Wearable technology is booming. For a long while touted as the ‘next big thing’, its moment now seems to have truly arrived.
The most obvious functionality of wearable technology is monitoring fitness, and this is where we are primarily seeing it used used at the moment through smart wrist wear. The fitness band has been especially popular in recent years, and the release of the Apple Watch this year is expected to see smartwatch sales hit 21 million by the end of 2015, according to tech analyst Gartner.
The smartwatch is not the only wearable set to take the market by storm this year, however. Gartner also predicts that sales of ‘smart garments’ will hit 10 million in 2015, soaring to 26 million in 2016.
Smart garments are made of conductive textiles, most commonly silver. These are woven into fabrics which act as sensors that detect electrical signals to measure heart rate and muscle activity. This can be applied to any item of tight clothing, such as a t-shirt or sports bra.
These are not just being used as a fitness aid too, they are increasingly being adapted for everyday wear so as to measure general health and wellbeing.
Such clothing operates by collecting a wealth of information about the body, which is then uploaded to the cloud, or directly to a doctor. This means that potential health issues can be flagged and treated before they develop, and that existing conditions can be monitored. For example, smart socks have been developed by Footfalls and Heartbeats which measure capillary refill for signs of diabetic foot ulcers. Danish company Ohmatex has also developed socks which monitor fluid retention in the feet and leg, which can be an early indicator of heart failure or pre-eclampsia.
Other examples include cancerdetectingclothing.com, which is in the early stages of putting sensors put into a shirt or bra to detect early signs of cancer. Fashion houses are also embracing smart garments. Ralph Lauren for one has given its iconic Polo shirts a high tech twist, introducing its Ralph Lauren Polo Tech Shirt, which takes biosensing silver fibres woven into the fabric to generate a range of biometric datasets.
The potential for smart garments is huge, as is the implications they hold for health care, as technology enables us to move increasingly from treatment to prevention. The data taken by a doctor at an appointment usually gives a snapshot from that particular time, but long term data enables them to see trends in the data, finding discrepancies and varying results