Wearable technology is on the edge of a significant transformation. Wearable products are no more rigid devices such as wrist bands and smartwatches and have transformed into wearable smart clothing based on smart textiles. Although the idea of smart clothing is still in its infancy, it has been gaining huge attention in recent times. Major manufacturers such as Google, Samsung, Under Armour, and Hexo Skin have begun investing in the development of smart wearable clothes. Not only major companies but several start-ups have also produced a few of them.
Most wearable products are fitness-centric, and smart clothing is no different. It is following footsteps of the same so far, enabling detailed and accurate analysis of workouts and fitness matrices. Leading companies are thinking beyond the gym and working towards the production of smart clothes which are set to be the future of wearable electronics. Despite its appearance as traditional clothing, smart clothing is embedded with numerous sensors to add functionality beyond that of earlier use. Moreover, smart clothing was praised for its innovation rather than aesthetics. However, in the current scenario, the situation is changing as innovations are forthcoming for smart clothing with high aesthetic appeal, in addition to advanced features. That said, lack of consumer awareness and high-cost continue to pose as potential threats for manufacturers.
Penetration of Smart Products in Smart Clothing Marketplace
Presently, a start-up company – CardioID Technologies – is focusing on developing technology for the non-intrusive measurement of the human body and acquisition of the heart signals that can empower emotional state assessment, pervasive health monitoring, identity recognition, and drowsiness detection. CardioiD Smart Monitoring (CISM) is a solution for lone worker monitoring, precisely based on AiQ Smart Shirt. It consists of electrocardiogram (ECG) with inertial data of the users and determines the level of fatigue. The information is then sent to a smartphone and LoRa M2M transceiver that delivers a set of indicators to a dashboard with an alarm-management platform.
Similar products are entering the landscape, as companies are viewing the future of smart clothing through the lens of connected garments with reduced time-to-market.
- In May 2019, a team at Dupont materials, an American company, collaborated with a great computer scientist, Michael Burrows to kick off a cascade of innovation – Intexar. This product is a revolutionary electronic film and ink that seamlessly transforms fabric into smart clothing. This smart fabric is easily washable, foldable, and stretchable. Currently, Intexar is being tested by pro sports teams, while the medical industry is exploring benefits of the same.
- In December 2018, researchers of Exeter University in the United Kingdom in collaboration with Universities of Aveiro and Lisbon in Portugal and CenTexBel in Belgium developed a groundbreaking technique that enables graphene fibers to be woven into clothing to create a smart textile. It integrates electronic devices into the fabrics that provide options for potential applications in daily healthcare and clothing monitoring. Graphene is a very flexible, strongest known materials, and it is the thinnest substance capable of bearing electricity. The researchers have started using graphene in wearable electronic devices without electrodes and additional wires.
Innovation and Novel Changes Pick Pace in Smart Clothing Space
The smart clothing market is growing strong, as smart fabric and smart textiles are becoming extremely useful to apparel companies and related firms. These companies are increasing their investments in R&D activities to introduce technologies that can ease healthcare monitoring. Moreover, major breakthroughs in smart clothing are expected to fulfill the demand for accurate and instant healthcare monitoring results.
Self-Charging Fabrics Underway, Smart Threads to Sense Gases
Intensive growth in the smart textile industry is accountable for the development of new materials such as triboelectric fabric. It is the first-ever energy-generating fabric proficient in converting kinetic energy to electrical power from several sources. Currently, the triboelectric fabric is in its early stage of development, however, it is likely to be cost-effective, scalable and take the clothing industry to new heights.
Researchers worldwide are on the journey of exploring the potential scope of smart clothing. For instance, engineers at Tufts University created a gas detecting textile that is capable of sensing certain gases. The ideology is that dyed threads change colors when they identify a whole variety of gases. Gas detecting textiles can be washed and are functional underwater without losing their properties. It is considered that the use of these textiles in smart clothing will allow detecting carbon dioxide, thereby promising potential usage in military, medical, rescue, and other industrial sectors.
Interactivity is emerging as another key focus area in the smart clothing sphere. In 2018, MIT Institute created cloth that can talk to each other by using light pulses. Electronic devices in the cloth can be seamlessly woven into the fabric with ease. These devices are high-speed optoelectronic semiconductive devices.
First-Ever Textile to Keep Body Warm and Cool
There are smart fabrics that are undergoing several developments such as metatextile. It can provide instant comfort in response to environmental conditions. This technology appears promising for the sportswear segment where thermal management plays a key role in enhancing performance. Researchers involved in the development have applied for US patents to bring smart clothing into the aesthetic space.
Japanese Company Converts Raw Silk to Electric Conducting Fabric
In recent times, silk has been brought to attention in the medical field, owing to its properties to reduce challenges faced by conventional medical electrodes. In March 2019, AI Silk, a Japanese company turned raw silk to electronic wearable fabric made by special dying techniques. The device is targeted towards the healthcare industry to accurately provide data and help patients recover from several illnesses and injuries.