Wearable technology isn’t exactly outdated just yet, with Apple’s first smartwatch being the trigger for smartphone fans across the globe to finally open their eyes and embrace the idea. But those smartwatches could be facing some stiff competition in the very near future, with smart clothes threating to steal their thunder.
But could smart clothes really make our current batch of wearable technology obsolete? How could these new wardrobe additions alter the way we live our daily lives?
What are Smart Clothes?
Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin – smart clothes are garments which pack hidden technology within or around their fabric, and can help us improve our daily lives in a number of ways.
This works by offering mobility improvements, protection or just by simply recording data and measurements.
The most common applications currently sit within the health and fitness market – with many big name companies like Adidas and UnderArmour marketing their wares to professional athletes. However, this is quickly becoming a market which is appealing more and more to the everyday person, thanks in part to the boost in health based smartphone apps and wearable trackers.
The smart clothing market is still very much at the ground floor, with very few people using it with any real effect. However, industry analysts expect this to change dramatically in 2016, with an expected 26m smart garments to be sold in the 12 month period. This counts as over 7m more sales than what’s expected from wearable fitness bands in the same timeframe, but still less than half of all smartwatch sales – which are set to tip the scales at 60m units next year.
But what uses will we be able to make for our brand new smart t-shirts and trousers?
Smart Sports Garments
Currently the biggest market for smart clothing; the health and fitness boom lends itself to wearable technology as it’s fairly easy to make recordings of relatable data. The obvious readings are things like heart rate, calories and activity levels and all of these can be taken much more accurately with clothing rather than wristbands. This gives smart garments a clear advantage over their wrist based cousins, and also gives us bunch a reason to invest in them.
Ralph Lauren Tech Shirt
Even some of the biggest names in fashion are seeing the potential of smart clothing, with Ralph Lauren adapting its critically acclaimed polo t-shirt to work with bio-sensing fibres within fabric to measure performance. It’s able to track and stream data to your phone or tablet, and was even showcased at the US Open by a number of staff, and even in practice rounds with players.
It’s able to track distance travelled, calories burned, movement intensity and your heart and stress rate. It’s not ridiculously overpriced either, with orders setting the average person back approximately £120.
Under Armour E39
Launched back in 2012, the UnderArmour E39 is actually a strap which can be worn discreetly underneath clothing which measures heart rate, breathing, G-force and horsepower. It features a removable sensor that monitors your activity during sport, which is then recorded on your mobile phone or laptop computer.
Adidas MiCoach Shirt
Adidas has long used MiCoach as a way of mixing your technology with your health and fitness, so it’s not been surprising to see a T-shirt released by the company. As with the Ralph Lauren Polo Tech Shirt, sensors are built into the fabric. A removable chest sensor is also compatible with the smart garment, so you can add to the overall experience. What’s most impressive is that the shirt itself prices up at just £40 – which is little more than you’d pay for a high-end sports top as it is.
Smart Clothes Sales
26 million sets of smart clothes are expected to be sold in 2016.
That’s 7m more than fitness bands in the same timeframe.
Smart Clothing for Mobility and Industry
It’s not just in sport that we’ll see smart clothing make a home for itself. In fact, the potential of garments like this is much higher in the mobility and industry sectors. Imagine a pair of trousers which use artificial muscles to help a disabled person walk – this is what robotics experts are currently working on.
It has the potential to change lives for the better, and not by giving us faster access to our favourite Netflix shows – but by actually providing an improved quality of life to many people.
Having cost £2m so far in research, the technology also has a number of other advantages, like avoiding circulation problems and skin damage which can be an issue with wheelchairs and other current technologies.
There are also obvious military and industry uses which can help offer protection and added strength to high-risk workers like soldiers. This will likely come in the form of fully-fledged exosuits; similar to the one’s we see gracing films like Iron Man. However, whilst we might not be flying around killing bad guys – we could use them effectively to help create buildings or transport goods more effectively.
It will definitely be a while before this fiction becomes reality, but it’s definitely on the cards for smart garments, even if it could be well over a decade away…