A few weeks ago, I came across an interview that Lauren Goode of Re/code did with Intel’s head of new devices, Mike Bell. Bell answered questions about a ‘smart shirt’ that Intel is developing with a company called AiQ Smart Clothing. AiQ makes the shirt — with sensors made out of conductive fibers — and Intel supplies a small box that connects to the shirt and contains Intel’s Edison chip and firmware (codename: Gossamer) to provide Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities.
The heart data gathered by the shirt can then be transmitted to a tablet or smartphone where it’s visually represented in various ways. With Intel’s 3G cellular capability, the same data could be shared with a personal cloud or even a private cloud- one owned by a healthcare provider, for example, which has an interest in monitoring the data.
The whole idea of smart clothing piqued my interest in other innovations related to fabrics and clothing. The research that followed resulted in my finding an assortment of advanced work in the field. Phase-change fabrics, for example, involved the addition of paraffin (or other organics) to adjust to changing temperatures. They allow heat to escape when it’s warmer and to hold heat when it’s colder.
Other examples include what are called microencapsulated fabrics in which other substances are added for a variety of purposes. Examples include adding silver to fabric to absorb and reduce odor (in thermal underwear on long, high altitude treks, for example), aloe vera added to clothing for comfort, and the use of chromic materials which cause fabrics to react in different ways to changes in lighting, levels of UV radiation exposure and pH with which the fabric comes into contact.
For obvious reasons, well-known apparel companies such as Nike and Addidas are leading much of the research in the field. Kering, owners of Gucci and other brands, has a Materials Innovation Lab that focuses on sustainability and other factors related to fabrics.
Other than the fitness and health related aspects, it’s still unclear exactly what the evolution of smart fabrics will mean for a category like travel and hospitality. Some clothing is already marketed as being specifically designed for travel (aloe vera socks). What else might we see in the future? Smart fabrics on airplane seats? Smart sheets and pillowcases on beds in hotel rooms? One thing we can be sure about is the next few years will bring a lot smart fabric-related capabilities we had never dreamed of before.