How Biosensing Wearable Technology is Revolutionizing the Healthcare Industry – Part 2 – Apparel/Textile Wearables

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 3.55.27 PMLast week in the Engage Mobile blog we discussed the trends and dynamics of the current wearable healthcare technology market (check out our post here).  We identified the two broad categories of wearables–apparel/textiles, and devices.  

This week, we’ll explore the the apparel/textile sector in greater detail, identifying key wearable textile technologies, and how they interact with the healthcare industry.

 

Apparel Options Have Diversified to Include All Parts of the Body

From Google contact lenses that monitor glucose levels in diabetes patients, to Sensoria Smart Socks that analyze running technique, healthcare apparel has reached a level of sophistication previously found only in the world of science fiction.  


While many popular wearables (Apple Watch, Fitbit, etc.) utilize more traditional forms of compact mobile devices, the apparel and textiles wearables market consists of more avant-garde technology like smart clothing, smart tattoos, and Biostamps.

Textile-based “smart” clothing has become an increasingly important sector of wearables.  Smart clothing is made up of tiny sensors that can monitor heart rate, respiration levels, exercise techniques, etc.  Skintight and elaborate, these technologies help users plan and monitor their own exercise regimens and healthy lifestyles.  

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 3.56.40 PMA recent article explains that researchers at Ohio State University “have made another big breakthrough, managing to create embroidered circuits using metallic thread that’s just 0.1 mm thick…Depending on the pattern that’s embroidered, it’s possible to create many different useful products.” The article goes on to say that, “by embedding different patterns, the tech could be used to create everything from a t-shirt that boosts your cellphone signal, to a hat that tracks brain activity.” The possibilities and potential is incredible.

These systems are designed to integrate seamlessly into our lives and wardrobe.  As a recent Men’s Health Survey illustrates, popularity of wearables decreases as they become larger or more obtrusive (check out Engage Mobile’s recent post on this survey).  With discreteness as a goal, systems “are based on smart textile technologies, where conductive and piezoresistive materials in the form of fiber and yarn are used to realize clothes, in which knitted fabric sensors and electrodes are distributed and connected to an electronic portable unit,” according to the National Institute of Health. This apparel is designed to be comfortable, and improve patients’ quality of life.

One of the purposes of smart clothing is to monitor physiological symptoms and track patient data, which integrates into the patient-centric healthcare movement.  The benefits of these smart textiles can vary from improving exercise technique to managing pain and strain (such as the textile-based knee brace Quell Relief).  By combining innovative embroidered technology with healthcare-related functionality, the apparel/textiles wearables sector is emerging as a key player in the health space.

Apparel Sector is a Developing Industry

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 3.58.01 PMThe role of wearable technology in the healthcare industry is still being explored (check back soon for Engage Mobile’s post on the future of wearables).  The apparel/textile sector is currently less developed than the devices sector, but that will likely change.  A 2015 IDTechEx study indicated that apparel sensors will proliferate in the coming decade, both diversifying in options and growing in magnitude.  Patients, many of whom already use device-based health wearables like Fitbit, will doubtless continue to explore the wearables industry, branching into apparel and textiles.  And as that sector grows, technology functionality and patient autonomy will grow with it, ushering in a new age of patient-centric healthcare.

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