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The movement of continents

My Take | May 6, 2016 | By:

Have you noticed how many people are wearing Fitbits? Have you noticed, too, how they are not all plain black anymore? How attractive they are, or are not, has nothing to do with the product’s function, but it has quite a bit to do with who will wear them, and that means commercial success—or not.

The widespread acceptance of this product ( reported in November that nearly 30 million had been purchased) is an important indicator for what could be coming next. In fact, experts in the wearables field are pretty much “over” this sort of device and have moved on to smart clothes with all the capabilities of a fitbit (or its competitors) integrated right into the fibers of the textile used in making the clothes.

One of the lessons learned—or being learned—in the world of wearables, (and this includes smart protective garments) is this: people care as much about how the garment fits, feels and looks as how well it functions. If a firefighter’s protective outwear is too hot, he might just leave the jacket open and there goes some of the protection for which the jacket was designed. If a heart monitoring shirt is scratchy, too constricting, or just a weird color, the patient won’t wear it as intended, and that could put the patient in danger.

I’m not making this up. It is exactly the kind of challenge that wearables experts —and virtually anyone who deals with smart garments and protective gear—has to consider. This challenge is what’s driving an important development in this market segment. Fashion, electronics and textiles industry professionals are finally recognizing the value of collaborative alliances that could transform the way end-product customers evaluate high-tech clothing and textile-based gear. The purpose is to make sure that the technology is not developed in its own vacuum, but research about wearability, practicality, and commercial viability, too, are all figured into the equation that could equal success.

Ok, this is not breaking news—at least not for this site. What’s news is the widespread belief among industry players that advancements in smart, wearable technology will happen and will take over the market. It’s not happening nearly fast enough for some; these industries coming together is, in scope, a little like the shifting of continents. But it is happening.

The applications and markets are familiar to us: health and fitness, primarily. But there are much broader applications possible in safety and protective garments for first responders, military, police and firefighters. That’s where much of the conversation centered at the Smart Fabrics Summit held in Washington last April, an event co-sponsored by IFAI and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. (Check this site for more reports on insights gained from this event.)

These days our smart phones are with us 24-7. Tomorrow, carrying around an extra device may seem as outdated as a black and white television set in your living room (with no remote). Sooner than you may think, you’ll just put on your shirt or jacket and have all the information and connectivity you need.

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