Smart Clothing Will Know Our Bodies Better Than We Do

After choosing what to wear in the morning, the vast majority of us give almost no thought to our clothing because our clothing gives no thought to us. It’s a utility that sits idle 95% of the time until it’s time to lend us some covering. But like anything in this crazy, tech-filled world, our clothing is not immune to a digitized upgrade.

Sensors sewn into fabrics not only offer us style and modesty, but will grant us insight into the human relationship with our environment.

There’s a great potential to achieve deeper insights into our bodies. Using biometric garments will allow us to see more carefully when we are tired, when we are stressed, when we are excited and to reach new levels of self-awareness and understanding.

Joanna Berzowska, Quartier de l’Innovation

One day, you might put on a t-shirt that monitors your sweat glands during a workout to optimize your hydration. Men might put on a necktie that tracks heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature to help keep stress levels in check at work.

Through intelligent textiles, our clothing will become a second skin – bridging the human body, the digital world, and our environment.

Smart Fabrics & Intelligent Textiles

There’s no shortage of companies advancing our clothing with technology. In fact, it’s quite hard to cover the entire gamut. But these are some of the notable projects I’ve come across.

CuteCircuit has pioneered a variety of wearable technology textiles. Their most prized is the Soundshirt which, through the use of haptic sensations, allows people to feel music on their skin.

Wearable Media brings data from the environment into clothing – essentially creating a new human sense of the world. One project called Ceres is a wearable garment that senses near-Earth asteroids. It emits electrical current throughout the sensor points in the textile, intimately vibrating against our skin, letting our body sense the range, frequency, and distance of near-Earth asteroids.

Then, there’s the “Nobel Prize winning jacket” – the Graphene Jacket. It’s the world’s first jacket to be coated with Graphene, the lightest, strongest, and most conductive material ever discovered. Very simply, they’ve made a coat that can conduct heat and power. Thus, an early stepping stone towards bionic clothing that works like a platform to support other innovations.

MIT’s Self Assembly Lab is currently working on a metamaterial they call “active auxetics”. Inspired by bacteria in nature, MIT designed ventilated clothing whose pores open and close based on one’s body temperature in relation to the outside climate. The result is a material that actually breathes and doesn’t get sweaty or dirty.

As you can see, there’s quite a variety of approaches and applications to smart clothing. But I’m particularly drawn to the idea of applying the above technology to accessories.

Smart Accessories

Watches, wallets, purses, etc. we each have an accessory that we don’t leave home without. That’s why I think they’d be an effective first foray into intelligent textiles for the average person.

Google’s touch-sensitive fabric technology division – Project Jacquard – launched their second product, called the Cit-E smart backpack. In collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent, the Cit-E backpack features a touch-sensitive shoulder strap for controlling a connected smartphone. Users only get four gesture controls, so the options are quite limited. But, it’s a connected bag nonetheless.

Researchers at UC-Berkeley are working on a wearable sweat sensor that will “decode our sweat composition. Basically, monitor people’s sweat rates – electrolytes and metabolites – for better health. There’s no reason that a hat couldn’t be lined with these sensors, so that we all have a better idea of what our sweat is telling us about our health.

Apply that technology to basketball headbands and now trainers can monitor their players while they’re in the game, optimizing for the best hydration and performance.

That’s just a small taste of biosensors in our textiles.

From pillows and blankets to purses and gloves, all of these textiles can be vessels for ambient computing – the non-disruptive way of collecting valuable data on our bodies.

Outside of the advanced research done at sports science institutions, we don’t have much data on the average human body and its kinesthetics. We don’t fully understand how it functions in contemporary environments. Fashion technology can help us understand our bodies better and fix our bad health habits.

Fashion Technology

A lot of the work in this field of intelligent textiles isn’t ready for mass production. It might be quite some time before Kohl’s and Brooks Brothers are stocking their shelves with intelligent textiles. But the purpose of these projects is to push the boundaries. Imagination come to life.

I said it once before, “Fashion technology is shaping up as the next trillion dollar industry.” The opportunity is immense. Our textiles are ready for a huge update.