Smart clothing, or apparel stuffed with electronics, is already a niche market. Now smart sports apparel is about to hit the mainstream, courtesy of Reebok and flexible electronics startup MC10. The companies are developing clothing that uses embedded electronics to keep track of the health and performance of athletes.
The electronics-equipped apparel already on the market--sports bras that register heart rate using conductive textiles, for example--require removable plastic casings inside the clothing. Apparel that uses the conformable electronics being developed by MC10, however, doesn't need the casing. That means electronics can be directly placed inside of a pair of pants--or even in decals attached on the skin.
MC10's flexible electronics are created by printing thin strips of silicon onto flexible substrates that can conform to surfaces (i.e. clothing or skin).
There are a slew of possibilities for the technology, according to Technology Review:
The athletic apparel devices might incorporate sensors and a microprocessor to monitor many indicators of an athlete's health, such as impacts on the body, electrical information from the heart and nervous system, sweat pH, blood pressure, gait, and strain on joints. Such devices could process the data to generate information about metabolism and athletic performance and broadcast it to another device.
Reebok and MC10 haven't revealed what products will be developed with the flexible electronics, but the first products could be available in as little as a year. Once the trend takes off, there's no limit to what we may see. Embedded iPods and cell phones, anyone?