Most of us have heard the example of wearable tech's adoption failure, where we abandon our gadgets after a few weeks to end up in our underwear drawers. But ironically, maybe this is exactly where wearable technology should be.
The team at StretchSense has been sprinting the last few months to unveil their new type of wearable stretch sensor for 2017.
Their latest new sensor boasts improved specs and is designed specifically for tight fitting undergarments like compression clothing or underwear.
Wearable technology already has strong momentum in sports thanks to the first generation of 'wristables,' smartwatches and fitness trackers worn around your wrist providing feedback like heartbeat and calories burned. However, your wrist isn't the best place to put a lot of sensors. It's not the most reliable area to take measurements of breathing, steps walked or distance ran. A survey by Gartner found high abandonment rates of wearables among consumers. In their survey, 29% of users abandoned their smartwatches and 30% abandoned their fitness trackers. For wearable technology to stick with their mainstream consumers, they need to provide information that a smartphone can't, such as body motion tracking for rehabilitation, sports coaching or immersive VR gaming. Furthermore they also need to be unobtrusive to the point of being invisible to the wearer.
In 2016 we saw this happening with wearables moving away from the wrist to gloves, shoes, smart shirts and even jewellery. But an even better idea than these examples are smart undergarments which pose several advantages.
First of all is the business advantage, not everyone is a gym bunny, but everyone from the young to the old, wear underwear. And once you have sensors that are so unobtrusively integrated that you can't tell the difference from a regular pair, you will soon forget you're wearing smart undies at all. Wearable tech will disappear into the background and be a sixth sense, collecting data about a user's posture, training technique, muscle tension and health.
Secondly there is a technological advantage: undergarments lie closest to your skin so they are excellent areas to integrate sensors so that a change in the sensors' stretch is closely coupled with a user's body movement. Consider a smart thermal shirt that has stretch sensors that can monitor a woman's posture to provide corrective feedback as she sits working at the office or during her yoga class.
Thirdly there is the aesthetic argument - although there are a community of tech enthusiasts who find the 'tech look' appealing, the other party believes wearable tech looks best when you don't know it's there . Unless you're out flaunting at the beach, no one can see your techie sports bra or motion sensing shorts and so no one knows you're wearing tech.
Fourthly, a major challenge in the smart garment industry is being able to seamlessly combine clunky hardware into soft fabric so that the user feels comfortable and the technology doesn't add extra weight. By producing textile sensors that are flexible, lightweight and can be sewn in or heat pressed in the manufacturing stage, a smart compression shirt can be produced in one process. Furthermore with the advent of flexible PCB's it's possible to make stretch sensors into smart transducers and integrate microcontrollers into the soft sensors themselves to remove the need of clunky electronics or analogue signalling.
The essential features that are needed in a successful 'underwearable' are sensors that can provide repeatable and precise data while being invisible to the wearer. At StretchSense, the team have developed their wearable stretch sensors to be just that. These sensors are highly sensitive, thin and can be heatpressed or glued into garments. Smart transducer developments are currently in progress for their next generation of sensors.
Source and top image: StretchSense
Learn more at the next leading event on the topic: Printed Electronics Europe 2017 on 10 - 11 May 2017 in Berlin, Germany hosted by IDTechEx.