Smartwatches and fitness bands are one of the hottest products of 2014. We’ve seen a dizzying array of watches from many major manufacturers, and fitness bands released by some of the biggest tech firms in the world.
The wearable tech trend isn’t about to disappear.
The wearable tech trend isn’t about to disappear, and industry analysts are predicting considerable growth over the coming years; but how many more fitness bands, and in how many different shapes and sizes, can we really expect to see? According to research from tech analysts Gartner, smartwatches will be more popular that fitness bands in 2015, with the market growing from 18 million sold this year, to 21 million.
But watches aren’t where wearables end. If Gartner’s predictions are accurate, the breakout smart wearable hit of the next few years will be the “smart garment.” The firm’s figures show smart clothing going from practically nonexistent sales this year, to more than 10 million in 2015, and 26 million in 2016. Smart wrist wear has done a fine job of grabbing our attention, but the clothing that covers it up may be next year’s hot holiday gift.
CES 2015 hints at the garments to come
A lot more watch and fitness accessory announcements at CES 2015 (which takes place in January) are inevitable, but we’re more excited to see high-tech clothing at the show, ready to set the trend for the next two years. You can already find some hints by browsing the list of CES 2015 Innovation Awards nominees.
A perfect example of next-generation wearable tech is Cityzen Sciences’ project, codename D-Shirt. Sensors which detect movement, heart rate, speed, breathing patterns, and GPS location are woven into the fabric of this high-tech shirt, which should go on sale in 2015 as both a top and a pair of cycling shorts. In development since 2012, it’s not the shirt that makes this important, it’s the fabric. By perfecting such a new forms of fabric, the technology that makes wristbands so popular may weave itself into our clothes.
“Smartshirts can hold more sensors closer to the skin,” explained Gartner’s research director to The Guardian. “They can collect more information and produce better data, like the full wave of the heart beat rather than just the pulse.”
“Smart shirts can collect more information and produce better data, like the full wave of the heart beat rather than just the pulse.”
Integrating technology into clothing doesn’t have to be about measuring fitness. The Visijax Commuter Jacket uses technology to improve a cyclist’s safety. A Teflon coating makes it waterproof, and all-round ventilation keeps the wearer cool, but this isn’t the techy part. A rechargeable battery pack powers a set of white and red LED lights, and car-style indicators which activate automatically, even if the rider has both hands on the handlebars. The Visijax uses wearable technology to solve a very real problem, and one that is becoming more widespread in cities around the world.
The AMPL SmartBackpack shares a waterproof covering, and a removable battery pack, with the Visijax, but is designed for convenience. USB cables in each pocket charge gadgets stored in the backpack — from a phone to a laptop — and an app keeps you informed of levels. It also has the ability to adjust priority and sound an alert should the bag get left behind. Calling something smart isn’t only about connecting it with a smartphone, it’s also about smartly solving problems, and keeping gadgets topped up with energy is a constant issue.
Where tech and fashion begin to meet
Outside of the CES innovation program, there are just as many exciting and unusual companies working to make our clothes smarter. LikeAGlove is one example. You order one basic piece of clothing from the company, but it’s only supposed to be worn inside the house, because it’s only for taking your exact measurements. Working with online stores, LikeAGlove will ensure the clothes you order online will fit you perfectly, taking away one of the biggest frustrations in shopping for clothes over the Internet: not being absolutely sure about sizing. The company told CNet that a production model should be ready for early 2015.
The fashion world is only now beginning to explore smart concepts, but we could start to see clothing with features similar to the Synapse Dress, in designs we could actually wear out on the street. Made using Intel’s Edison chip, the wearer could control the built-in lighting system and video camera using their brainwaves. Smart clothing is as much about fun and creativity as safety, fitness, and convenience.
Why would you want such a thing? Designer Lauren Bowker’s EEG-equipped headband will tell your clothes to change color according to your mood, making it possible to alter the shade of what you’re wearing at will. Sensible grey for the office, and a striking red for cocktails in the evening. More practically, Bowker made an ink which can detect changes in air quality, heat, moisture, and UV light. Clothes made with it will switch colors depending on the environment.
These smart clothes aren’t only for fashion-conscious adults either. The Exmobaby is a pair of smart pajamas for babies, containing a thermometer, movement sensors, and a special ECG monitor woven into the fabric. It’ll help parents keep an eye on the child’s well-being, and cleverly uses an FM transmitter to send data to an external station, keeping any electronics at a safe distance. The station also doubles as a nightlight.
Tantalizingly close to reality
Smart clothing like Bowker’s wild designs and the Synapse Dress are only fit for fashion shows and runways, but as with most clothing trends, that’s where it all starts. Don’t forget, Ralph Lauren has experimented with smart clothes; we’ve tried on attention-grabbing LED screened t-shirts, and there are performance tracking bras already. Basic smart clothes are already here.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, especially in the areas of battery power and miniaturization of hardware, before smart clothing hits the mainstream. However, we can already see smart fabrics, clothing, and inks are attracting attention from a very diverse crowd. Taking it out of the tech industry’s hands means more variety, and a better chance we’ll get something we actually want to wear everyday. If things work out as analysts expect, by the end of 2016, we’ll buy more smart clothes than any other kind of wearable tech. This year’s CES might be the place where we’ll get our first look at the trends tech fans will be wearing next year.