior associate dean and director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. looked at co-created innovation platforms, like Quirky and Indiegogo. Those platforms have different models. Quirky matches inventors with existing companies, and Indiegogo crowdsources investment money. 

“The customer-inventor and the platform work together to develop a marketable product out of the customer-inventor’s idea,” he said. “There’s a trial where they produce a limited number of products and see whether this is accepted, and if it looks successful, they will move onto mass manufacturing.”

Even big corporations, like Starbucks, LEGO and Pepsi, crowdsource ideas from their customers.

One problem is that a lot of startup products fail. According to the research paper, published in the Journal of Marketing, about 80% of smartphone apps do not generate enough revenue to survive for more than a few months, and Quirky withdrew 70% of its more than 500 products when they failed to sell.

“Of course in the introduction period, they spend a lot of marketing budget on advertising or promotions, so there is a lot of uncertainty there,” Park said.

So the research team looked at marketing strategies for co-created innovation products to see which worked best. They looked at two kinds of marketing and two ways to frame a message.

“Traditional or standard marketing would have the basic information like ratings, price and a description,” Park said.

“The user-generated content is the genesis story. In most platforms, they provide the story of why the customer-inventor developed this. It’s more personal.”

Previous research has shown that the two ways to frame a marketing message are “approach,” which emphasizes the good things about a product such as attractiveness and usefulness, and “avoidance,” which shows how a product can avoid something negative by minimizing or solving a problem.

Using different research methods and backing up the results with sales data, the team ran five studies and discovered that the most successful marketing message was a “mismatch” — or combining an “approach” genesis story with “avoidance” messaging.

For example, one of the studies involved asking people outside a Tempe campus Starbucks whether they would try a new coffee product — Starbucks Doubleshot Mexican Mocha. They were shown two types of marketing. Both types included a “genesis story” of the creator, who invented the product to be reminded of a Mexican grandmother. That’s an “approach” message. Then they were also shown one of two other messages: buy the coffee product to “embrace winter warmth” (approach) or buy the product to “say bye-bye to winter chill” (avoidance).

People who saw a “mismatched” message (Mexican grandmother reminder and “bye-bye to winter chill”) were more likely to try the coffee.

So why would that work? The reason is that a “mismatched” message stimulates the consumer to think harder, and more thinking leads to “self-referencing,” or “how does this product relate to me?”

“In consumer behavior or psychology, if there exists some mismatch, oftentimes it will boost internal processing,” Park said.

“It’s not contradictory, but the different framing stimulates consumers and makes them process a little deeper.”

In another study, the subjects were shown a flexible power strip on Quirky and asked to write down reasons why they would buy the product. The group shown mismatched messaging about the power strip wrote down a longer list of reasons.

“That means people processed a little bit deeper or tried to reflect more, and that boosted their intention about this product,” Park said.

There was one caveat: This self-referencing works better if the consumer is new to the product category.

“So if you’re an expert in this area, this is less effective. But if you’re a novice to this category, then this mismatch strategy works much better,” Park said.

The team also looked at sales data of products and compared that to the messaging, and found that products with mismatched marketing messaging not only sold more but also were quicker to reach the “takeoff” point of a sales surge.

“There are a lot of interesting things we can do when we use an observed data set (like sales), but the underlying mechanism, why we observe this type of consumer behavior, is a little bit more difficult to explain using observed data only,” Park said.

“So we decided to use this mixed method, which is quite unique.”

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News