5 Up-and-Coming Smart Fabric Wearables That Gather Better Health Stats, More Comfortably

The population’s on the move and the smart fabric industry is right there with it, offering products that measure health stats more reliably and comfortably. Sure, smart accessories like watches, wristbands, and bracelets from Fitbit, Jawbone, and other companies help users track their steps throughout the day, calories they’ve burned, and their sleep quality. But smart fabric technology has opened doors for products that get closer to—and under—the skin to track even more health stats during a workout. From smart socks to digital tattoos, here’s a roundup of the five top innovations in smart fitness wearables hitting the market soon.

Sock it to me

As far as smart clothing goes, Sensoria fitness socks are ingenious. They’re made out of (machine washable!) high-tech fabric and contain textile sensors that track your motion. Wearable accessories tend to be limited to tracking steps, distance, and calories burned during a run. These smart socks do all that while also tracking your strides, how your foot hits the ground, weight distribution across your foot, and how you’re doing compared to your other runs. Data picked up from the socks’ sensors sync up to a mobile app via an anklet. The app then works as a personal coach, giving you audio tips in real time about how to improve your run, during your run. Yes, I just told you your socks will be your new favorite personal coach.

Second skin

Smart exercise shirts, like Hexoskin, generate health statistics from stretchable, fabric sensors. Like Sensoria’s exercise socks, the shirt gathers a ton of information to guide better wellness. It tracks heart rate and stress, measured by variations in heart rate; breathing volume and breathing rate; steps taken; cadence; and calories burned. It can also be used to monitor sleep habits, too. The shirt material is very suitable as running gear. It’s water-resistant, quick dry, breathable, and anti-odor. It also gives UV protection, which is a nice plus. While it’s not the only smart shirt on the market, Hexoskin is one of the ones currently available that has received good reviews on wearability. Sensilk is another brand that will offer well-designed, smart exercise shirts and bras soon, though. And Ralph Lauren has made some forays into the market, most notably with a smart polo shirt.

Raising it up a notch

Active gear outfits by ATHOS take fitness tracking up to the next level. With material designed for comfortable workouts, ATHOS gear tracks heart rate, breathing, and muscle activity. 14 EMG sensors in the shirt and 8 in the shorts pick up data about how hard your muscles are working, which then gets sent to your smartphone via Bluetooth from the tiny “brain of the system” called the Core. You can set targets through the app and measure muscle building, toning, and fatigue—as well as whether you need to ramp up your routine or cut back a bit. Another plus? It’s wireless, which optimizes movement during a workout routine. While it can’t give feedback on how to improve your performance, like a personal trainer might, tracking muscle efforts is a huge step in improving your workout routines.

Stuck on you

The enhanced flexibility that smart clothing brings to data collection over clunky smart watches has nothing on MC10’s Biostamp, a sticker with sensors that can be placed anywhere on the body. The adhesion keeps it from shifting around during exercise, and because it’s thinner than a bandaid, it’s easy to wear. The built-in sensors track heart rate, temperature, movement, blood count, hydration levels, sleep quality, UV exposure—really any data given off by your body, according to the company. As a fitness tool, it’s helpful for tracking your vitals and exercise stats more accurately, since it doesn’t lose contact with your body. With the extra information, you can really know when you’re at the top of your performance and track recovery progress after an injury. Biostamp’s tracking capabilities holds promise in other areas, too, like monitoring infants for warning signs of SIDS during the night or tracking conditions in patients with heart failure or Parkinson’s disease.

Under my skin

While digital tattoos like UnderSkin are the furthest out from reaching the market—it will probably be another 5 to 10 years—the concept is in play. And it’s awesome. Created by the design team behind Fitbit, UnderSkin is the ultimate in sleek design and efficiency. Implanted right into your hand, it’s powered by your body’s electrochemistry. UnderSkin has a range of applications that includes wellness tracking. Concept designers use blood sugar and temperature readings as examples, but the futuristic feel of its other applications (like using it to unlock your front door) make it seem likely it will push far beyond the stat-gathering abilities available now.