The Future of Sports Tech
Apple’s upcoming line of wearable sports products
In a previous article, we touched on the future of Apple’s partnerships with the likes of Nike on the future of sports clothing and going even further to organizations like NASA and SpaceX on the truly performance apparel side. Space shoes, anyone?
Of course, neither of these truly get to the future of athletic wear that you kid will likely be wearing in a decade when he’s gearing up for a high school state championship.
In that case, what’s needed is a consolidation of multiple trends:
- Clothing that creates its own battery power.
- Clothing that gives real-time feedback to optimize an athlete’s performance.
- Space age materials that allow us to perform in any environment, including both Earth and Mars.
II. Energy-Creating Clothing
We previously wrote about a novel new technology coming out of the labs that uses the concept of static electricity in clothing to generate power. Initially, the first thought is that you could wire this electricity to your cell phone and charge it while you walk around during the day. But the real benefit to this is smart clothes that powers itself.
As we use the research outlined in the latest Nature Energy paper, we can utilize both solar power and static electricity to generate electricity. The fabric can also be breathable as you may have different layers that rub against itself to generate this electricty.
That means the next version of Nike’s Dri-FIT could contain electricity generating properties while also wicking away sweat.
I have the shirt above. It’s warm and comfortable, but doesn’t charge my Apple Watch or my Apple AirPods. This technology could do that. But how do you transfer the electricity generated from clothes rubbing together and sunlight into the heart rate monitor on your wrist?
The short answer is you don’t. You look at the problem from a new perspective.
III. Smart Clothes
We’ve become accustomed to talking about wearables as if they’re a Fitbit or Apple Watch. Some other piece of electronic that you wear on your wrist. Apple upped the game with their wireless EarPods. They have the ability to track your heart rate just as well as the watch, but they also give you superhuman hearing.
Funny enough, there aren’t enough people talking about wearables as things that we’re already wearing. Namely, the clothes on our backs. The t-shirts and shorts we wear to work out. Or the shoes on our feet.
Because the technology hasn’t reached a place where we can embed an electrical generator, electrical wiring, sensors to track internal changes to our bodies, WiFi or Bluetooth communication devices, or even a computer processor small enough to manage power, communication, and logic.
In essence, we haven’t miniaturized it enough yet. But with the breakthrough in solar and static electricity generation invented above, plus the minitiarization that’s happened as a result of the smart phone industry, we are now finally at the right time for these things to come together.
We’re reaching the limits of how many things we can put into a computer chip. At 6 nanometers, we’re down at the atomic level, which are about 1/10th of a nanometer across. We simply can’t shrink our processors much more than what they’ll be at in the next few years.
If we use the electricity generated from our clothes, then we don’t need much electrical wiring and we really don’t need a power cable, nor the Bluetooth or WiFi chips in the clothes yet especially if we’re thinking about real-time performance improvements. That solves a lot of problems.
All we need to do is include a heart rate sensor into the fabric itself. You could imagine the fabric would light up based on where your body is getting more blood flow and oxygen based on your blood pressure and circulation. Not simply a beats per minute calculation, but a real-time map of how your entire body’s biology is performing during the day and athletic exursion.
Below is a low-tech version of how this might look in a finished product.
What you see above is something that used to be called Hypercolor in the 80s (friends, countrymen, lend me your heat!). It works by changing color wherever there is more body heat. It was a big deal back then and I had one almost the same color as the above. Bet you didn’t know low-tech smart clothes were a thing 30 years ago.
The company who makes the updated version is now called Thermal Vision (they used to be Radiate Athletics when I talked to them back in 2012). And yes, they will put your company’s logo on their shirts.
Athletes can use technology like this when pumping iron or working out to see how much heat and blood flow that muscle group is getting. You physically see the t-shirt change color as you work out. As we move from this low-tech version into something more high-tech that Apple and Nike could partner on, you realize that the Apple Watch is really only version 1 of a decade-long product roadmap.
The watch’s primary use is as a fitness tracking vehicle. If you could put this technology in the clothing, then you don’t need the watch. That’s the future and that’s where they’re headed.
What you see above is a recent patent filing by Apple that I’ve been meaning to cover for about a month. Patently Apple has a great write-up about it, so I won’t regurgitate it here. But I will tell you why it’s important.
There’s a reason that Apple hasn’t included weightlifting in their Apple Watch as a fitness tracking capability yet, even with open-source SDKs. It’s because no wrist-only wearable can determine how much load you’re putting on your muscle. For that, you need some measurement of the weight that you’re holding and how much force is pushing down on it. For example, as you bench press, the question is how much weight is pressing down on your chest? Or, as you perform a bicep curl, how much weight is pushing down on your hand?
For both of these questions, you need different types of wearables. Smart Lifting gloves are one example shown in the right side of the image above, but also Smart Arm Bands that can detect load on the bicep.
Interestingly, you already see the headphones included as a wearable sensor. Expect that functionality to make it’s way into the next version of the Apple AirPods.
IV. Space Age Smart Clothes
Funny enough, Thermal Vision also has a “SpaceX” link in the navigation on their website for something they call a “Space Suit”.
Which takes me to my next point.
As we move to a multi-planetary species, we aren’t going to just need rockets to get us there and self-driving vehicles to help us get things done, we’re also going to need entertainment, and clothing that protects us from the harsh environment of space.
Whether you call it a space suit or you wrap yourself in a space-age Dri-FIT like material, it matters not. We really need something that humans can wear that is more mobile and form-fitting, while still protecting us from cosmic radiation, lack of an atmosphere, and the blinding brightness of the sun.
Ideally it won’t just protect us from the elements, but also have electronics built in monitoring our own biology and health to tell us when we’re getting in trouble.
What started as simply clothing for high-performance athletes will eventually make its way into clothing for survival.
Nike, Apple, and SpaceX will form a very real 30-year partnership to create the most human technology of them all.
Smart space clothes.
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from Stories by Sean Everett on Medium http://ift.tt/2dG7YJC