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Shin Park

Wearable Stretch Sensors Making Underwear Into ‘underwearables’ In 2017

Most of us have heard the example of wearable tech’s adoption failure, where our abandoned gadgets end up in our underwear drawers after a few short weeks. Ironically, however, this may be exactly where wearable technology should be.

Our team has been sprinting the last few months to unveil our new type of stretch sensor for 2017.

stretch sensors, smart garment, fabric sensors, stretchsense, smart clothing

Boasting improved specs, our latest sensor 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, as 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, with 29% of users abandoning smartwatches and 30% abandoning fitness trackers.1

For wearable technology to stick with mainstream consumers, it needs to provide information that a smartphone can’t, such as body motion tracking for rehabilitation, sports coaching or immersive VR gaming. Furthermore, they 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 jewelry. But an even better idea than these examples is 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 — wears underwear. 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 act like a sixth sense, collecting data about a user’s posture, training technique, muscle tension and health.

Secondly, there is a technological advantage. Undergarments lie close to your skin, so they are excellent places to integrate sensors so that a change in stretch is closely aligned with a user’s body movement. Consider a smart thermal shirt that has stretch sensors monitoring a woman’s posture, providing corrective feedback as she sits working at the office or during her yoga class.

Next is the aesthetic argument. Although there is 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 no one knows you’re wearing tech.

Finally, 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 or heat-pressed in at the manufacturing stage, a smart compression shirt can be produced in one process. With the advent of flexible PCBs, it’s even possible to make stretch sensors into smart transducers and integrate microcontrollers into the soft sensors themselves, removing the need for clunky electronics or analog signaling.

The essential features required for a successful ‘underwearable’ are sensors that can provide repeatable and precise data while being invisible to the wearer. At StretchSense, we’ve developed our stretch sensors to be just that. These sensors are highly sensitive, thin and can be heat-pressed or glued into garments. Smart transducer developments are currently in progress for our next generation of sensors, so keep an eye out and get in touch with us for more information about our developments.

1. Moore, S. (2016, December 7) Gartner Survey Shows Wearable Devices Need to Be More Useful. Retrieved from: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3537117

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