Top 10 smart tech styles
Check smart tech for fitness & sport
Smart wearables for enhanced experiences and performance
Following on from LAST WEEK’S POST on the top 5 technologies for functional clothing, trend & design consultant Anne Prahl investigates the top 10 of smart sports and fitness styles, while contemplating what future innovation could look like.
While the sports bra was invented in the 70’s, its smart cousin had to wait a few more decades to come to the market. In early 2006, Textronics launched the NuMetrex sports bra, the first specifically designed bra for women to provide an integrated wearable heart rate monitoring system as an alternative to chest or arm strap monitors.
Since then, we have seen a relatively small number of brands offering sensor-enabled bras, including the Adidas miCoach seamless bra and most recently, OMsignal’s collection of smart bras, which provide insights into distance covered, heart rate and calories burnt, as well as breathing guidance through the connected app. In order to make smart bras more desirable, brands will need to come up with additional features and benefits, such as intelligent support, which could adapt to the wearer’s range of activities or changing body shape.
Like many innovations in the wearables space, smart briefs originate from military and naval research, which is often concerned with the development of inconspicuous remote-monitoring systems to track soldiers’ mental and physical wellbeing during training and in the field. Chemical sensors can now be printed directly fabric surfaces to detect changes in the wearer’s body chemistry, without causing any friction or discomfort during the most strenuous activities.
Smart briefs are already available to buy from wearable tech company Skiin, who offer underwear that monitors the wearer’s heartbeat, breathing patterns, temperature, stress levels, sleep quality, steps, distance and calories burnt, as well as activity and rest time. In addition to providing useful insights into the wearer’s health and wellbeing, the company also propose that smart underwear can connect with other smart systems, such as being able to adjust the thermostat in the wearer’s home based on their changing body temperature.
So-called smart shirts, such as the Sensatex Smartshirt, were first developed in the healthcare and medical industry in the early 2000s. Since then, there have been various efforts to commercialise this concept for the sportswear sector and more recent versions include the E39 compression shirt by Under Armour and a Polo Tech Ralph Lauren/ OMsignal collaboration, launched in 2011 and 2014 respectively.
Fast-forward to 2019 and technology provider Clim8 have developed an intelligent heating technology for base layers, which monitors real-time skin temperature, analyses the environment and user profile and responds by activating heat to regulate skin temperature.
Embedded sensors can be highly effective for training in the gym, on the bike and during other activities that require real-time and post exercise analysis and coaching, as well as better control over injury prevention and the recovery process. Myontec’s Mbody shorts offer a muscle activity monitoring and performance analysis system based on providing insights into EMG (electromyography, the electrical activity of muscle tissue). This helps elite athletes, sports teams, coaches and physiotherapists to better understand the relationship between muscle behaviour and performance or potential injuries.
In response to the growing trend for online yoga classes, which enable participants to practice at home, smart yoga leggings have become a focus for several start-up brands. In contrast to the more performance-driven features described above, these intelligent leggings aim to support the wearer by providing guidance on alignment in the absence of a ‘real’ yoga teacher.
During specially designed online yoga classes, PIVOT’s sensor-enabled leggings allow the wearer to watch their avatar practice on screen alongside their virtual teacher and receive instant and customised feedback on alignment and posture. Another example is the Nadi X line of apparel, which uses a device that is clipped into the yoga pants to provide the wearer with feedback through gentle vibrations. While these leggings could help to improve the wearer’s alignment during home practice, some practitioners would argue that technology distracts from the original intention of yoga, which embraces the union of body and mind through mindful breath and self-awareness.
The first generation of smart jackets, launched between 2000 and 2008, focused on providing so-called infotainment by integrating flexible control pads into the sleeves to enable the wearer to operate their iPod and other music devices remotely during snow sports or outdoor activities. Due to the fast pace of consumer electronics development, these types of jackets quickly became obsolescent.
Solar powered jackets have been another area of interest but despite various attempts from fashion and lifestyle brands for over a decade, commercial success has not materialised. This may be about to change, as we are seeing a new wave of innovation in this sector. UK brand Vollebak offers a range of technical and smart jackets and their Solar Charged Jacket was named by TIME magazine as one of the Best Inventions of 2018. This style utilises a highly responsive material, which is fuelled by sun and daylight and stores the energy to start glowing as soon as the wearer is in a dark environment.
The ANTELOPE.SUIT consists of a shirt and shorts and thanks to Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS), enabled by integrated electrodes located on the abdomen, chest, shoulders, back and upper arms, as well as the leg biceps, quadriceps and buttocks, the major muscle groups can be activated to enhance training and performance for triathlons, running or cycling, while soreness and recovery time between workouts is reduced.
In the future we are likely to see more innovation around motion capture technology, as this has been shown to be a useful tool in training efficiency, could reduce injury risks and aid speedy rehabilitation. The recently launched Teslasuit is one such example and is described as the world’s first fully integrated smart clothing with haptic feedback, motion capture, heat control and a biometric feedback system.
Despite a failed Kickstarter campaign, start-up Komodo Technologies managed to develop and launch their AIO smart compression sleeve with an integrated ECG technology to monitor heart rate activity and workout intensity, which can also track sleep. These sleeves are very practical as they can be worn in combination with any existing sports clothing, rather than being integrated.
Sensoria’s smart sock is equipped with textile pressure sensors and is designed to monitor the wearer’s runs by providing data on distance, pace and time as well as foot landing technique. The sock also connects to a virtual coach, who offers audio and video feedback on achieving goals, improving performance and reducing injury risk.
Smart gloves are especially useful for snow sports and outdoor activities and the first generation of smart gloves offered integrated control pads to operate GPS navigation or remotely play music from devices worn inside the wearer’s jacket or backpack. Today, most of the products in the market utilise embedded heating systems, such as ZANIER Heat Technology, to provide on-demand, adjustable warmth.
Over the last two decades continuous attempts have been made to create must-have smart apparel and accessories for sport, outdoor and fitness but as products have come and gone, commercial success remains elusive. This top ten has highlighted some useful products but unless innovation becomes more disruptive, they are likely to remain niche products. As the more exciting ideas are happening in the start-up space, this could be a great opportunity to let go of the past and re-invent smart wearables to address real user needs, provide more meaningful experiences and enable a healthy and active lifestyle.