In the emerging Internet of Things, everyday objects are becoming networked. Clothing is no exception. It’s still early days for Web-enabled clothes – the best example so far is the Nike+ running shoe, which contains sensors that connect to the user’s iPod. But expect to see everything from your shirt to your underwear networked in the not too distant future.
In the following list of ten ‘smart clothing’ items, we showcase Internet pants, a proximity sensing shirt, a heart sensing bra, biosensor underwear, a “thought helmet”, and more!
Motion Detecting Pants
Now, we’re know what you’re thinking – it’s already pretty easy to detect ‘motion’ in pants isn’t it? Nevertheless, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg has developed a pair of pants “that detect movement and let a computer know your every move.”
These smart pants work via a loom that helps sew the wires and fabric together. Sensors embedded in the fabric measure the speed, rotation and flexibility of the pants with every movement. Wireless signals are sent from the pants to a computer to display the activity. The scientists at Virginia Polytechnic don’t yet know why this activity would be useful (to a computer), but we’re sure that use cases will arise.
Proximity Sensing Shirt
The Locked ON Proximity Sensing T-Shirt is currently available at the ThinkGeek store. It features a “radar screen” on the shirt that scans for matching shirts. If you get within a few meters of your counterpart wearing the same shirt, the radar on your shirt “locks on” and detects the other. This could be useful for love or war – the video below shows the latter scenario.
Heart Sensing Bra
Says NuMetrex Marketing Director Meg Burich, “It’s a comfortable way to wear a heart rate monitor, because we knit flexible heart sensing fibers directly into the fabric of the garment. There’s no hard plastic belt to strap around your chest.”
Smart Running Shoes
According to a report from GizmoWatch a couple of years ago, Lunar design’s BLU Jacket is a futuristic concept that could make walking billboards a reality.
Lunar Design used organic fabrics containing semiconductors in the BLU Jacket, in order to display your moods through signs and colors. This BLU Jacket also has a GPS module built into it. So if someone asks you directions, you could theoretically project a map onto your jacket’s sleeve through it’s flexible display. Or, asks GizmoWatch, “how about getting paid for displaying advertisements on your jacket?”
The Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset is for gamers and is available for $299. It’s described as “a high resolution, neuro-signal acquisition and processing wireless neuroheadset.” The headset uses a set of sensors to “tune into electric signals produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expressions and connects wirelessly to most PCs.”
According to the company, the headset can detect emotions such as anger, excitement and tension, as well as facial expressions and cognitive actions like pushing and pulling objects.
Let’s get very futuristic for a minute. Six Revisions references an article in Time from September 2008, which claims that the U.S. Army is actively pursuing “thought helmets” for secure mind-to-mind communication between soldiers. The goal “is a system where entire military systems could be controlled by thought alone. While this kind of technology is still far off, the fact that the military has awarded a $4 million contract to a team of scientists from the University of California at Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland means that we might be seeing prototypes of these systems within the next decade.”
Back to the now, and there are already a range of iPod watches available from different manufacturers. These watches let you control your iPod using your wireless watch.
RSC Publishing reported recently that US scientists have developed durable biosensors that can be printed directly onto clothing, to allow continuous biomedical monitoring outside hospitals. The aim is to enable constant monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate:
“Joseph Wang and colleagues at the University of California San Diego, La Jolla have developed a method for printing biosensors directly onto clothing. To form the sensors, Wang screen-printed carbon electrode arrays directly onto the elastic bands of mens’ underwear. The tight contact and direct exposure to the skin allows hydrogen peroxide and the enzyme NADH, which are both associated with numerous biomedical processes, to be monitored using the sensor, explains Wang.”
To round out our list, we go a level down the clothing chain and look at next generation fabrics. Delta Farm Press reports that Cornell University’s Department of Textiles and Apparel aims to develop fibers that have computing devices in them. An example use case is a shirt “made of cotton threads coated with a thin layer of semiconductor polymers and nanoparticles that conduct electric and can power your cell phone or iPod or monitor your heartbeat, brainwaves, and other functions.”
The University is also investigating “textiles that can act as sensors that could be used to detect the presence of hazardous bacteria, such as E. coli or anthrax.” A further example is smart clothes made of fibers that can change colors – “one appropriate for daytime business environment, a different one for nighttime socializing.”
One thing is for sure with all ten of these examples of ‘smart clothing’ – at least some of the clothing that we wear in the future is likely to be networked, in one form or another!
Thanks to Deane Rimerman, who provided research for this article.