I celebrated 30 years of “Back to the Future”, the remarkable 1985 Zemeckis-Spielberg film that’s etched in my memory, by buying the DVDs and screening all three of them back to back for my kids last month. I enjoyed it as much as I did thirty years back but
something that struck to me more was that so many of the fantasy and futuristic concepts and gadgets shown in the films have already turned into reality and are
a part of our everyday life. The wireless video games, handled tablet computers,
wall mounted wide screen televisions, video conferencing are all there , although
my favorite the Hover boards are still not a reality but I am told that the prototypes
are already in place and are successful. Wow, I am actually living the future. It’s true that the pace of technological advancement and innovation has been highest in our lifespan than ever in human history. It has completely changed the way we communicate, travel, exchange information, eat , live and drink. It’s no wonder that its changing the way we dress and clothe ourselves. Among all the things that intrigued me, I was most interested in Marty’s auto adjustable jacket and power lacing shoes and lo behold these are almost a reality too. Nike has confirmed that it is releasing Marty’s self-lacing, light-up sneakers from “Back to the Future” to the public very soon.
Like everything else smartness and intelligence is getting introduced in garments and more so in last few years than ever before. We are abuzz with wearable technology, smart garments, intelligent garments, e-textiles, etc. These words are pretty much used
interchangeably. In the broad sense, they all refer to any piece of clothing which
has an electronic component to make it work like a gadget and enhance the service expected from a normal garment. Last year we saw increasing popularity of fitness wearables, Apple Watch, Fitbit wristbands, Polar fitness monitors etc. As per Gartner, 2015 will see the preference of fitness wearable shift away from the wrist wears to smart garments with a jump from 0.1 million global shipments in 2014 to over 26 million by 2016, which makes smart garment a very promising sector for retail markets worldwide including India. Smart garments are being designed with features for both functional and aesthetic end uses. The functional smart garments help monitor health, enhance performance and contribute to improving the quality of daily life of the wearer.
The aesthetic smart garments create greater interest by changing color, shape and some even depict the mood of an individual.
Functional end use of the smart garments use of smart garment in health care and medical industry
Smart garment are having a huge impact on the healthcare industry through functions of monitoring, recording and regulating. Some such product categories are discussed underneath: Smart Medical Shirts- They allow comfortable measuring and/or monitoring of individual biometric data, such as heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature, caloric burn etc. This biometric information is wirelessly transmitted through internet to experts, where it is analyzed and then sent to the physician. Many companies are
commercially manufacturing these smart medical garments like ‘Life shirt’ developed by VivoMetrics California, ‘D shirt’ by Cityzen Sciences France, ‘Smart shirt’ by Georgia Institute of Technology etc. Also some of the smart shirts are made for specific needs of the patients like ‘Liquid Accumulation Vest’ by Clothing+ , a Finland based company,
which measures water accumulation in the lungs, to indicate heart condition and
helps patients to follow treatment regime and adopt positive lifestyles Across the world and in India these products with data capturing devices and transmitting real time data to personal computers for analysis by physician will greatly enhance the quality of life of the patients who need monitoring but are not sick enough to be in the hospital.
Smart infantwear could help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) commonly known as “cot death”. The garment monitors babies during the sleep and has special
sensors to monitor baby’s heartbeat, respiration, sleep status, breathing, body position.It also allows for parents to listen in on the baby and can have text message alerts sent to a parents. Some such garments are ‘Mamagoose Pajamas’ by Belgian company Verhaerth Design and Development and the University of Brussels (VUB), ‘Exmobaby’ by Exmovere (Virginia, United States), ‘The Mimo Smart Baby suit’ ( Boston USA),‘Owlet Baby Care sock’ by Brigham Young University. Additionally there are separate monitors which could be attached to baby clothing for data collection and sharing with parents like ‘MonBaby’ from MonDevices (NewYork) etc. With approximate rates of SIDS being as high as one in ten thousand in developing countries this product would be a boon for sleep deprived Indian parents.
