Powered With Printable Electronics and Sensors, Smart Apparel Is Reaching for Stretch Goals

Technology, textile and electronics companies are merging their expertise to create smart workout gear.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The prototype shirt includes a small hard plastic disk containing sensors and a battery. The disk is roughly the diameter and thickness of an Oreo cookie (perhaps not the best analogy for workout clothes) and connects to the shirt's integrated circuitry via an interface well known in the apparel world: conventional metal snaps. The disk can be removed before the shirt is laundered. Were the shirt not a prototype but an actual marketable product, it would be sold with a smartphone app used to collect the biometric data and provide goal-setting features or helpful hints designed to improve exercise performance.

Burrows said three possible use cases for DuPont's screen-printable electronic inks in apparel applications are for environmental monitoring, health-care applications and performance enhancement—through products such as the prototype sensor-integrated workout shirt. Of these applications, performance enhancement appears to be the furthest developed so far.

The shirt contains temperature and motion sensors, attached on the inside.
Sensoria, another smart apparel startup, employs a conductive yarn to weave socks with integrated pressure sensors that, when paired with an ankle cuff containing an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a Bluetooth radio, can track a runner's cadence and speed, as well as determine where she tends to put the most pressure on her feet. Using a smartphone app, the runner can also set cadence or speed goals, which the app can audibly guide her toward reaching in real time. Certain types of foot-fall pressure, such as striking down on the heel rather than landing on the ball of the foot, can cause injury over time. The Sensoria app is designed to alert runners who tend to heel-strike, and to coach them toward landing more in the center of their feet.

In addition, Sensoria sells a sports bra for women and workout shirts for men, all of which come with a fitness sensor that can be removed for laundering. At the conference, Davide Vigano, Sensoria's CEO, said the company's long-range vision is to become an enabler for integrating sensing capabilities into apparel made by large, established clothing brands.

"We want to be the Gore-Tex of wearables," Vigano said.

An earlier version of this story said that DuPont's stretchable inks were used in a shirt produced through a collaboration between apparel brand Ralph Lauren and Montreal-based startup OMsignal. This was incorrect and we regret the error.

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