Smartphones, Smartwatches and Smarthelmets
(Originally posted: 2/14/2017 at The Mav Farm Journals)
Wearable technology has been growing since clothes became a thing a million years ago (“clothes are so 1 million years ago”) and has seen a boost in popularity in recent years as products have crossed markets from military to gym training and athleisure. Wearable categories (as stated by the Sutardja Center’s Smart Clothing Market Analysis) include smart watches, fitness trackers, smart glasses, body sensors, wearable cameras, location trackers, gesture devices and smart clothing. Wearables must be “comfortably worn on the body for extended periods of time and independently powered and use microcomputers or sensors to process information.” If this is the definition we’re going with, then we can date this type of wearable technology back 30 years when people were walking around listening to music on their Walkmans. As stated in the Smart Clothing Market Analysis Report, “wearables are evolving as part of a growing trend to move data analysis and communication from the smartphone directly to the body.” Health apps like Apple’s Health, the new ‘sleep’ feature in Clock, Fitnet and hundreds of other mobile-only apps use the smartphone as the bridge between body and data. Nonetheless, as devices become smaller and technology improves, the data-collecting is shifting towards smaller wearables that fit closer to the body such as fitness trackers and smart watches, leaving the smartphone in charge of conglomerating and sharing this data. This transition is seemingly pointing towards smart clothing or at least a technology that will align perfectly with the human body since we won’t be walking around naked anytime soon. There is no doubt that the smartphone market is booming with over $400 billion in sales, but the garment industry passes $1.2 trillion, which makes a combination of the two a force we cannot ignore.
Smart clothing products are prominent in industries where consumers need personal data such as athletics, military and healthcare. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement, over 50% of sports injuries were preventable, meaning they could’ve been avoided through proper warm ups, rest, etc. Professional sport franchises lose millions of dollars every time an athlete suffers and injury. In 2014, Kobe Bryant cost the Lakers $28 million when he fractured his tibia. Similarly, the MLB lost $700 million in player salaries due to injuries. Smart clothing has the ability to reduce preventable injuries by using personal body data and allows athletes to make decisions based on predictive analytics. For similar reasons, the healthcare industry also seems like a valuable marketplace for smart clothing. Many would think that the manufacturing and construction industries were the riskiest for its workers but the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that hospital workers have the highest rate of workplace injuries, which costs hospitals millions of dollars every year. Companies like Dorsavi target the workplace safety market and create sensors that detect lower back muscle stress and fatigue. Finally, the military has been implementing smart clothing in military uniforms to monitor soldier health as well as providing battlefield information. DuPont has created flame resistant fiber that is also used amongst firefighters and Foster-Miller and Malden Mills Industries have created an under armor-like base layer that monitors the vital signs of the soldier. The rise of smart clothing in these industries all point to having the technology necessary to make accurate data-driven decisions.
If monitoring body patterns is one of the ways smart clothing is entering the market, then the action and outdoor sports market seems almost perfect for this type of technology. Over the past five years, action sports has shifted towards the data-driven world. Winter X Games 2016 partnered with Intel to bring us the “most immersive X Games experience ever”. The small device, which stuck to athletes’ boards, gave the viewers real time data of speed, height, airtime, flip and rotation in an attempt to improve the understanding of the difficulty of the trick. Companies like Trace also give users insights on their surf, wake and ski sessions, adding this information to their edits and then allowing them share these with other users around the world. It seemed hard to imagine that we would ever have this desire to add a numerical value to the trick, but now that we do… then why not? If we know action and outdoor sports enthusiasts appreciate stats, why don’t we use them to prevent injury or to control body temperature. I get cold when I ski and you probably do too. Even worse, my body temperature fluctuates from run to run. If there was a base layer that could keep me at a constant temperature throughout the day I would already have it. This could be used from everyday skiers trying to make ski lift rides more bearable to professional climbers trying to stay away from frost bite in the Himalayas. Imagine a helmet that could brace for impact depending on how high you jump, or a jacket that would deploy cushions similar to air-bags in cars. There is definitely room for smart clothing in sports, especially in the action sports community. People apparently love their own stats, so lets use these stats to improve viewing and participating experiences.