Clothing is no longer just fashion. It is now expected to make a
person better, not merely better looking. Embedded sensors and
specially treated fabrics will soon be a standard part of a
person's health regimen.
First to hit the general market is Nike+, a suite of shoe and
wristband sensors that monitor athletic performance by pairing the
sensors to apps running on smartphones and iPods or Kinect for Xbox
360. AT&T is pushing for partners to track people's vital signs
through wireless sensors embedded in clothing. Northumbria
University in Newcastle, UK, recently opened P3i, a research center
to develop 'smartware' to treat medical conditions, 'senseware' to
detect medical problems and technology-embedded 'bioware'. These
are just a few of the many efforts now underway. Expect also more
everyday applications, such as a handbag that can point you in the
Some of these smart clothing innovations are just the latest
development in the broader arena of personal informatics, which is
the growing trend of people tracking their own personal data in
order to improve their health or effectiveness. Wired co-founder
and tech guru Kevin Kelly has dubbed it the "quantified self" and
maintains a blog by that name on the latest technological
developments and new ways of putting personal information to
Smart clothing brings personal informatics to a whole new level.
Monitoring becomes easier as data are wirelessly and continuously
uploaded. Algorithms and rules-based evaluative systems can respond
in real-time with alerts and notifications. And not only for health
but for all physical activities, from getting to work to running
errands to playing golf to managing energy levels.
These new smart fabrics will be even stronger guardians of
health when also treated with newly developed anti-microbial
technologies that can render clothing permanently germ-free.
Ridding clothing of residual bacteria and germs is something many
detergents, like Ariel Antibac, promise already. But fabrics that
come pretreated to prevent germs from adhering in the first place
will, like smart sensors, create more of the sort of convenience
that will make wearables more popular as a way to nurture and
manage health in the future.