Why are we so fixated on watches and bands? The wearable tech market is full of fitness-obsessed products for workout-loving people with thick wrists and deep pockets. No one in the industry wants to admit it, but the wrist is probably not the best place to stick a bunch of sensors, and activity tracking may not even be the best use for all those sensors. If we want wearables to become truly wearable, companies need to start looking at the clothes we wear every day of our lives. And if we want those wearables to be truly useful, we need to think beyond step counting and create tech that gives actionable suggestions to improve our well-being.
Although the idea of smart clothing has floated around for a few years, little has come of it, until now. Big-name companies like Samsung, Google, OMSignal, Hexo Skin, and Under Armour have begun thinking about ways to make the clothes on your back as smart as the phone in your pocket. Since most wearables are fitness-focused, most smart clothing so far has followed in those footsteps with incredibly accurate fitness metrics and detailed analysis of workouts. Thankfully, many companies are beginning to think beyond gym rats, and the smart clothes they are working on may be the future of wearable tech.
The main problem with current fitness bands and smartwatches is that they’re so conspicuous. Yes, they’ve improved lightyears from the bulky monstrosities we tried to wear a year or two ago, but they’re still something you have to take off, charge, think about, and put on each day. Imagine if your coat, pants, socks, or shoes just did all this for you. You wouldn’t have to work out to take advantage of the benefits of wearable tech. Since you wear clothing all the time, making the fabric that covers your body smarter would make it easier than ever to keep tabs on your overall wellness without forcing you to go to the gym, or wear anything that you wouldn’t normally wear.
Smart clothes are even more normal looking, and they’re much more easily customizable than other wearables. After you’ve got the sensors down, you can easily incorporate them into any type of clothing without a hitch. It doesn’t take much effort to create 20 different color options and styles for a smart shirt, but manufacturing more than one finish for a smartwatch is a huge operation. Already, smart clothes are available in more styles, colors, and varieties than other wearables.
Noble Biomaterials makes CircuiteX technology, which creates the conductive components in smart garments. These threads “ultimately allow for the ‘detection, transmission and protection of electrical signals’ within smart clothing.” explains General Manager Bennett Fisher. “Once the sensor is inside the clothing, what you’re wearing becomes a sensor.”
Clothing+ is a Finnish company working on integrating technology like this into clothes for sports and medical applications. “People are more and more interested in understanding their bodies and making choices based on data,” Mikko Malmivaara, one of the founders of Clothing+, told us. And as this interest grows, Malmivaara noted, Clothing+ determined that the “clothes we wear are the best way for any device or data system to interface the human body.”