The advent of smart clothing (and why it’s not quite there yet)

July 5, 2012

In the Quantified Self movement, the final frontier will not be space, it will probably be sub-dermal implants that monitor everything from inside your body. Until that technology emerges though, smart clothing appears like the next logical step for self-tracking devices. After all, clothes are unobtrusive, ubiquitous, and by nature always in contact with the skin. Today, we take a look at the upcoming smart garments, and we see also why that technology is not quite ready yet.

We already mentioned the Squid before during a mash-up. It’s a “smart shirt” developed by students at Northeastern University that monitors workout and tracks your progress. It measures muscle output based on a detection of the movements of the wearer (it’s actually a “compression shirt” that fits tightly on the body). Another promising project is the Move, a tank top designed by Electric Foxy for sport practitioners that analyses your movement to help you find the right position. It provides the user with instant feedback under the form of “nudges” that indicate which limbs need an adjustment. It also creates a timeline of the performance that the user can visualize later.

Yoga is just one of the many disciplines where the Move technology could be used.

This highlights another very interesting feature of smart clothes compared to other wearable devices: they can not only analyze but also provide feedback in real time. They can also have sensors that cover a larger area of the body than regular wearable devices which enables them to record more data and perhaps even detect new patterns and correlations that were invisible before.

However, the Squid and the Move have something in common: they are both prototypes still, and some time away from availability to consumers. The reason for this is that the technology for self-tracking, wireless everyday garments apparently is just not quite there yet. You need to miniaturize the sensors, integrate them seamlessly inside the folds of the cloth, maintain accuracy over time and still make it affordable for the average consumer. It’s better for everyone also if the clothes can go through a washing machine, especially if you plan to wear them during exercise routines.

If you want to see an example of smart clothing as it exists now, you can check the MotivePro vibrating suit, a suit for gymnasts with spatial positioning sensors that helps them correct their movements.

While it’s certainly a great tool, MotivePro wasn’t exactly designed by Versace.

Smart clothes are definitely the next frontier, but as of now they are still just that: a frontier. Hopefully it will be explored and settled within the next couple of years!

What about you? What sort of usages would you envision for smart clothes?