Now even your workout clothes can become "smart"

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Our clothes are often passive companions in our adventures, but as technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, their role may change. It was only a matter of time, but smart clothing is now a reality—from socks that monitor diabetics to shirts that track heart rate. Currently, the industry has primarily implemented this technology as health wearables, but the industry (and governments) are starting to realize the potential of smart clothing.

A new category of fitness “wearables”

An entire industry is built around fitness "wearables," such as rings, watches and other monitoring devices. For the most part, these devices focus on monitoring data points like heart rate, body temperature, and metrics that companies claim measure sleep quality. Smart clothing can collect more data because it covers a larger area of ​​the body, and can apply actions such as vibrations over a larger area.

The Nadi X yoga pants have accelerometers and haptic motors woven into the fabric. The dock is located behind your left knee, and you connect your microcontroller to it at the beginning of your workout. The controller communicates with your phone via Bluetooth, reports five different data points to measure your posture, and then guides you through gentle vibrations delivered by haptic motors located throughout the pants. The purpose is to guide you in doing yoga poses correctly.

Sensoria socks embed pressure sensors in the ball and heel of the sock and report them as heat maps on your app, allowing you to understand how your feet hit the ground while walking and running. The app also reports your cadence using a metronome UI and provides real-time voice feedback to guide you toward your target pace and correct your foot strike.

Under Armor has launched a line of clothing that claims to aid muscle recovery by using bioceramic linings in the clothing to convert body heat into far-infrared energy, which should aid muscle recovery. Hyvle debuted "WE-STIM" leggings at CES 2024. The leggings use a similar concept to Under Armor, using silver-coated conductive nanowires in the fabric, which are said to convert body energy into Micro electrical stimulation. While the technology itself may be a miracle, the actual impact of these products on health or fitness is questionable. For example, our senior health editor Beth Skwarecki pointed out to me that the benefits they claim are similar to those of non-electronic compression pants. The study published by the company does not appear to be rigorous enough to make this distinction. However, these early entries illustrate the potential for future products. While you don't want to rely solely on these products for medical or fitness advice, they can be tools you use alongside professional advice.

Smart clothing helps health and accessibility

Accessibility is a touchpoint for smart technology—it can help people accomplish tasks they would otherwise struggle to accomplish. Siren socks use tiny temperature sensors to continuously send information collected from the socks to healthcare providers to help monitor people with diabetes, as temperature changes can be a sign of inflammation, and foot ulcers are a common problem for people with diabetes.

An entire subcategory of smart clothing is called "tech-enabled clothing," which expands on the idea of ​​adaptive clothing by leveraging technology to assist people with disabilities. While real-world examples don't appear to exist yet, it's possible to use the same technology as the yoga leggings mentioned above, but provide vibrations for sensitive people. Likewise, clothing with GPS tracking (as a safety feature for vulnerable people with memory problems) is not yet available.

Technology can create safer uniforms

In 2023, the Director of National Intelligence announced a plan to investigate the integration of smart clothing for security purposes. I am very happy to tell you that the program is called SMART ePANTS (Smart Electric Networked Textile Systems). Who says the government has no sense of humor? The program aims to “develop garments with integrated audio, video and geolocation sensor systems that stretch, bend, wash and provide the same comfort as regular textiles.” Just kidding, imagine first responders Equipment that can monitor basic signs of life as well as signs of distress, or unified equipment that can provide heat or cooling or chemical detection. Imagine equipment that allows hospital staff to monitor infectious diseases. All this is possible.