Wearables have long been heralded as the future of smart technology. What used to be an industry of clunky wristwatches and headsets is not slowly becoming one centered around smart textiles. Wearables that you actually wear as clothes.
For the most part, modern wearables are still a pretty niche product. Sure fitness trackers have permeated throughout society, but how many people do you know who are using smart glasses or even keep wearing their fitness trackers forever after they buy them? This lack of use or also loss of use signals that the modern wearables industry still has a while to go until their benefits outweigh their inconvenience – and smart-textiles may just be the solution.
In order to understand what might be coming in the realm of textile smart wearable tech, let's take a look at a few trends in the industry.
Change the color of your clothes
You've probably seen shirts that can change color based on ambient lighting or heat. These forms of color-changing shirts are becoming fairly popular as they offer a way to easily set your t-shirt apart from others. This same tech is being used to create clothes that can change color on command, rather than through passive stimuli like light or body heat.
Early prototypes for this kind of technology already exist. Researchers have developed a yar that has copper wire in the center sheathed by a sleeve made of a type of polymer. The polymer sheath is laced with pigments that are already in-use in these color-changing shirts. The copper wire, rather, gives the user the ability to slightly vary the temperature of the pigment, changing its color.
As long as the microcontroller for the shirt knew the exact pattern of the textile, it could create specific patterns all across the fabric.
Know everything about your fitness
Fitness and health are key drivers of the wearables industry. It seems like a clear niche, but that doesn't mean that every single wearable in the health market would be a perfect fit. Take fitness trackers for example.
Around 30 percent of the people that buy them eventually stop wearing them. That ultimately means that the data or benefit these trackers were providing people weren't good enough for them to go out of their way to wear them.
There's another segment here too, physical improvement.
Say you're trying to improve your golf swing or kick a soccer ball better, textile-based wearables may be able to help you do that in the future.
At the end of the day, if you want to know exactly what your body is doing, the best way for you to do that is by having sensors all over your body. What more seamless way of having sensors in your body them by simply integrating them into the clothes you're already wearing.
Industrial engineers have been able to develop motion sensors that are incredibly thin and can be embedded in shoulders of shirts or into shoe soles.
The sensors could be powered by tiny watch batteries and be fairly easily integrated into any clothing that has a little bit of thickness to it. As technology gets better, these sensors will get smaller and smaller and could soon even be woven into fabric.
Fashion and wearables
Fashion and wearable technology seems like a match made in heaven. Whether it be the color-changing technology we mentioned before or textiles that light up, "smart textiles seem like the natural evolution of the smart textile industry.
Designers have already made clothes that are made from fiber optic strands which allow the wearer to control their lighted appearance with a few clicks.
OLEDs are also so small at this point that they are as thin as a normal textile fiber. This means that they can be woven into fabric and the wearer will have essentially no way of telling whether they are there unless they are on.
Charger your phone with your pants
Humans move a lot. They also let off quite a bit of thermal energy. If we had clothes that had piezo-electric cells built-in, we'd be able to harness all of that energy and make it charge our phones.
Researchers are working on ceramic plate generators that sit on your skin while being a part of a textile that you are wearing. The side close to you is warmed by your body and the other is exposed to air. This temperature differential causes the semiconductor material in the middle of the generators to diffuse electrons towards the cold side of the device, creating a voltage.
If you did this enough across the entirety of your body, you could create enough voltage to charge a battery, like a smartphone – or your other wearable technology.
Unfortunately, this type of wearable thermoelectric generator doesn't yet produce enough energy to power anything of significance. That's, however, largely due to a lack of efficiency and not due to there not being enough thermal energy let off by the human body to power devices.
Wearable textiles are headed to the forefront of wearable tech. They'll likely be cheaper than you might think too. Keep an eye out for a shirt that could help you analyze your golf swing or shoes that help you run better. Wearable technology is the future.