Smart textiles or intelligent clothing are becoming ever more important. Slowly but surely they are entering the sports world and are here to stay. Applications and advantages are numerous and should lead to better performances of the average elite and amateur athlete.
What are smart and intelligent textiles?
You may not see it but slowly but surely new highly advanced textiles are entering the streets, skislopes and sports arenas. They are called smart textiles. But what are they? Let me first tell you that smart textile is kind of an all-purpose word and hence it is not always easy to give a straight definition. However, for the purpose of this article I try to give it anyway. Smart textiles canprobably best defined as fabrics that can sense the environment (whether being thermal, mechanical, electrical, magnetic or whatever other source) on the one hand and react and respond to it on the other hand.
Seamlessly integrating electronics and sensors
Hence to make it easy on you, it refers to fabrics that seamlessly integrate digital components and electronics such as for example sensors. Basically it is nothing more or less than an integration of electronics, software, textile and clothing.
I am sure you are aware of all kind of wearables such as tracking bands and watches of household names such as Fitbit, Nike, Polar, Garmin and Runtastic. Increasingly the functions of these wearables can be taken over by smart textiles. They offer the same functionality as wearables and in many cases are or will be even more precise and better than that. However, wearables such as watches and glasses, will stay around. Why? Because in many cases the user want to read/view what sensors in textiles are measuring. Hence it could well be that more and more manufacturers in both fields (textiles and wearables) will start to cooperate.
Smart textiles will result in great benefits for athletes
For both amateur and elite athletes smart textiles will bring some great benefits. We discuss 4 areas where smart textiles play an important role and have the potential to improve the performance of the athlete.
Also interesting to read: the evolving modern athlete
Performance and data analysis
As known maximizing human performance is an important element in professional sports. Obviously also amateurs are looking to improve and monitor their performance. For both groups data can provide important input on current and future performance. So far the wearables market has benefitted from this trend. Watches or strapbands equipped with sensors are able to deliver all kind of different data varying from heart rate, GPS related distance covered, accelerating speed, body temperature and a whole array of different parameters.
Undoubtedly you have seen it on television; rugby players carrying this little box which fits into a small pocket player’s jersey between the shoulder blades. This box is linked to a heart rate monitor and both elements download information to a docking station which can be viewed during and after matches by coaches and sports scientists. Imagine what big data analysis and Artificial Intelligence can do to player performance! Coaches and trainers will precisely know what a player will be capable of.
Increasingly, these kind of sensors will be integrated into costumes which can record temperature, sweat and muscle movement and even in the future the athlete’s emotional response (scientists are currently experimenting with for example Galvanic Skin Response techniques in order to realise this). In any case, data is to many people the new gold (it will become an important source of revenues for elite athletes in the future) and it is for sure smart textiles will play an important role in delving this gold. Wether it is for improving skills or fitness levels, avoiding injuries (see health) or deploying the right players.
Also interesting to read: how sensors are positively transforming the world of sports
Not surprisingly, there are many sensors that can measure body functions and biomechanics whether it is heart rate , breathing, lung capacity and perspiration or the movement of muscles and joints. This information provides extremely useful data to the athlete. Not surprisingly these sensors will increasingly be integrated into smart textiles. Think of smart stretchy textiles with built-in strategically placed ECG, respiration and physical activity sensors.
Smart clothing products for sports hence have the potential to reduce or eliminate a lot of injuries or reduce the risk of overexercising. Furthermore, applications having big data capabilities might be able to predict injuries before they happen, based on Artificial Intelligence based analytics . That should help the athlete big time! This way he might be able to extend his career or alternatively you as an athlete will have fewer injuries. Your boss will love it!
But there is much more in the pipeline. Stress levels can be measured, there are new materials protecting cyclists for skin injuries when falling, integrating 4D pressuring systems. How about compression textiles designed to aid circulation and muscle recovery? They can provide an appropriate medium for carrying large numbers of sensors close enough to the wearer’s skin, to pick up the weak electrical signals generated by physical effort. Also analysing posture and technique (see item below) can be an important tool in avoiding future injuries.
Training and technique
Integrated sensors in smart textiles can basically measure anything. Posture, body and arm movement, biometrics, heart rate etc. Measuring means data and info and athletes and coaches are making use of it in order to improve the performance of the athlete but also of his/her technique. Me and you will also benefit, because we will be able to use this technology as well or we can make use of the data gathered by an elite athlete.
Watch for example this great video from Arion.run!
Here it is perfectly illustrated what you can expect as far as running concerned. Your shoes are your friend and your buddy here! They measure basically everything varying from stride, balance, distance, cadence, stability…..you name it! While running your headphone gives you info on how you can improve your running technique. This one still has a separate sensor but no doubt, it is a matter of time and the whole thing will be integrated in the shoe.
Under Armour is another company aiming at this market. It built a chip into the sole of its new Hovr running shoe, which provides direct feedback on cadence via the “Map my Run” app. Put your running shoes on and running will be a different experience from now on!
If you think this is the only innovation, look at the product below from Wearable X. They are called smart yoga pants. These have accelerometers and vibrating motors woven into the fabric around the hips, knees and ankles that gently vibrate and give you instruction on how to move and what the correct position is. It is your perfect yoga teacher at the time you wish and against a much lower price. What more do you want! Again a perfect example of what innovation can do. Smart out of the box thinking, which brings yoga to your home.
Running and yoga are not the only sports, which will benefit from smart clothing. Basically every sport, in which body movement is of importance, sooner or later will benefit; whether smart sensors related to the golf- or tennis-swing or throwing a javelin, there are loads of opportunities
Don’t you hate it, those straps tied around your waist? They never feel comfortable, but you need them anyway if you want to have a detailed read out of your performance. Well, I have some good news for you! They won’t be around for much longer. The new generation of smart textiles will take over. Equipped with sensors and/or interwoven yarns they will be able to measure the same and much much more.
More comfort means better performance, it is as simple as that! But it is not only the absence of the strap which will make life easier for the athlete. Integrated sensors in textiles can easily adjust temperature, which will make you feel more comfortable during your physical activities.Watch the video below!
How about an intelligent heat ski jacket? A sensor measures the difference between body temperature and the temperature you like to have. If it is getting too cold, the jacket will be heated, either powered by solar cells or a power bank. Imagine what this will do to your pleasure on the slopes! Moreover, it will be easy to power up your mobile phone. No doubt it will help you last longer on the skislopes, so you can train in a more comfortable way! Similarly, you can expect cooling liquids in textiles in hot summer conditions. Great news for marathon runners!
Well, in any case smart textiles will change the life of athletes for the better! If you have any comments or additions, please share!