The wearable technology business is beginning to pick up steam. Watches and wristbands get a lot of attention, but developments in smart textiles, also called e-textiles, are approaching a tipping point after which we can expect a rush of new products. Many of the first products to market will focus on the fitness market, naturally following the success of FitBit and other activity trackers, but health market applications are on the way as well, with many crossovers. According to Clothing+, the sensory garment business is projected to be a $60 billion business by 2020.
Jabil Circuit‘s Clothing+ division’s Peak+ smart apparel integrates technology from three companies in a heart rate monitoring (HRM) monitoring textile application that can crossover easily from fitness products to apparel and coverings for the health market. Clothing+ provides the sensor integration into the textile, Suunto brings their heart rate monitor technology with integrated software to view data on mobile devices and computers, and Firstbeat provides the analytics based on collected heart beat data that can yield personalized reports on exercise, stress, and sleep. The feedback users receive on training, performance, rest, and recovery can shape not only the future training protocol but also plans to improve stress or sleep levels. Clothing+’s parent company Jabil adds its own higher level manufacturing, design engineering and supply chain expertise. From coverings for newborns or monitors for heart patients, the Peak+ heart rate monitoring textile is an impressive start as a reference design. The goals, in addition to accurately measuring and transferring data, are optimum comfort, durability and convenience. Clothing+ says its textiles are washable and waterproof. The company is working with brand partners on solutions for heart, lung, and brain monitoring as well as light therapy blankets.
As exciting as it is to imagine clothing that can monitor vital signs and other measurements, cost and comfort will need to be acceptable as well as concerns people might have about safety. The washable aspect also bears third party testing – how often, how long, what temperature water, what about soaps and fabric softeners, and how will folding and packing tight in drawers and bags effect usefulness, accuracy, and garment lifespan are all question that will need to be answered through experience.