Clothing that measures blood pressure and temperature, evaluates running technique and records fitness progress sounds like a futuristic dream – but it's a reality today.
The fashion trend of the summer for high-tech fans is electronic: After smartphones and smart watches, now we can slip into clothing with smart technology. T-shirts measure our biometrics, bras can be personal fitness coaches, and rompers monitor infants' vital signs. Smart clothes integrate modern technologies naturally into our daily lives, and can be used in many different ways.
The most prominent application is likely – as with smart watches – in the field of fitness and exercise. Here, smart clothes have an unbeatable advantage: People might not remember to wear their fitness trackers or watches, but almost never forget to put on their shirts or shoes. Research has been shaping the smart clothes vision for years – and has made significant strides forward, with the first smart clothing items now available on the commercial market.
One example is the PoloTech smart shirt by Ralph Lauren, which hit the market last year at a price of about €265. This luxury shirt measures breathing, heartbeat and calorie consumption, and shares the data with your smartphone. It is detected using biosensitive silver threads, with a small black box that transmits the data via Bluetooth.
Another example comes from the U.S. firm Sensoria. Along with its smart shirts, the company also offers intelligent socks for purchase: Sensoria Fitness Socks use textile sensors to track step count, speed, calorie consumption, altitude and distance. They can also measure cadence and walking style, providing athletes with new possibilities for targeted and effective performance improvement.
The OMbra smart sports bra from Canadian company OMsignal , which should be available in the American market this spring, provides biometric data as well as individualized training tips for improving your performance, based on the parameters detected.
The opportunities in smart clothing have also become apparent in areas other than sports and fitness, in particular in the medical field. The advantages are obvious: smart clothes make it much easier to monitor the biometrics of pregnant women, newborn babies or the elderly. In an emergency – such as a cardiac arrest or increased body temperature – this smart clothing sends a signal to specified recipients.
For example, the technology from the company Monbaby is a button that can be attached to an infant's onesie. It measures breathing, heartbeat and the baby's position, and sends an alert via an app in case of emergency. And smart clothes can also be used for more specific applications: The Fraunhofer Institute has developed socks for diabetics with sensors that sound an alarm when there is too much pressure on the foot. The iTBra from US-based Cyrcadia Health is the prototype for a bra that can detect the development of breast cancer based on blood flow and breast temperature measurements, as an alternative to mammography.
Smart clothes not only offer us new possibilities, but also set new challenges for developers. Washability and power supply are among the core problem areas. Conductive materials such as metal threads are not sufficient for certain functions, but battery and solar cell materials are still in the development phases . For now, smart clothing gets its power from external batteries – which necessarily detracts from both optics and wearability.
The much more difficult task, however, lies in data analysis and security. Because with more data comes greater challenges in what to do with it. It offers unimagined possibilities for optimizing our well-being and health, but also unknown risks of misuse if the necessary security is not ensured. This is something to think about before pulling on a smart shirt.
Visitors to CeBIT in Hannover can discover the latest developments in the wearables industry. What research is currently working on , as well as innovative applications for the Internet of Things are all on show.