Today we have a sea of wearable devices available to monitor (in a still perfectible way) our heart rates, steps, sleep cycles and physical exercises.
In our future, however, there is 'diagnostic' clothing. Smart fabrics will be able to record super-precise metrics when needed, from the most crucial points of our body.
Smart clothing: medicine to wear
Smart fabrics incorporate flexible electronics into clothing to offer better tracking capabilities than smartwatches.
The first avant-garde in the sector dates back to 2017: Levi's collaborated with the Google's Jacquard project to make a smart jacket. Wearing it, users can remotely control their phones to answer calls and play music. At the time of launch, the jacket cost around 300 euros. A new version in 2019 reduced the price to 180 €
In November, the CTO of the brand H&M said that the company will explore ways to make their apparel "smarter". They designed a jacket that can detect heart rate, hydration levels and body temperature. A panel of customers surveyed, however, showed some skepticism.
While the fashion houses are geared up, healthcare is progressing
If the 'mainstream' clothing sector is figuring out how to do it, that of health care is already aiming decisively at e-textiles. Several startups have already launched products for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes. And clothing with built-in sensing systems for things like heart arrhythmias can provide people with information to avoid future illnesses.
Wearing clothes is an inevitable component of daily life, and designers see significant potential to develop current clothing with technology that can accurately monitor one's health.
Clothing, in theory, is more comfortable to wear than most medical devices, and this will cause people to monitor their condition more regularly, anticipating health risks.
The difference between a traditional heart rate monitor and a smart jersey is gigantic. Today we apply sensors to the skin, tomorrow we will simply wear a jersey in the morning, and stop. A huge strength.
Some current and already present applications
Siren, a startup based in San Francisco, created a sock with built-in electronics which measures the temperature of the foot and sends information to a smartphone app. Overheating of an area can be a sign of inflammation or injury: in case of out-of-scale values, the patient can send the information directly to their doctor to evaluate a treatment.
Neopende, another startup that focuses on smart clothing, has created a wearable monitor (in a cloth cap) for the vital signs of the newborn. Is called neoGuard, and aims to help people in countries where the infant mortality rate is highest. Doctors can receive alerts when a child needs treatment, as detected by heart rate, temperature, and respiratory data. A useful device in countries where there is no easy access to traditional healthcare, because it does not need the internet.