What happens when electrical engineers join forces with a neuroscientist and a clothing designer? You get wearable tech that sends smartwatches and mood-broadcasting sweaters to the back of the class. Athos is the valedictorian of wearables; it looks just like regular workout wear, but collects and analyzes data about your movement–from heart rate to balance to the number of reps you completed–and uses it to suggest adjustments that will lead to maximum benefits in your exercise regimen.
“The inspiration for the product came while my cofounder Chris Wiebe and I were working out. We were wondering whether we had correct form and wanted a way to better track progress. Being in college, a personal trainer was beyond our means, but we wanted the awareness and insight that a trainer provides,” says Athos CEO Dhananja Jayalath. “Athos represents a paradigm shift of what was wearable technology–it’s clothing now. It seamlessly integrates with your existing routine. There isn’t something new you have to train yourself to do; it just replaces your existing gym clothes. You treat it just the same: wear, workout, wash. But now it’s not just used to cover your body.”
Just like your midsection during a Pilates workout, the most important component of the three-part Athos system is the Core. Lighter than a pack of gum and shaped like a flattened egg, this sweat-proof unit measures heart rate and breathing, and captures analog signals from the 24 sensors embedded in the clothing–called the Base Apparel. The current outfit consists of a shirt combined with either a pair of shorts or capris. The custom designed sensors use the same tech doctors and physical therapists use in electromyography (which checks the health of muscles and nerves), but Athos embeds them in the clothing. There, they are strategically placed to measure the tiny electrical signals generated when muscle fibers activate.
The Core digitizes this data and transmits it to the app. “That’s where we personalize, interpret, and contextualize the data to make it relevant. The goal, and the challenge, is to bring glance-able awareness that allows the user to take action,” Jayalath says. “Before, you could only approximate the workout zone (toning versus building muscle versus damaging tissue) using heart rate. Now it can be quantified. If you’re doing yoga, we can identify if you are doing a pose right to get the most benefit. We can even show the contribution of your left and right legs during spin class.”
Jayalath and CTO Wiebe started by prototyping a proof of concept in November 2010 to show that their cool idea was possible in the real world. They quickly realized that to make Athos commercially viable, they needed to transcend the available tech. “We focused on redesigning the technology for easier integration into clothing. It had to be flexible, lighter, thinner, and more cost effective. It was through this redesign process that we realized that for it to really gain traction, we needed to separate the high-cost electronics from the apparel. The focus became building one device that could be used with multiple articles of clothing, which would allow our apparel to become competitive in price, comfort and performance,” Jayalath says.
So they started over in 2012. This time, they called for reinforcements, adding software engineers, a brain expert, and a fashion designer among other specialists. The result is the current version of the system, which is now available for preorder ($199 for the Core, $99 per piece of clothing) and ships this summer. Next up, more sizes–it’s currently available in XS through XL for men and women–and pieces that work for winter sports, as well as an undershirt that will focus on heart rate and breathing. User needs will drive other developments. “We’ve been surprised by the very different people who want to use the product in very different ways,” Jayalath says. “We’ve heard from an Olympic cyclist, NBA teams, and cast members of a Broadway musical. They all want an engaging way to stay motivated through their exercise.”