Top 5 smart technologies

May 2019


Always on the look for new technologies

The LTP team is excited about smart textiles and systems that can provide additional function and features for active sport, athleisure and outdoor garments. We have asked trend & design consultant Anne Prahl to share her thoughts on the top 5 technologies, and how they can impact product innovation in the future.

A growing number of professional athletes and coaches rely on wearable technology to maximise training, increase performance, cut-down recovery time and prevent injuries or accelerate rehabilitation. Some of the technologies originally developed for professional use or in the medical and academic realm, could also enhance recreational participation in sport, fitness and outdoor activities.

Biomechanical sensors

Garment-integrated biochemical sensors give the wearer the opportunity to monitor specific criteria such as motion and movement, muscle contraction, acceleration and vibration, in order to improve their training, performance and recovery.

Athos Training System
Athos Training System WWW.LIVEATHOS.COM

Utilising electromyography (EMG) sensors, the Athos Training System tracks activity on 22 muscle groups, before the data is sent to a smartphone app. This allows the wearer to see which muscle groups they are using and how intensely they are using them, in order to optimise training and performance. Although this system is now mostly aimed at professionals, the company was keen to promote their technology for a broader end-use, including activities such as yoga, when it was first launched.

Montreal start-up Heddoko uses embedded sensors to monitor the wearer’s movement and the data is transformed into 3D images to provide actionable insights on their smartphone. These images help the user to screen their activity for injury risk, assess their technique during training or playing sports, and help with rehabilitation from sports injuries.

Physiological & biochemical sensors

Physiological sensors can respond to heart rate, temperature, respiration and skin properties, while biochemical sensors can pick-up on pH lactate, oxygen and glucose in sweat, to provide invaluable information about the wearer’s physical and mental condition. At the London Olympics in 2012, Irish track athletes tested sweat sensing devices, which measured the athlete’s hydration levels and sent the information wirelessly to the coach’s laptop of mobile phone, in order to enable peak performance.

Closed Loop Smart Athleisure by Marina Toeters/ Margreet de Kok
Closed Loop Smart Athleisure by Marina Toeters/ Margreet de Kok WWW.BY-WIRE.NET

Physiological sensors give insights into on the wearer’s training efficiency and performance by measuring heart rate and breathing. Designer Martina Toeters from recently collaborated with the Holst Centre in The Netherlands to produce a shirt with printed sensors on flexible substrates to make the user experience more comfortable compared to standard integrated electronics. The designer is also investigating how smart garments can be designed within a closed-loop system, exploring a lease and disassembly and recycling system.

Light & visibility

Functional clothing with integrated lighting provides safety during night-time sports, such as running, cycling or night skiing and snowboarding. UK start-up Vollebak developed the Black Light layering system, where every layer; the t-shirt, base layer, mid layer and shell jacket, provides the same high visibility protection. Rather than relying on traditional silver reflective materials, the custom-made technology consists of thousands of super-thin matt black dots, which are made from microscopic glass spheres to reflect light at the source.

Black Light layering system by Vollebak
Black Light layering system by Vollebak WWW.VOLLEBAK.COM

Another company using light technology to provide safety are LUMO, who design classic cycling outerwear and accessories with LUMO Glow LED lights that are completely concealed until they are switched on to increase visibility to traffic.

Intelligent heat

Heat and thermal control is another important factor when it comes to sports performance and comfort. More basic technologies include the integration of heat packs into base layers, while more advanced technologies for base layers, shell garments, socks and gloves utilise batteries in combination with conductive yarns and fabrics.

Mercury Heat Jacket by Ministry of Supply
Mercury Heat Jacket by Ministry of Supply WWW.MINISTRYOFSUPPLY.COM

In 2012, Team GB’s cyclists successfully wore heating technology clothing developed by Adidas and British Cycling and Loughborough University. The so-called ‘hot pants’ were designed to maintain the ideal 38C muscle temperature between warm-up and performance by utilising battery-powered heat filaments strategically integrated into the pant. In the snow sports sector, heated base-layers help the wearer to stay comfortable and dry for longer during all-day activities.

US based Ministry of Supply recently launched a campaign on Kickstarter to be able to develop and manufacture their Mercury Heat Jacket, which uses a super lightweight integrated carbon-fibre heating system, utilising a smart thermostat that reacts to the wearer’s environment and learns from user preferences as they go. The jacket is activated through a voice-controlled smart assistant and app and is available for immediate delivery.

Energy harvesting

Pauline Van Dongen solar-powered windbreaker
Pauline Van Dongen solar-powered windbreaker WWW.PAULINEVANDONGEN.NL

Energy harvesting is a popular concept in the wearable technology sector; however, despite the opportunities to power functional clothing through ‘scavenging’ energy from the wearer (such as kinetic energy from human motion or thermal energy from body heat) or environment (such as solar energy), commercial applications have been slow to come to the market. Tommy Hilfiger launched a Solar Powered Jacket, with solar panels on the back and a removable battery pack in the front pocket, in 2014. This jacket was capable of charging a mobile device up to four times, subject to full sunlight exposure. Other examples include Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen’s solar powered windbreaker with detachable solar panels and a backpack, which incorporated tiny solar beads within a knitted fabric.

While the sports and fitness sector is generally expected to be a key contributor to the growth of smart textiles in the future, innovation and adoption of commercial products continue to be relatively slow. This is not helped by the high costs of integrating smart technologies, as well as the practicalities of washing and caring for such products. In addition, as the sports and outdoor industry is beginning to commit to more sustainable practices, it will be important to design smart functional clothing in such a way that any electronic elements can be taken out at end-of-life to be reused or recycled.