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Everything is getting smarter: Clothes

From head to toe, everything we wear is getting smart these days. Companies like Samsung and Apple are investing heavily into developing wearable devices which can “react” to the wearer and be on the go with that person without any inconvenience. And it comes as no surprise that the global wearable technology market will be worth $18 billion by 2018.

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On the other hand, smart gear from Apple and Samsung is already available for consumers. But how about we have a look at smart technology from a sports perspective and how we can enhance our experience while staying active – while not mentioning all the glasses and watches that make the headlines. Or in other words, lets compile the most technologically advanced sport outfit possible!

Smart Helmet

The helmet is a tool used extensively in a wide variety of sports. The Skully P-1 is one used for motorsports (still a sport right?) and brings an impressive technological edge to it.
To start with – it has a HUD display right in front of the driver. It shows loads of useful information like air temperature, weather forecast, GPS navigation for traffic jams as well as a rear view which might be really handy for a motorcyclist. It also shows how much G a driver generates and a 180-degree camera view, which gives the driver much more situational awareness. Besides a self-recharging battery, voice control that enables the wearer to can pick up the phone and play music, it has Bluetooth. With a combination of modern smart phone capabilities and all sorts of apps available on the market this might be a comprehensive sport tool.

Another example would be product created by a company called Life-Beam and this time its not for motorcyclists but for those who pedal. They started with the creation of a helmet monitoring platform for fighter pilots and then decided to transfer it to a regular cycle helmet. It is totally packed with technology. It monitors heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation – something quite impressive at this stage. All of this information can be transferred in real time to a phone, smart watch or a dedicated cycling computer.

Smart Shirt

How can you make your shirt smart? Well, the folks from a company called Hexoskin have done it. Shirts aren’t getting much attention from technology vendors yet from a ‘smart’ prospective. As a result, this product is still quite limited in its functionality compared to things like watches and wristbands which basically do the same thing and are much smaller and…you don’t need to wash them! But I think these guys have done a great a job in comparison so let’s have a brief look.
Like nearly all fitness oriented products these days, Hexoskin measures blood pressure and heart rate. But in addition to that it also monitors RR Intervals, Heart Rate Recovery and Heart Rate Variability (HRV), breathing rate and volume. More importantly it shows your step count and how many calories you have burned. Impressive for a shirt, isnt it? Of course it would not be SMART without a smartphone synchronization option (too bad it’s only for IOS) and Hexoskin’s app functionality impresses even more, with loads of options for monitoring and comparisons and beyond (http://www.hexoskin.com/en/how-it-works). What caught my eye is the ease of sharing all of this information with another person such as a coach or a personal trainer, which could bring a revolution to the training process itself.

Smart Gloves

If you are into tennis, golf or baseball, then the following product might be for you. Zepp has developed a fairly small sensor that can be attached to a glove, bat or racket and can monitor your kick/swing like nothing else before. It will provide a very detailed 3-D replay of your swing with all the possible information you might ever need on your smartphone device. Club speed, backswing time, front swing time, all sorts of angles, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Considering the size of that thing (13 grams) and the amount of data stores (2000 swings) and produces – a quite impressive gadget!

Smart Socks

Far more people jog than cycle or play baseball. Hence wearables designed for runners are more likely to hit mass production than other sport related gadgets. But socks? Yes, even socks are getting smarter. Heapsylon is about to hit the mass market with Sensoria. Combined with an ankle sensor and a smartphone they can become a useful fitness device. This device goes beyond the industry norm of heart rate and calories burnt. It shows how good your running technique is by analyzing the way you actually step and put pressure on your feet. For those who are recovering from an injury or in general have problems with their feet this could be an unmatchable device to have. It also splits the activity type performed by analyzing the pressure signals – whether you are doing a seated exercises or jumping. It will actually tell you via headphones if you are too slow or should lower your pace. It will also tell you on which part of the foot you should try to land in case you change the surface you are running on – a smart way to avoid injury indeed.

Smart Shoes

Smart shoes, such as those from Fraunhofer Institute, would be a good alternative for those who find a smart sock’s ankle sensor inconvenient. Pricing data isn’t available yet, but in functionality they are similar to what Heapsylon has done with socks. They also monitor speed, number of steps and running technique, and provide actionable suggestions in terms of pace and foot pressure. However, Fraunhofer Institute’s shoes will include GPS which can bring some interesting features in terms of geo-tracking location and therefore social interaction with runners. This is something Nike has done with the “Running App” for smartphones, but with phones getting larger and larger smart shoes might be a good substitute.

In 2013, the wearable technology for sports took a huge leap forward. Meanwhile, the underlying technologies continue to improve in terms of sensors, algorithms and cross platform connectivity. We see every reason to expect these trends to continue. Everything is getting smarter; what’s next?

Sources:
ABI Research, 2011
CNET News, 2013
Skullyhelmets.com, 2013
Hexoskin, 2013
Zepp.com, 2013
Heapsylon.com, 2013
Slashgear.com, 2013
Nikeplus.nike, 2013

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