Goodbye fitness bands: Soon, motion sensors will be woven right into our clothes

XelfleX
Cambridge Consultants developed a new smart textile that could make the smart clothing we currently only dream of a reality. It’s called XelfleX (it’s pronounced ex-el-flex, apparently), and by using a special fiber optic thread to track movement, it turns the very fabric of our clothes into a motion sensor.

The thread is thin, light, and flexible, plus it’s water resistant and won’t be damaged by washing, which makes it suitable for clothing worn everyday. Woven into tight fitting garments, each fiber optic thread can hold up to ten sensors, which recognize flexing joints and other movements. It can also send signals to a small power pack, then on to a smartphone. From here, custom algorithms interpret and analyze the data.

While we tend to think only about fitness tracking when considering smart clothes, XelfleX technology goes way beyond knowing how many steps we take. For example, it could be used to monitor and then train us to make a perfect golf swing, or deliver a beautiful tennis backhand, because it knows exactly where we’re going wrong.

It doesn’t only have sporting uses either. The growing interest in VR environments means a convenient, lightweight, and precise system to interpret body movements could be suitable to control next-generation games. There is also a need in healthcare for a system to accurately measure body movement in people recovering from serious injuries.

Beyond this wide variety of uses, XelfleX’s real breakthrough could be in making smart clothing actually wearable. Style is paramount, and for smart clothing to be accepted by regular people, it needs to be almost identical to its less-than-clever counterpart. It shouldn’t cost four times the price either. Cambridge Consultants’ Martin Brock, who invented XelfleX, says the sensor will allow companies to make smart clothing that is “low cost, durable, useful, and attractive to wear.”

We’ll have the chance to see XelfleX, and give it a try, at CES 2015.

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