We need only look to the recent Commonwealth games to see how the right choice of advanced fabrics and sportswear can hand a team an edge. We talk, of course, of the so-called skinsuits. Developed in the lab, these suits started life as 3D printouts of each sports person’s body, this was then used to rigorously test and retest aerodynamics. Eventually this led to a custom made, optimally aerodynamic suit for each team member.
For time immemorial sportsmen and women have relied on technology, from training to what they wear on the track, to get an edge. And compared to the tomorrow of smart clothing technology, today’s skinsuits could pale into insignificance. Let’s look at just where we could be heading…
Right now, smart sportswear is in infancy, yet leaps and bounds are being made – including the embroidering of circuits into fabric, the development of printable, transparent sensors and smart fabrics that regulate body temperature, reduce wind resistance and control muscle vibration. And it’s not just the sporting world being shaped by smart wear – as space travel and even health and beauty are being led by clothing that could one day protect against radiation, release drugs, slow aging and even make you smell nice!
“What makes smart fabrics revolutionary is that they have the ability to do many things that traditional fabrics cannot, including communicate, transform, conduct energy and even grow”.
– Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman – Associate Professor at the Pratt Institute, and author and researcher on smart textiles and wearable technologies
From Firefighting to Healing Wounds?
US-based company Globe are showing the world how it’s done when it comes to smart clothing in extreme environments. Their technology is already demonstrating what it can do in the line of duty – both as a soldier and a firefighter – tracking heart rate, core body temperature, respiration rate, posture and many other elements – all of which offers situational awareness (which is also a key ingredient for improving athletic performance).
“In the health sector, wound management costs the NHS in Wales around 6% of its budget. With the smart technology available to us, it will be possible to reduce the cost of treatment significantly and enable wounds to heal faster”.
– Chris Hunt, Leader of the Electronic Interconnect team at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
Moving onwards and upwards: The tomorrow of smart sportswear
Smart sports clothing is amongst the most advanced realms of wearables when it comes to mainstream adoption. Now, we must look beyond smart trainers and sweat resistant clothing, onto brave advancements in biometrics and the monitoring of fitness levels. One company doing just that is UK Smartlife – a primarily medical based company, with tech that’s promising wide-ranging progress in the world of sports.
“When we were founded, our focus was on making garments that could be used in medical trials,” explains Martin Ashby, the company’s COO. “We wanted to be able to monitor patient’s vital signs in a normal environment to better understand how the drugs they were testing were working, as well as save time and cut the expense of having to use laboratories”.
– Martin Ashby, UK Smartlife COO
In a backward situation to that of UK Smartlife, is another company – Sensoria. Their smart socks, which are infused with sensors that monitor foot pressure, were developed for the sports world. They’ve since discovered that their product could ultimately lead to monitoring elderly patients who may be at risk of falling.
“Demand for smart textiles is being driven by users not wanting to have to wear more devices. Most people, we believe, will be willing and open to wearing biometric sensing garments”.
– Davide Vigano – Founder and CEO of Sensoria
It seems the future of smart sportswear isn’t only the stuff of medal dreams, but is in fact a technology that could influence a previously underestimated number of industries. The potential could mean much, for the old, the young, the professional sports person and the novice.