Healthcare applications for the fabrics of the future
More than ever, society increasingly focuses on fitness and well being. Indeed, the health sector alone is a multi-billion dollar industry and one where technological advancement is thriving. One such development is wearable technology, which includes clothes that closely monitor our health, alert us when things go wrong and enhance our general fitness performance. With this in mind, we’re going to look at some of the issues surrounding the subject of wearable technology: what it is, how it can be modified and the reasons why it could prove to be so popular with the public.
Largely due to the recent boom in products like the Apple watch and Fitbit, most people know about wearable technology. Multifunctional gadgets like these have helped revolutionize the way we monitor our health by tracking the number of steps we walk, the quality of the sleep we’re getting and other additional personal metrics. So what’s next for this growing market? Can we expect to move away from the smart watch phenomena and transform these gadgets into garments? For many experts, the answer is yes.
Indeed, there’s certainly a market for such “smart garments”, with future projections predicting a growth rate from 100,000 units shipped in 2014 to 26 million units shipped in 2016.
Wearables wired in to your well being
One of the ways that future fabrics may alter our daily lives is through their ability to supervise our overall health. Consequently, you could end up sporting a t-shirt tailored to your heart rate or a blouse that checks your blood pressure. Currently, the target market is predominately outpatients or professional athletes, the type of customers that would require consistent medical monitoring.
For outpatients who have a certain condition, repeat visits to the hospital can be a massive inconvenience, so what if they could monitor their own blood pressure, any strange swelling or other unusual physiological fluctuations without a trip to the doctor? In these cases, smart garments would essentially enable “remote healthcare” and could transform the lives of millions of people who are suffering with ongoing medical disorders. Moreover, professional athletes who train on a daily basis would equally benefit from these state-of-the-art wearable technologies that could monitor their heart rate, their breathing and overall performance.
It’s already happening
Smart garments aren’t some futuristic fad that should be the subject of some far-fetched sci-fi movie; they’re absolutely real and achievable. Indeed, a selection of mind-boggling clothing has already been developed to benefit people all over the world, from newborns to athletes. For instance, the “baby onesie” tracks a baby’s breathing, its movement and temperature with built-in sensors to minimize the risks of sudden infant death syndrome. Other existing smart garments act as fitness coaches and work to monitor a runner’s performance in real time via mobile apps. Many prevailing clothing items also observe heart rates and can even assess the severity of blows to the head (in cases like boxing) and can consequently alert people close by to check whether the wearer has sustained any serious injury. Other attire like those found at www.tommiecopper.com/men/recovery can even help to improve muscle recovery and diminish the amount of sweat an athlete produces. By tightly contouring certain parts of the body, these garments can keep muscles warm and prevent them from straining.
How could it work?
Where smart bands slip around our wrists and can easily be removed, clothing is a different matter altogether. For one, we require ultimate flexibility in our garments. We want to be able to move freely with little restriction, so these garments need to be comfortable, and we have to be able to wash them should they get dirty. With these things in mind, developers are experimenting with a variety of solutions to create clothing that looks and acts like “real” clothes but simultaneously carries out their futuristic functions. One way to accomplish this is to integrate electronics directly into the fabric by weaving in sensors made of textile so that they can blend in as normal. Others are hoping to print complex circuits into existing clothing, which has already been demonstrated on a diverse range of materials, including cotton, polyester and linen.
We live in exciting times and the sky really is the limit. Who knows, the phrases “looking smart” or “smarten up” might have a whole new meaning in several years time when we’re showing off high-end couture with circuits and wooly jumpers woven with wires. Here’s to a fabriculous future!