Wearables Beyond The Wrist Band

Danielle Beurteaux

How will we wear our technology?

Right now Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has a show called “#techstyle” (you know it’s futuristic because of the hashtag). It’s an exhibit that examines how fashion and technology are becoming increasingly more intertwined, particularly as designers and scientists and technologists are collaborating to create clothes that are inventive, if not particularly practical (or obtainable – one piece took 300 hours to print).

But for an innovation that might make it into our closets soon, look to Google. Last fall, it announced its smart textile initiative. Called Project Jacquard, its aim is to integrate technology directly into fabrics. Making wearables almost invisible could be the key to making them ubiquitous.

Wristbands and watches were only the first step of the wearable revolution. Eventually, technology will be integrated into everyday textiles so that it’s undetectable. Is that a shirt button or a smart device? Both.

Here are some of the most interesting developments that will usher in the next generation of wearables.

1. Project Jacquard

Google’s Project Jacquard is interesting because the goal is to incorporate technology into textiles with conductive yarn that can be woven on standard industrial equipment. That means several things: textile factories wouldn’t need to be refitted or invest in technology just for wearables; designers and people who work with fabrics would still have a lot of choice and control over the textiles they use; and end users, the consumers buying the shirt or jeans, might not even be aware of the tech built into their clothes. Another component of this project is to make the technology that interacts with the textiles small enough so that it’s not obvious or a burden.

Denim company Levi’s is reportedly on track to include Project Jacquard textiles in a collection this year.

2. Connected performance wear

Athletic wear company Under Armor is aggressively pursuing connected technology in performance wear, aiming for separate pieces that actually work in concert. They’ve bought a few companies to help them do that plus track data. So much data, by replacing one-purpose devices for a 180-degree view.

3. Musical tablecloths

Swedish company Smart Textiles recently debuted its smart tablecloth, which has piano keys and a drum printed on the fabric. When you touch a key, for example, it activates the “piano.” It’s made from a combination of conductive fibers and laminate and uses sense-conductive coupling to work.

4. Self-cleaning nano-fabrics

Researchers at Melbourne, Australia’s RMIT University have created a textile containing nanostructures which self-cleans. The nanostructures are actually grown on the fabric. When exposed to light, they heat up and clean any organic particles. The next steps are creating industrial-sized batches and also experimenting with different, common stain-makers. Will they be able to vanquish red wine stains?

5. Antelope suit

The antelope suit was introduced by Germany company Wearable Life Science in 2015. The suit was designed for athletes and boasts built-in electrodes that purportedly augment a workout’s effects by targeting different muscles and stimulating them. The electrodes are woven directly into the textile, which is made from compression fabrics (a close fit to the body is required). Data is then sent to an app.

The Internet of Things is not only a technology challenge; it’s also a people challenge. Learn How to Rewire the Organization for the Internet of Things.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.