Could clothing cut healthcare costs and save lives? Today, most “smart” wearable textiles, or e-textiles, exist only in laboratories, not on production floors. Manufacturing e-textiles has been difficult because the fabric must be washable and safe for skin contact. Adidas’ [ADS] Textronics group has met these challenges, creating fabrics for the first commercially available products, such as the Adidas Smart Shirt, with promising applications for sports and healthcare.
Adidas’ body monitoring tops have sewn-in sensors that measure heart and respiratory activity. A snap-in transmitting device sends data to your smartphone, watch, or gym equipment. The sensors use body sweat or water to maintain a connection, and are designed to replace uncomfortable, chaffing heart-monitoring straps. The Adidas Smart Shirt and transmitter retail for roughly $80.
This type of smart clothing could be very useful in monitoring health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US: 26.6 million Americans are diagnosed annually with the disease, which kills roughly 600,000 people per year. What if everyone with heart conditions were to wear shirts that could alert ambulances in the event of a heart attack?
E-textiles could also benefit the elderly. The share of the US population over 80 years old is expected to double to 32 million by 2050 while the costs to care for them rises toward 3% of GDP, not far below defense spending. Wearable, non-invasive health trackers could send data directly to nurses and doctors, keeping patients connected in the case of an emergency, and perhaps cutting down on routine checkups.
Adidas Textronics sees applications for its products in health monitoring, preventative care, exercise physiology and weight loss. Maybe one day your shirt will be telling you to put down that last cookie, too.