UL logo

You have probably seen the logo on a label attached to an extension cord, or perhaps on the box for a kitchen appliance. It’s so common that many people don’t even notice it. Yet it’s the sign of an organization whose mission is to test products for safety and compatibility. Underwriters Laboratories was founded more than 100 years ago, and as its website states, it “certifies, validates, tests, inspects, audits, and advises and trains” to help customers comply with regulations around the world.

Earlier this year, the company announced an initiative to provide comprehensive testing services for the wearable device industry. One goal is to mitigate product risks through testing. For example, the materials used in wearable devices typically come in close contact with the user’s skin, creating opportunities for unwanted reactions. (This has already surfaced as a problem with some devices, as Fitbit learned the hard way.) Given the consumer demand for a variety of colors and styles for wearable devices, material selection can be a critical issue. Another goal is to ensure interoperability. Consumers expect devices from different manufacturers to work together without problems, which means that wireless connections — such as Bluetooth — and data transfer must work without errors. Testing will also be conducted to make sure that the devices are safe to wear, and that they won’t overheat or otherwise cause injury.

“UL is taking the lead in providing a wearable technology program broad enough to encompass the entire industry yet clear and robust enough to provide immense value to developers and manufacturers of wearable technology to help get their products to the market efficiently,” said Stephen Kirk, vice president and general manager for UL’s Consumer Technology Division. Since many wearable devices are subject to little or no regulation, including those with Health Tech applications, the UL program could play an important part in protecting consumers.