As the Internet of Things (IoT) slowly but surely becomes reality, one recent business partnership has some futurists and other assorted experts considering the vast potential of the “internet of clothes.”
In April, international apparel manufacturer, Avery Dennison (whose clients include Nike, Under Armor, and Hugo Boss), inked a deal with the London-based IoT startup Evrythng to have specialty tech-enhanced labels attached to millions of items of clothing.
While information-laden labels on clothing isn’t all that radical—bar codes have been around since the middle of the last century, after all—the Evrythng deal will likely result in some interesting applications of IoT technology. Imagine your shoes sending you a text letting you know that they’re worn out and that it’s time to get a replacement pair, or a blouse that alerts you to the fact that it’s a dry clean only garment. It may sound like a pipe dream now, but Avery Dennison is wasting no time: the company says its first tech-enhanced items, or “wearable tech,” will be available in a matter of mere months.
Athletic wear has gotten the jump on the wearable tech craze, primarily because it is worn for a specific purpose beyond just keeping the human body covered up. Watches that display their wearers’ heart rates or miles run is nothing new, and football helmets equipped with RFID chips have been in the news quite a bit as of late, as U.S. college football and the National Football League address safety concerns.
But those are add-ons and, as such, tend to come off a bit conspicuous. A major breakthrough came with Google I/O 2015, when Google Project Jacquard founder Ivan Poupyrev showed off a yarn with a conductive metal core, allowing touch panels to be woven into fabric. Google is currently working with Levi’s to create wearable tech using traditional weaving techniques.
The apparel industry’s next steps will likely look like those taken by OMSignal, which recently began selling a sports bra whose very fabric can track its wearer’s biometric fitness data. Meanwhile, tech giant Samsung debuted at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show a golf shirt that can track your swing and tell you the weather.
But why should all this wearable tech be available only to style-minded athletes? Outside of the athletic arena, there is a slew of wearable tech being explored. A “Feel the Time” watch designed by Anna Bieniek is a “braille watch” that allows the visually impaired to read the time. Meanwhile, inventor Pedro Nakazato Andrade has designed a smart cast which uses a built-in EMG meter to track the healing of bone and muscle and upload the information online. Not to be outdone, Samsung broke ground in the non-athletic area with its WELT (a portmanteau of “wellness: and “belt”) which sends you an alert after it detects you’ve put on a few pounds.
Wearable tech could also become a player in alternative energy. For example, Argentinian industrial designer Soledad Martin has been working on a prototype to place human beings’ kinetic energy harnesses in sneakers, allowing the wearer to charge their smartphones while they run or walk. Israeli designer Rafael Rozenkranz, meanwhile, designed a jogging suit with an embedded mp3 player that runs on the kinetic energy produced while jogging.
Other design concepts fall more into the “miscellaneous” category. Diffus Design, in Copenhaen, offers a “climate dress,” which monitors nearby air pollution levels and provides feedback via LED light. When the air is more heavily polluted, lights within the dress pulsate, alerting the wearer as well as anyone else nearby. Whether this is a fashion statement, political statement, or safety gear is up to the wearer.
One thing is for certain: With so many tech giants behind this concept of the “Internet of Clothes,” wearable tech appears to have a very bright future.