Everything is getting smarter. We have smartphones. We're slowly working towards a world with smart infrastructure, via 5G technologies. We have wearable electronic devices like watches and headpieces that connect with our other smart gadgets. Children are growing up knowing digital devices all their lives, learning as they grow instead of deciphering them at a later point in life.
It doesn't seem too far-fetched to imagine that in the future, even our clothing will be “smart.” We're already wiring up clothes with LED lights and a few basic sensors, so that future isn't too far off now. However, there are a few challenges to go along with the possible benefits.
First, let's take a look at one of the more practical challenges that smart clothing would have to face: production issues. The textile and clothing industries rely on things like cotton measuring and cutting devices and single knitting machines to mass-produce the clothes we wear. These are specialized devices. While they can be adjusted to accommodate designs, they're not built to add wires and other electronic components directly into the clothes.
Manufacturing processes are going to change if smart clothing is going to become a more extensive part of the world. Smart fashions will require components woven or knit right into the clothes, and that isn't always possible given existing machines and technologies. Some smaller parts might be easy enough to slip into the production process, but more extensive changes could require entirely new industrial machinery.
Powering the Tech
The other big challenge is power. All those devices, all that technology, means nothing without electricity to power them. In most cases, at the bare minimum, you'll need some manner of onboard ability to store the current. For most, you'll prefer having a battery. Of course, that battery has to be integrated into the clothing itself, rather than something that stands out. It has to look seamless among the seams and threads of the apparel.
Batteries are the most common solution, of course. However, batteries have a few weaknesses. In particular, they can often be hard to seal away from water, which is something that will need to change because people prefer to clean their clothes.
There is also the fact that as more functionality is added, more power is consumed. Small batteries need to pack quite a bit of punch if they want to keep those functions operating, yet they must also avoid being bulky or too visible against the clothing itself.
Of course, it isn't all challenges. There are rewards that can make smart clothing worth the effort and the changes required to make them work. Chief among these is going to be new, real-time data for individual health.
Sensors for Everything
Smart clothing can be wired with all manner of sensors. These could pick up anything from your heart rate to your body temperature. All of this data can be relayed through a short-range connection to a separate processing device, giving you a real-time picture of your overall physical health. This information might even be accessed by your physician, giving them a view of your health status over an extended period and not just when you choose to get a physical.
Of course, the sensors can pick up other things too. It might detect anything that's moving close to you and send warnings through a separate device, like Google Glass. You can weave in sensors to pick up things like humidity, temperature, direction, and speed. This could provide new functions for existing smart devices, or allow for integrating them right into the latest fashions.
IoT onnectivity, though, is going to be the main benefit. Data is going to be collected and transferred for processing, even by your own clothing.
Systems in your running attire might download songs or audiobooks wirelessly and then stream it into the earpieces you wear. It might download messages from your social media contacts, allowing you to stay updated while outdoors without ever looking at your phone. It might even synchronize with global clocks to keep the most accurate time possible.
It could pick up updates over a wireless connection the way your phone does, allowing you to keep informed and notified of things like news or notifications. Some might even go full sci-fi and let you use your clothes as an interface to control your other electronics. The day might come when your fancy little black dress also becomes a communications device that lets you message your friends or update your status on social media.
Clothing can also act as a way to access GPS satellites. Through this, you can get updated directions wherever you go. You might never get lost again.
The new world that smart clothing promises are coming. The technology is coming into existence, and it merely needs to overcome the challenges that stand before it. There are many benefits coming, as soon as we figure out how to get tech running and make it accessible to everyone.