Embedded with sensors and electronic components, smart clothes provide wearers with health benefits and lifestyle improvements.
- Google and Levi Strauss team up to produce a high-tech jacket
- Smart yoga pants help users with exercises
- Hexoskin smart shirts collect vast amounts of data
- Under Armour and Tom Brady launch a sleepwear brand
- Siren smart socks help diabetes patients
- Myant’s smart fabrics will be used in various everyday products
- European scientists are developing a smart bra cancer detector
- Smart swimsuits collect swimming data
- A smart jacket that automatically heats up in cold weather
- American researchers have developed colour-changing fabrics
- Smart clothes as the next step in the evolution of the textile industry
Companies track people’s online behaviour in many different ways. From social media comments to online purchases, they rely on various data points to analyse customers and deliver personalised services. The next stage in these data-collection efforts revolves around wearable devices, such as smartwatches and activity trackers. These tools can interact with other devices and track users’ heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and steps walked. But the potential of this technology is much bigger. Engineers are now embedding sensors, electronics, and other wearable components into textile, giving rise to a new generation of wearables: smart clothes.
Intelligent shirts, pants, and jackets not only look good, but could also help people prevent heart failure, manage diabetes, relax their muscles, and improve their overall quality of life. Due to these benefits, smart clothing has grown into a market that’s set to reach $5.3 billion by 2024. And in what seems as the natural evolution of the textile industry, businesses are offering customers increasingly innovative solutions. Sensors-embedded clothes are thus just a first step toward turning smart textile into a major data-gathering asset across many use cases.
Google and Levi Strauss team up to produce a high-tech jacket
The quest to create smart clothes has led to once unlikely partnerships. Google and Levi Strauss & Co., for instance, have teamed up to produce a jean jacket equipped with a small module in the jacket’s cuff that connects to the user’s phone through Bluetooth and charges via Micro USB. Thanks to the tech giant’s Project Jacquard technology, wearers can use hand gestures like swiping, touching, and tapping to access various remote control options.
Taking selfies and group shots is now easier, as a single move can make the phone snap a picture. Customers can also assign a specific gesture to a command given to the Google Assistant, so that a swipe over the module, for example, prompts the smart assistant to provide weather, traffic, or news data. The tag also lights up and vibrates in case of incoming calls and texts, allowing users to reply to the call by brushing their cuff. And with a single gesture, they can also play music, skip a song, or get the title of the song currently being played. Owning this tech-infused jacket doesn’t come cheap, though. The standard jacket costs $198, while a jacket with insulation for colder weather costs $248.
Smart yoga pants help users with exercises
Wearable X, a New York-based fashion tech startup, is on a mission to help users improve their yoga practice. To that end, the company developed Nadi X, smart yoga pants that use gentle vibrations to help wearers perform exercises correctly. Besides the garment, customers also receive an iPhone app and a module called The Pulse. It’s placed behind the upper left knee and powers the pants, using Bluetooth to connect with a smartphone. Users can select various vibration levels and follow audio instructions to do the poses the right way.
The company used a Kickstarter campaign to collect funds to create a menswear line and improve the app. New features, such as progress tracking, personalised practice, and incentives should help people get the most out of their yoga exercises. Wearable X’s CEO, Billie Whitehouse, says that “Our data is more sophisticated than most because we have 5 data points. Most only have one.” The smart yoga pants come with a steep price tag of $249, though.
Hexoskin smart shirts collect vast amounts of data
The Montreal-based health tech company Hexoskin is another startup active in the smart clothing industry. It developed a high-tech shirt that monitors heart rate, breathing, activity intensity, steps, peak acceleration, sleep, and various other data points. Sensors embedded in the shirt collect and transmit data to a paired phone, tablet, GPS sports watch, or bike computer via the plugged-in Hexoskin smart device, which comes with the shirt. The data is stored on the company’s servers, where it can be remotely accessed by customers. Running apps, such as Strava and Runkeeper, can also use Hexoskin sensors to display heart rate and various other data points. And third party developers can get access to all of Hexoskin’s data to develop cloud-based health and research applications.