Scientists at the University of Wollongong in Australia are developing a ‘Bionic Bra’- smart bra, that will change its properties in response to breast movement, giving better support to active women. Smart Bra will tighten and loosen its straps, or stiffen and relax its cups, to restrict breast motion thus preventing breast pain. You see Marty’s jacket in Back to the Future as I said is not far away. Further, Professor at Centre for Materials Research and Innovation (CMRI) at the University of Bolton is developing ‘Cancerdetecting bra’ which will screen breast temperature and gives an alarm in case of abnormal cells division in an uncontrollable manner thereby increasing the temperature of the breast tissue hence detecting breast cancer at the earliest stage. This product when launched will be a dream product for all women across globe
Royal Society of Chemistry reported that US scientists have developed ‘Biosensor underwear’ wherein biosensors can be printed directly onto clothing, to allow continuous
biomedical monitoring like blood pressure and heart rate outside hospitals.
Smart Maternity belts
Cornell university is exploring concept of pregnancy health tracking Belt wherein
the conductive silver fiber woven into the fabrics will track the health metrics like heart rate, temperature, breathing, blood pressure of the mother and send the same to doctor. Similar work is also be undertaken at Europe where in a pregnancy belt to monitor a baby’s heart rate is being experimented with.
Use of smart garment in fitness industry- sports and athletics
Smart garments have a enormous presence in fitness industry. There are many smart garments which are commercially available which have monitoring features to give real time data feed to the sports person to better plan, regulate and control workouts hence increase performance and prevent injury. Some such product categories are discussed underneath:
University of Arizona is collaborating with Hamad Medical Corporation of Qatar and with Novinoor for developing ‘Smart Sox’. It’s made with intelligent textiles and has sensors to warn the diabetic patient to put his/her feet up for a while to improve the blood flow.
Researchers estimate that about three quarters of diabetes-related amputations
might be avoided with this kind of simple warning system and it will improve the
quality of life of the diabetic patient. Every 30 seconds a lower limb is lost due to diabetes globally. In India, about 1 lakh leg amputations occur every year due to
diabetes-related problems, reports the Vascular Society of India. Of the 62 million
diabetics in the country, 25 per cent develop sores, ulcers and life-threatening infections
on their feet at some point during their lifetime, just imagine what such a garment
can do to reduce this affliction.
Performance enhancing Smart T-Shirts:
These T-shirts have several sensors woven into a them to record some or all the Biometric data like heart rate, breathing rate and volume, steps, pace, calories burnt, intensity of the movements in workout, muscles usage patterns during workout, etc. The recorded data can be manipulated on an app through a smart phone or tablet to
help the sportsperson to get most out of their workout and prevent injury. Some of
these products are made in compression suits which actively helps with blood circulation and muscle recovery. Some such commercially available garments
are Hexoskin (US) ,Polo shirts from Ralph Lauren (US) OM Smart shirt (US)
Athos-(US) DShirt( France) Gymi Smart Shirt (Australia Rshirt (France) Xsensio
etc. In the same category there are socks, shorts and bra also available which
record the required data for improved performance. For example MBody Bike & Run (Germany) are muscle sensing smart shorts that help runners and cyclists to have knowledge of their muscle activity to helps them to improve their technique and minimize injuries and Sensoria running socks which track runs in detail, offering information on pace, distance and time as well as pressure placed on the foot during running which helps users run faster and in better form and also reduced risk of injury. Numetrex heart sensing bra is commercially available heart rate monitoring apparel which makes real time data available for the active women to make workouts more
efficient and effective. Performance can also be increased by making the sports person comfortable which was the thought behind development of Climachill by Adidas.
The line incorporates titanium and 3D aluminum cooling spheres which provide
an instant chilling sensation to help athletes’ in warm conditions – lowering their body temperature so they can train harder, run longer, retain their focus and compete at the highest level With growing awareness of health and fitness in India a smart shirt which helps the individual in a guided workout will be the choice of many.
Smart shirts for coaching aid
Heddoko (US) has developed a compression suit embedded with sensors which
captures movement in 3Dimensions and analyzes it. The data is a training aid to
professional sportsperson and coaches.Similar product called ‘Swing monitoring Jacket’ is also being developed by US scientists of Royal Society of Chemistry which will monitor swing for hockey and golf players helping the coaches to get insight on which muscles are engaged during the swing to coach the sports person accordingly.
