Most people wouldn’t leave their home naked in the morning, but it can be easy to forget your Fitbit, Jawbone UP or any other number of popular fitness trackers that tally daily steps and calories burned in a single day.
What if your actual clothing functioned as a fitness tracker? That’s the thinking behind the recent collaboration between fashion designer Ralph Lauren and OMsignal, maker of “smart” apparel containing biometric sensors.
The partnership has produced the Polo Tech shirt, which debuts during this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament. The shirt will be worn by ball boys during select matches and be available to consumers starting next spring.
The Polo Tech shirt measures a wearer’s heart rate, breathing rate, stress level and energy output. It also features a detachable device, a “black box”, which captures activity data and also contains an accelerometer and gyroscope. User data and metrics are accessed through an accompanying iOS app.
“Over the last few years, there’s been an incredible energy and excitement around wearable technology ... you’ve seen all kinds of accessories, but no major brand has figured out how to do it in apparel. So to see it in clothing, something you just put on every day, was really new and innovative, and something we felt we could bring to the forefront,” said David Lauren, Senior Vice President of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations.
“It’s the only wearable that you’ve been wearing all of your life,” added Stéphane Marceau, CEO of OMsignal.
Beyond the familiarity of donning a shirt, Marceau added that clothing’s proximity to the body makes it easier to capture data.
"With clothing, you can access biological functions wherever they may happen on the human body, so you get the strong signal and there’s so much more information contained in the strong signal than in a third, derivative signal,” said Marceau.
Companies similar to OMsignal have used the same line of thinking. Sensoria smart socks are one example. When worn while running, they measure a user’s cadence and center of balance, among other metrics.
The Polo Tech shirt is woven with conductive thread, which functions as a virtual sensor. Sensors are located primarily in the chest area, but the snug fit of the shirt makes it easier to capture and transmit data from other parts of the body as well.
For Marceau, clothing represents the future of fitness tracking.
"Activity trackers are great . . . but at the same time, it’s [only] about counting the number of steps that you make in a day," he noted. "The next wave is really about physiology, about bio-sensing technology. Some of the things that you can derive from there will help you increase your performance in a fitness context, it can also help you increase your self-mastery in a lifestyle context."