Smart fabrics may change the way we dress. In the future, apparel manufacturers may be able to incorporate any digital health wearable function in their garments (with the possible exception of displays). Smart fabric is a familiar topic. We wrote about work at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research using neurostimulation with smart fabric to help quadriplegic patients control movement. Dartmouth University scientists developed a smart fabric that senses joint motion to help people in post-surgery rehab. In 2017 DuPont announced stretchable electronic inks and films suitable smart clothing.

In April 2020, researchers at MIT announced the development of technology that incorporates electronic sensors into stretchable fabric. The machine-washable fabric is highly customizable. Smart garments made from this fabric can fit close to the wearer’s body and carry a variety of sensors. The developers have documented the technology in njp Flexible Electronics.

The MIT announcement focused on the potential to weave sensors into a shirt to monitor vital signs. According to Canan Dagdeviren, the LG Electronics Career Development Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, however, the new technology has much broader potential. “We can have any commercially available electronic parts or custom lab-made electronics embedded within the textiles that we wear every day, creating conformable garments,” Dagdeviren said.

The ability to embed diverse electronic components in stretchable fabric opens a new universe of wearable opportunities. This will be the key to a truly “quantified self” as it will enable the sensor technology to “disappear” into our normal lives. Tracking our bodies’ functions will become as simple as putting on clothes.