Researchers around the world also use Hexoskin smart shirts in health research and clinical development in cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, psychiatry, and paediatrics. First responders and defence institutions can benefit from remote monitoring solutions as well. By teaming up with Hexoskin, they can conduct studies that assess sleep, operational stress injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. This can provide new insights into how to improve training and work procedures in these sectors.
Under Armour and Tom Brady launch a sleepwear brand
Whether they’re athletes or have physically demanding jobs, millions of people carry out strenuous activities each day. As a result, they often feel soreness and muscle pain during the night. Fortunately, the American footwear and apparel giant Under Armour has found a way to help them recover and sleep better. The company partnered with the New England Patriots’ star quarterback Tom Brady to develop a line of sleepwear called Under Armour Athlete Recovery Sleepwear. What makes these pyjamas unique are special bioceramic particles that absorb radiation produced by the body in the form of infrared energy and reflect it back as far infrared energy, which promotes cell regrowth and helps muscles and joints regenerate faster.
Brady and other athletes typically wrap parts of their bodies in bioceramic bandages or sit in saunas after a workout. Wearing a piece of smart clothing, however, is a much more convenient way to recover. It won’t deliver immediate pain relief in the way that drugs or heating pads might, but wearing it will provide long-term benefits. The pyjama set costs $178 and looks like average sleepwear. The bioceramic-based fabric is safe to wash and dry, and it won’t lose its healing properties over time.
Siren smart socks help diabetes patients
Some people face conditions far more dangerous than muscle pain. Diabetes patients, for instance, are at risk of developing diabetic foot ulcers, and there’s no way for them to monitor relevant symptoms continuously. Complications caused by foot wounds can even lead to amputations. In the US alone, treatment of diabetic ulcers costs the healthcare system around $13 billion each year. That’s why the San Francisco-based microsensor textile company Siren has come up with the Siren Diabetic Sock and Foot Monitoring System, which enables wearers to monitor foot temperature and spot early signs of inflammation that are indicative of diabetic ulcers.
What makes these socks unique is the use of the Neurofabric textile embedded with microsensors. The material is cheap and can be produced on standard industrial equipment. Also, customers won’t notice any difference between the temperature-monitoring fabric and traditional fabrics. To access the data collected by the smart socks, wearers can use a smartphone app or an online web portal and receive a push notification in case the foot temperature increases. Siren operates based on a monthly subscription model. For $19.99 each month, customers receive five pairs of socks mailed every six months, along with the mobile app and live support.
Myant’s smart fabrics will be used in various everyday products
The Canadian company Myant wants to enable a range of people to harness the power of smart fabric. It’s producing textiles embedded with sensors that monitor, sense, and react to the human body and can be used to produce clothing, diapers, car seats, mattresses, and many other everyday products. Besides textiles, Myant also offers data-processing software and an API that allows third-party developers to access data. Furthermore, the company created a line of SKIIN smart underwear that can track various data points, including heart rate, steps, calories, sleep, stress levels, and temperature. The team also plans to add new features to the SKIIN clothing items in the future, such as slip and fall detection, ovulation tracking, driver fatigue, and chemical sensing markers. The underwear is expected to hit the market in the first quarter of 2020.
Furthermore, Myant signed a licensing agreement with Mayo Clinic, gaining access to heart monitoring and arrhythmia detection algorithms developed by this US healthcare institution. The partnership will enable the Canadian firm’s clothing items to monitor wearers’ heart activity 24/7 and detect the presence of normal or abnormal heart rhythm. Individuals suffering from irregular heartbeats, a condition known as atrial fibrillation, could then receive medical assistance and implement lifestyle changes to avoid stroke, heart failure, and other health-related complications.
