While today we’re proud to wear the latest smart watch or FitBit on our sleeves, the technology of the future could actually be the sleeves themselves. Experts believe that this techy clothing, called smart fabric, represents the next generation of wearables.
Within the next few years, we may have to change our definition of a “smart dresser.” The clothing of the future will be able to communicate with you, change its color or texture, conduct energy, or even grow larger. Tomorrow’s consumers can expect these very fashionable devices to do all this in addition to what they currently expect from their iPhones and Apple Watches — smart fabric is expected to soon become the newest generation of wearables.
The clothing’s unique capabilities will be made possible by lightweight microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators that are carefully integrated into the fabric. But while it’s exciting to think about how this bleeding-edge technology will work, what’s truly mind-boggling is the wide variety of applications and impact it could have in the very near future.
What Tomorrow’s Wearables Can Do for You
In the fashion industry, new lines of smart clothing will bring exciting new visual effects to the clothing we wear. Many of them, for instance, will use color-changing and light-up technology to make the garment more interactive, or to produce a narrative that might not otherwise have been possible. A particularly interesting example comes from Ying Ghao, a fashion designer who has created dresses that respond to eye contact. Ghao says he uses “an eye-tracking system so the dresses move when a spectator is staring.”
Meanwhile, performance-enhancing fabrics will open doors in more high-intensity fields. Military service people, professional athletes, and people in other extreme fields could use this technology to control muscle vibration and react to changing environments. But what’s perhaps most exciting is the ability to detect and regulate body temperature. Rebeccah Pailes-Freedman, a Professor of Industrial and Fashion Design at Pratt, predicts that in the future we’ll wear only one light jacket throughout the year that heats or cools us according to the outside climate.
More of What’s Better
Of course, beyond these incredible new abilities, e-textiles will also be doing what our current wearables do — just more seamlessly and invisibly. Like today’s smartwatches, many of these garments will be designed for data collection, sending information to both the user and an app’s manufacturer. But beyond just our heart rate and our daily routines, these wearables will also take our blood-glucose levels and temperatures, all without the bulk of an additional device.
And just like today, the wearables of the future will streamline the user’s day-to-day life, acting as a control center for our other devices. As we’ve written before, some e-textiles will use the wearer’s movement to charge itself or other devices, using a supercharged version of static electricity to fill its battery. And that’s only the beginning — this year, Google announced Project Jacquard, an initiative to create cloth that can turn on the lights in your house, turn up your music, and pay for your coffee. It was recently announced that Levis would be the first partner in the project.
Business leaders must keep their minds open for the possibilities that innovations in this space might bring. Wearables aren’t just something you strap to your wrist — they’re something that must be designed to fit easily into your life, a design that’s just as important as the device’s abilities. These wearables are more proof that tech works best when it successfully marries fashion and function.