It is not uncommon to have a favorite bra, or a lucky pair of pants. The pair you wear when your fingers are crossed for a really good day. Now, innovations in E-Textiles and Smart Clothing have taken this phenomenon to the next level. Imagine a pair of pants that can play your party playlist when you get too sad, or a bra that can turn down the thermostat when your indoor workout raises your temperature.
Most sensors for biometrics need skin contact, and textiles are a ubiquitous interface with the body. The technology largely restricts use in loose-fitting clothing, as constant skin contact is needed for reliable electrode-based heart rate monitoring (HRM), making the close fit of underwear the perfect candidate. Today, HRM is one of the most common features in e-textile apparel for biometric monitoring. It can be deployed as simple HRM in beats per minute, or in biopotential data towards a full ECG.
Companies at the Y-front of this technology
A prominent player in the development and commercialization of e-textiles is Myant, who cover many different technology areas, product types, and potential markets.
Their product options include many different garments for biometric monitoring, including their SKIIN brand for the consumer approach (e.g. biometrics in underwear), but also biometric monitoring products in the healthcare and medical space, including shirts for monitoring blood pressure, partnership with Zoll on their "LifeVest" wearable defibrillator, knee braces with electrical stimulation and heating, and so on.
The sensors in Skiin garments feed data back to the matching Skiin App, running on the Myant Platform, which analyses your data and provides you with advice about lifestyle changes to improve your wellbeing. There is also the option to share this information with your "Care Circle"; a useful feature for those requiring support.
When IDTechEx interviewed Myant in January 2019, their CEO Tony Chahine advised that their main efforts in 2018 had been in achieving FDA approval for their products. He said that they wanted to do this "whether the products will ultimately be for medical use or not", using the FDA approval to prove the validity and reputation of the products and brand.
The best example of progress in this field is their partnership with Mayo Clinic, focusing on cardiac health. Chahine advises that 2.5 million users have been measured on their platform. They work with Mayo Clinic via a licensing arrangement, and it is likely that the data from Mayo Clinic deployment will be critical in the ultimate FDA process.
Myant underwear currently measures: continuous monitoring of electrocardiography (ECG)*, stress level, sleep quality, activity, temperature, stationary time, among other metrics, and posit this as one of the most efficient and reliable ways to potentially prevent health issues.
Future updates to the Skiin app will unlock additional potential from the Myant Platform, enabling users to subscribe to services such as slip & fall detection, driver fatigue monitoring, ovulation tracking, atrial fibrillation detection**, and other features. Myant is actively engaging partners to help develop the ecosystem on both the textile interface side (i.e. apparel, environments) as well as the algorithm and outcomes side.
* Under FDA pre-submission process
** Currently investigative feature only and not for sale under any jurisdiction.
Since being interviewed, Myant has won the CES 2020 Innovation Award, an annual competition honoring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products.
E-textiles carrying out biometric monitoring has the potential for vital applications beyond the consumer. One company with biometric monitoring apparel products is ChronoLife, who have developed a smart shirt for measuring vital signs, targeted for medical use. As well as monitoring vital signs, the product could work as a diagnostic tool, predicting cardiac events.
Another such company is Hexoskin, who have been heavily involved with Canadian Space Agency projects around vital sign monitoring for astronauts. They have taken the product used for this and sell it for various vital signs monitoring applications on earth, including use for medical monitoring. This product is called Astroskin. However, whilst the product can certainly be used for high-quality monitoring of vital signs, the accreditations and approvals do not necessarily overlap between the space projects and use in hospitals. Whilst the quality of the product is certainly good enough to pass medical standards tests, this is not the same as a formal commercial validation and regulatory approval. Therefore, it is likely that these products will remain largely prominent in research applications primarily, rather than expecting wider-scale medical deployment with higher volumes. They are also deployed in the context of sports and fitness products.
Even socks can be smart enough to contribute to your health, with Siren's Socks and Foot Monitoring System track foot temperature, sending information to your doctor to help them track issues related to inflammation - a potentially life-changing technology for people with health issues such as neuropathy and diabetes.
For an even closer relationship to technology, some smart underwear can now even train you. Carin have developed a training app and wearable sensor for strengthening pelvic floor muscles. This is designed as a solution for stress incontinence, something commonly brought about by childbirth or menopause which will affect one in three women in their lifetimes.
The future of smart underwear
The future of e-textile technologies could take these processes even further. Connected to a smart home system, smart underwear could be programmed to play soothing music when it senses stress, or start the kettle when your hydration level drops. As our relationship to technology grows ever more intimate, what could your underwear do for you?
IDTechEx's latest report on the E-Textiles Market, "E-textiles and Smart Clothing 2020-2030: Technologies, Markets and Players", predicts that the industry will be worth over $1.4bn by 2030. For more information on this report and related research, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/etextiles.
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Top image: Caption: Skiin Women Shortie Spring 2021. Source: Myant