European scientists are developing a smart bra cancer detector
Breast cancer is another medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In 2018, for instance, this disease led to 627,000 deaths with a million new cases diagnosed. Although breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women across the world, early detection leads to curing the cancer in 90 per cent of cases. Currently, mammography is the primary detection technique, but it’s far from perfect. Some women find it uncomfortable, while the lack of specialised doctors in certain countries discourages patients from making appointments. Millions of people could benefit from a faster screening system.
To that end, the European Union is funding the SBra project, in which a group of French and Swiss scientists is developing non-intrusive screening technologies. They focus on analysing various electrical and thermal properties of the mammary tissues with the end goal of creating a smart bra that uses sensors to detect breast cancer. The device would be used to quickly screen women at high risk of this disease.
Smart swimsuits collect swimming data
The swim tracking platform Swim.com and the tech firm Spire Health have teamed up to develop the world’s first smart swimsuit. The apparel offered by these US-based companies has an embedded activity-tracking device, called the Spire Health Tag, that enables users to track, log, and analyse data from their swims. The system turns on automatically when the suit is put on, and the data is transmitted to a smartphone via Bluetooth and processed by algorithms.
Davis Wuolle, the president of Swim.com, says that “There’s no more forgetting your watch at home and no more charging or button-pressing to track your swim.” Another benefit of the Spire Health Tag is that it requires no charging as the battery lasts the life of the suit. Also, the suit’s design is comfortable and soft-touch, and swimmers won’t even feel the tag.
A smart jacket that automatically heats up in cold weather
Ministry of Supply, a Boston-based apparel company, created a solution for customers that find traditional coats inadequately warm. Its Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket has carbon wires placed in the back and the sleeves to provide automatic heating in cold weather, and it’s equipped with a thermostat and an accelerometer. The jacket is powered by a removable battery that lasts four hours if the jacket is constantly on and connects through a sewn-in USB plug. The jacket is even compatible with voice control through Amazon’s Alexa.
The jacket’s heating can be adjusted to low, medium, and high levels through a smartphone app, but the software learns the user preferences and auto-adjusts heating levels depending on the circumstances. Gihan Amarasiriwardena, the company’s co-founder and president, says that they also plan to develop additional Alexa-connected features and add Siri and Google skills as well. Ministry of Supply is working on other advanced projects, too. Some of the notable examples include stretchy shirts and pants, 3D-printed fabrics, and materials that store and release heat.
American researchers have developed colour-changing fabrics
Scientists at The College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) at The University of Central Florida are working on ChroMorphous technology that enables the production of user-controlled, colour-changing fabrics. What makes this solution possible is a micro-wire inserted into each thread. Running a current through the wires raises the local temperature, prompting a thermochromic pigment embedded in the material to change colour. The team is currently developing thinner fibres, so that customers won’t be able to notice any difference between the high-tech fabric and regular fabric.
The team at CREOL created a concept bag to show how its innovative approach works in practice. Users can switch the colour and patterns of the fabric using an app. It’s even possible to set different colours for each strip, or let the system randomly change the appearance of the bag over time. For now, the sets of colours customers can choose from are limited, but the scientists are working to make it possible to choose any colour. More importantly, the material can be used to produce various items, ranging from clothing to accessories to furniture.
One downside of this technology is that the fabric needs to be powered by a battery. That’s not an issue when it comes to a bag or backpack, but it remains to be seen how the designers will incorporate the battery into dresses or shirts. Nonetheless, Dr. Ayman Abouraddy, a professor of optics and photonics at CREOL, remains optimistic. He says that the colour-changing fabric is “now a real technology, not a scientific achievement. And our goal … is to have the designers — the actual producers of textile-based products for the market — be aware of it, and [think] of incorporating it into their product.”
Smart clothes as the next step in the evolution of the textile industry
Advanced sensors, electronics, and software add new functionalities to typical clothing items. Instead of serving merely as a fashion statement or protection against cold, garments can now collect vast amounts of data and deliver personalised services and pieces of advice. They will especially benefit healthcare institutions by enabling personalised care and preventing avoidable deaths. And as the smart clothes industry grows, it will provide customers with ever more sophisticated products that improve the quality of people’s lives.