Four Commercial Uses of Smart Garments

Bose, New Balance, and others are making clothing and accessories that can help improve our lives

21 January 2019

Soon enough, your clothing and accessories might be smart enough to monitor your body temperature, prevent you from getting skin cancer, answer your questions, and keep you from getting injured on the job. Here are four items that are doing just that.

Athletic Wear

BioLogic, a research team in the Tangible Media Group within the MIT Media Lab, has created a performance fabric for athletes. New Balance uses the fabric in a new line of sportswear that regulates body temperature, thereby enhancing athletic performance. The collection includes shirts, jackets, and running tights.

BioLogic’s engineers used Bacillus subtilis natto to create the synthetic material. Cells in the bacteria expand and contract, depending on how much moisture is in the air. If there’s a high level, the cells expand to cool the organisms. The fabric gives the garments the ability to sense moisture and ventilate as needed.

Lining Yao, a former MIT graduate student who worked on the bioLogic project, told MIT News, “This garment will understand when you sweat, and it will sense and open up to release your sweat, and close up to keep you warm again. A garment can become an interface that can communicate with your body. The reason we started to explore this bacteria is that we knew that in the natural world there are a lot of smart materials that are naturally responsive.”


Bathing Suits

To help reduce overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, French clothing manufacturer Spinali Design created a smart bathing suit, Neviano, that alerts the wearer when to reapply sunscreen. Small sensors embedded in the fabric measure UV levels and send alerts via a smartphone app.


Sunglasses

Augmented-reality glasses, a new type of smart sunglasses, are hitting the marketplace.

Bose’s line of AR sunglasses uses sound instead of sight to relay information to the wearer. The glasses include a built-in microphone and open-ear headphones, which allow some outside noise to reach the ears. Wearers interact with their smartphone’s digital assistant via Bluetooth.

The wearer not only has the ability to interact with his smartphone but also can get directions. The technology combines data from embedded motion sensors on the frames with GPS information from the smartphone.


Exoskeletons

Although robots have made it easier to build cars, humans are still a vital part of the assembly process. In the final phase, workers install motors, wheels, interior trim components, and other parts—which often requires heavy lifting.

Ekso Bionics has partnered with Ford to build exoskeleton vests for those assembly-line workers.

The workers lift their arms an average of 4,600 times per day, Ford says. That can cause fatigue as well as back and shoulder pain. The EskoVest uses “passive assistance,” providing support to the upper body and arms and reducing strain on muscles. The vest has arm cuffs, arm straps, a belt, and a torso tube, which supports the worker’s back. It’s worn like a backpack.

When a worker lifts her arms, the springs in the arm cuffs kick in to provide support. She can adjust how much support she needs by rotating the arm cuffs up and using a 4-millimeter hex key to rotate the actuator. The worker also can adjust the torso tube to make sure the arm pieces are aligned with her shoulders and biceps.

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