By monitoring your heart rate and more, wearable tech can help you live healthy

  • Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 03, 2016 19:25 IST

“For the best results you’ve got to take everything off.”
“I have.”
“No, we mean everything. To see real results of your performance, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
“You mean, I’ve got to take my underwear off too? Go commando?”

For all those who’ve got their dirty minds working overtime and are imagining me at a porn-movie audition... Stop! No such luck. I’m still in the world of technology, but for the very first time, I have been trying out a gadget that requires me to be naked. Before your imagination takes flight again, let me get started with this story.

Dressing smart

The world of wearable technology is a billion-dollar business. Unfortunately, most of what is called a ‘Wearable’, is mostly just a strapped-on product (fitness bands, VR headsets, etc). My move from strappable to strippable involved smart clothing: a shirt and a pair of shorts, with nothing underneath. This technology is years ahead of anything else we’ve ever seen.

How wearables work

Athos is a new start-up based in the USA. It has come up with compression T-shirts and shorts that take a little huffing and puffing to get into, (think super-skinny jeans), but once you’re in them, you enter an unparallelled world of technology.

The right workout: In Athos fitness wearables, each muscle that you use during your workout lights up with a different colour.

The T-shirt and the shorts have 26 sensors knitted into it, including heart-rate trackers, breathing and respiratory monitors and multiple EMG (electromyography) sensors. Each of these sensors makes contact with your skin (thus the need to be completely naked underneath) and as you work out, every part of your body, every muscle, is analysed.

Every time we use our muscles, they generate electrical activity that is measured by the EMG sensors. For the kind of readings these clothes take, you’d need to go to a sports performance institute and pay a whole lot of money. Now your T-shirt can do the same!

Replay your routine
The mindboggling part is that Athos fitness wearables give you a real-time analysis of your fitness routine. As you run, do squats, bicep curls or push-ups, each muscle that comes into use lights up with a different colour. Based on your exertion and how hard you are pushing those muscles, a colour code is generated.

You can replay your entire workout, check if you’re using the right muscles, determine if both sides of your body are balanced, find out how much harder you can go without injuring yourself and even discover whether your stance and motion is correct. It can also tell you what you’re doing wrong. We could only dream about this a few years ago.

A record
Athos isn’t the only player in the game. There are others that are doing the same thing but with different goals. For instance OMsignal has come out with a biometric smart shirt. Once again, it is a compression garment with built-in sensors that can monitor your breathing, heart rate and count the steps you take.

So when you go for a run, your shirt will know the distance covered, your effort level, as well as heartbeat and rate of breathing. No fitness band or heartbeat monitor required. Impressed with this, the design house Ralph Lauren has come up with its own PoloTech Shirt using OMsignal technology (the same T-shirt that carries the Polo logo).

Other smarty-pants

Other wearable brands in the market include Hexoskin (their T-shirts have all the same features), Sensoria socks (they analyse your running by determining where your foot lands and with what impact), and Lenovo shoes (they have a screen on them to display your running data as well as your mood).

Watch your step: Lenovo shoes (above left) have a screen that displays your running data and your mood; Hexoskin tees (right) monitor heart-rate and breathing.

The basic idea for all these wearables is that you wear what you normally would (T-shirts, shorts, socks, shoes) when you work out, and the sensors come into play by themselves. No need to remember to add a watch, band, headset or headphones.

Market size: XXL
It’s not just the fitness and sports market that is moving towards smart clothing. This has even bigger potential for people with medical conditions like heart diseases and obesity, and helps older people prevent injuries and fractures.

It’s estimated that the smart clothing market will move from about 0.1 million pieces today to about 250 million pieces very soon. That’s an explosive growth for any category of technology.

With such great potential, may I just ask for any of them to come up with shorts that don’t need me to be naked inside? After all, gym gear is known to tear. If that was to happen in the middle of a workout, very different data points would be open for analysis!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, August 16
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