The evolution to wearing smart clothes
IT’S amazing why so many of us are so focused on smart watches and bands.
But 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.
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.
Smart clothes are wearables for everyone. Slipping on a smart t-shirt or hooking on a smart bra in the morning doesn’t require any extra effort. You don’t have to change your behaviour to suit the tech.
The main problem with current fitness bands and smartwatches is that they’re so conspicuous. 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.
Wearable tech is at its best when it isn’t obvious. That’s why smart jewellery that’s not overly futuristic, gaudy, or bulky — and smartwatches that look like actual watches — have such incredibly strong appeal to your average person.
Smart clothes are even more normal looking, and they’re much more easily customisable 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 choices of colours 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, colours, and varieties than other wearables.
Just look at OMSignal’s many fun smart sports bra patterns and colour cnoices or Samsung’s recent wearable prototypes, which include a belt that lets you know when you’re packing on the pounds, a very stylish business suit with NFC buttons hidden in the cuffs, a golf shirt that tracks swings, and smart workout clothes. All of these devices are brilliant wearables, not because they share the same tech as your average fitness tracker, but because they don’t look like tech.
It’s a dream shared by many, including the founder of Google Project Jacquard, Ivan Poupyrev. During Google I/O 2015, Poupyrev showed off a new way to weave touch panels to into conventional fabrics, using old-fashioned textile manufacturing processes. Google’s yarn has a conductive metal core that’s mixed with conventional fibres and can be dyed any colour. Google is working with Levi’s and other companies to make its dream of hightech clothing come true using traditional techniques.