IHS expects the world market for smart clothing to exceed $600 million in 2020, growing from just $15 million in 2015. Beyond the obvious synergies between clothing and wearable technologies, what justifies such a prediction? This year at CES, a number of smart clothing providers showcased products that will ease smart clothing’s way into consumers’ daily lives. Some of these are new products, while others have added functionality to further their value proposition.
Hexoskin introduced a new Bluetooth 4.1 connector to its smart shirts that will allow for connectivity with third party application such as Endomondo or MyFitnessPal, and with other devices such as smartwatches or cycling computers. The new connector also doubles up in battery life from 15 hours to 30 hours when fully charged. These improvements decrease switching costs for the consumer, which should be considered given the quantity of fitness and wellness devices and mobile applications available today. Interoperability enables further adoption, which in this case will positively impact the smart clothing market.
Another company in the smart clothing arena, OmSignal, showcased their new smart sports bra. The bra measures heart rate and breathing rate among a range of other vital signs. Aesthetically, the bra is similar to any other sports bra, but carries a black box that is attached onto the bra along the rib cage.
Sensoria Fitness showcased their smart sock anklet designed to capture running data (MSRP $199) and their smart bra with built-in heart rate monitor (MSRP $139). The sock features three built-in textile sensors that detect foot pressure and relay the data through conductive fibers to the magnetically attached anklet. Sensoria recently entered an agreement with Orthotics Holdings Incorporated (OHI) for a new connected brace to be marketed to healthcare providers. The new brace will track motion, gait, cadence, and stride length to help predict falls and track recovery.
Hong Kong-based AdvanPro Limited exhibited at Eureka Park in the Sands Convention Center this year, and similar to other smart clothing vendors featured examples of smart textiles for the foot and chest. Their stretch sensor technology may be well suited for tracking respiration, and could be embedded within a bra or chest strap.
Smart Shoes – Under Armour, ICON
In addition to announcing its new HealthBox system (consisting of an activity monitor, heart rate monitor, and personal scale), Under Armour gave notice of its upcoming smart shoe due for release this February. The new UA sneaker will sell for $150 and record activity in the accompanying app. ICON Health and Fitness (iFit) also announced their Altra IQ activity monitoring shoe, which is due for release in the Spring of this year at an MSRP of $200.
Although new products are making their way to the market, average selling prices continue to be relatively high as compared to other monitoring product types. While the smart bra from OmSignal will start at $149, many products are well above the $250 mark, which is barrier for adoption. However, IHS expects the average selling price of smart clothing applications to decrease by a staggering 7.1% between 2014 and 2020.
IHS notes that there are several ongoing trials for medical applications of smart clothing, most of which involve capturing biometric data for rehabilitative purposes. Three health-related applications of smart clothing that will likely see commercial development during the next five years include ECG monitoring, shirts with stretch sensors for monitoring respiratory rate for people with chronic lung disease, and hosiery related to wound care (with applications for those with diabetes and pressure ulcers). Smart textiles, or e-textiles, feature an integration of textiles with conductive fibers as well as electronic elements such as sensors and microcontrollers. Applications for these textiles are being considered for a range of industries including automotive, aerospace, interior design, medical and general apparel. In regard to wearables, a considerable amount of research attention has been placed on smart clothing for fitness, biomedical and safety as apparel sensors can be used for electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG), and electrocardiography (ECG). When a thermocouple is incorporated, the apparel can be used for sensing temperature, and the incorporation of carbon electrodes may allow for detection of oxygen, saline, moisture, and contaminants. Heating and cooling systems developed for space exploration and deep-sea diving have also been applied, primarily in prototype garments with limited commercial release.
Most smart clothing applications at CES 2016 were geared towards fitness apparel, but there were also products such as the Welt from Samsung, a smart belt that looks identical to a standard leather belt. Welt measures activity, changes in waist size and whether the user has overeaten. While the product itself does not feature technology that goes beyond a simple activity monitor, it does a great job at hiding its smart capabilities, which is not a bad thing. The smart belt from Samsung originates from its Creative Lab, an incubator program for Samsung employees to test out new concepts. As the smart clothing applications are simplified and adjusted to the early majority adopters of technology, referring to both product design and price, smart clothing will no longer be “smart” clothing, but simply clothing. At that point in time, the potential for smart clothing seems endless considering that the market for apparel is well above $200 billion in the United States alone.