Damage Prevention Smart Garments
The smart garments not only enhances performance but also prevent injuries. For
example ‘Visijax Commuter Jacket’(see box) and ‘Inflatable vest’ called Spidi airbagtype and Hit Air jacket developed by an Australian company enhances the safety of motorcyclists. The jacket has air cushion system which inflates as the rider falls from bike providing impact protection to the neck, shoulders and back. The jackets can also be used for power sports and horse riding.Much work has also been undertaken
for protection of Skiers like ‘Heated Ski Jackets and accessories’ which are manufactured by many companies in US, UK, Germany etc . These heated clothing items for skiing like heating gloves, heating helmet , heating ear pads, heating undergarments etc keep the wearer warm in cold temperatures preventing snow based health complications. Philips , the electronics giant, is also looking into development of ‘Life-Saving Ski Jacket’
that has a built in thermometer, GPS, and proximity sensor. The thermometer monitors the skier’s body temperature and heats the fabric if it detects a drastic fall in the body temperature. The GPS locates the skier, and the proximity sensor tells the skier if other skiers are nearby.Another such product called ‘Adaptive Survival Clothing’ is being developed by Jacqueline Nanne of Wearable Senses, a research unit of the Eindhoven
University of Technology, which is a weather adapting sweater. The sweater is composed of 3 layers. The “inner” is the base of the garment, and it responds to the body temperature (Fabric opens when you are exercising, and closes when you are resting); The “middle” is the insulating layer and the only one that is not thermoregulatory; The “outer” which adapts to climate changes (the fabric opens when the weather is nice and vice versa).
It is a germ and pollution filtering scarf. The Scough has an advanced, activated carbon filter impregnated with silver nanoparticles which adsorbs and kill viruses and pollution before wearer breaths it . Scough creates a minimicroclimate of freshened air to keep
one healthy and free from air born infections and pollutants. These scarves if launched in India will be a runaway success with the recent awareness and concerns regarding the air quality in India especially the NCR region.
Use of smart garment in every day life
Smart garments can contribute in improving the quality of life by providing Safety and comfort to the wearer. Many such experimentations and developments are happening across the globe which will be in the market in near future. Some such example are PowearIN jacket (see box) and solar paneled jackets . Solar paneled jackets developed by Tommy Hilfiger with solar company Pvilion can power the phone, ipods, smart watches etc. . Another example is a jacket with ‘e-Blocker’ fabric which absorbs almost
100% of the electrosmog produced by the mobile phone hence protecting the wearer from phone radiations . A ‘Hugging jacket’ developed by T.Ware a Singaporean company which has airbags in the vest to simulate a hug. The accompanying smartphone app allows person to give a “hug” from anywhere. The jacket allows varying levels of pressure to be applied to different parts of the body, creating a more personalized
form of physical interaction . The jacket has now been modified to have another
end use i.e. ‘Massage Jacket’ to provide targeted point pressure on the upper and
lower back with a rhythmic massage to the wearer anytime.
Asthetic end use of the smart garments
Smart technology has found its way in fashion designing and many fashion designers are dabbling in this technology to create innovative and aesthetically appealing designs and also interactive garments. Some such examples are underneath Clothes that are being designed using smart technology which will change color as per the wearer’s
mood or environment. Designer Lauren Bowkers of UK has designed a range of ‘Color Change’ garments which has EEG equipped headband which will change color at will i.e. Grey for the office, and a red for cocktails in the evening. Also, Bowker made an ink which can detect changes in air quality, heat, moisture, and UV light and clothes made with it will switch colors depending on the environment. Also, Concordia University
in Montreal developed the ‘Karma Chameleon’ dress which can change shape and color according to the wearer’s movement, taking energy from the body.
Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht has constantly experimented with technology to create interesting designs. She designed 3D printed smart dress called ‘Synapse smart dress’ which is powered by Intel’s Edison chip and measures all sorts of things with biosensors and reacts in different ways. It displays the concentration and focus of the wearer, a proximity sensor sets off LEDs if someone gets too close, a camera on the front can capture which objects or people are affected by the mood of the wearer . The same designer has also made ‘Smoke dress’ and ‘Intimacy dress’ in the past and her newest development is ‘Spider dress’ . This dress is a 3D-printed experimental dress crowned at the collar with robotic spider legs. The legs constantly move, reacting to real-time
biometrics based on pre-programmed social norms and are assistive and adaptive to the owner’s emotions and desires. Where the Synapse dress measured EEG brain activity and heart rate in real time, Spider Dress uses proximity and breathing. Smart garments are ever evolving and are slowly but surely finding their way in every aspect of human life. They are performing function of providing comfort, enhancing performance and safety and soon will be interacting with immediate environment and provide protection and guidance to the owner. The most exciting development which is ongoing is in the
field of “Wearable drones”. Well even Spielberg and Zemeckis did not think of these in their “Back to the Future” films. In future drones can be companion, friend and assistant to human race . They can be attached to the garments and can come in action in case of need. An under development concept drone called ‘Breathe’, has pollution sensor and filter and could hover in front of owners mouth and nose, cleaning the air they breathe when pollution levels are high otherwise it sits passively on the shoulder of the owners jacket (see box). ‘Flare’ which is a personal guide , it when deployed scouts
for the better routes and guides its owner in unfamiliar city pointing out interesting
sites along the way. ‘Parasol’, a drone act as a personalized weather drone and If it
detects impending precipitation or high levels of ultraviolent radiation, it could morph into a protective gear (like an umbrella) to shield its owner from harm. There are many more under development concept of wearable drones all targeted to guiding and protecting the wearer. We have seen and know a field of innovation and technology is going to change and rapidly take a leap if Google sets its eye on it. And behold smart garments have caught the eyeballs of the innovation giant. Google in June this year has
announced its cooperation with Levi’s to design wearable technology. Project Jacquard launched by both will create by weaving touch-pad style capabilities into the fabric. The new technology would enable people to make phone calls and send messages just by swiping their clothes.
Items like jeans, sweaters, jackets, carpets and even furniture could potentially be
turned into an interactive device, to be used like a track pad or button, according
to Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP), which is in charge of the
development. The new type of threads used for the material can be woven into any shape, size or pattern and be made either to stand out or be invisible. The
interactive material would be able to understand various gestures like crossing your legs or swiping your sleeve with your fingers. The special fabric would also be capable of sending the data wirelessly to Smartphone and other devices, opening up an array of new types of applications, aside from the most basic communication commands like placing a phone call and sending a text message. Well Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Zemeckis its time to create a new sci-fi future because what you thought was future has really
become our past and the present.
Jacket developed by PowearIN company of China has more than 20 pockets for
storing stuff like phone, keys and wallet and for electronics like laptop, smart watch,
mobile etc. It has five charging adapters in strategic locations and can charge all devices simultaneously from the dual 5,000-mAh battery packs stored in dedicated pockets. It has a pocket equipped with a wireless charger to charge a phone wirelessly, cuff and hem-integrated charger for handheld devices, a collar-based smart glass charger and a wrist-integrated smart watch charger. The oversized button toward the top of the front placket provides control of the internal power system and external devices like a music player, camera. The rotary dial in it can be used to change music track, power on and off , take a photo or record video. It also has LED light affixed that can be used like a headlamp or wearable flashlight. It also has a load distribution system so that all that electronics doesn’t weigh down the front of the jacket. Additionally the jacket folds and snaps into a shoulder bag when it is hot to wear a jacket. This jacket is a dream jacket for the geeks on move and will be a instant success in Indian context.
The Breathe is a small plastic drone that sits on the shoulder when not in use. The plastic lung is constantly sensing pollution levels in the immediate vicinity, with air filtering in thanks to a small propeller hidden in the base. When levels of pollution get too high, the propeller launches the drone into the sky, where it flits in front of the
user’s face and filters pollution from the air that they breathe.