BeBop boss: Smart fabrics set to revolutionise body tracking

Sensor company’s CEO Keith McMillen tells us about the next wearable revolution
Fabrics to revolutionise body tracking

Back in October, BeBop Sensors, a spin off of music tech company KMI, unveiled what it called, "The first and only ultra thin wearable smart fabric sensor that measures all aspects of physicality."

The prototype smart devices the startup showed off, ranging from a cycling shoe that records pedal power, to weight lifting gloves that track load equality to smart gym mats for determining pressure and balance areas, caused quite a stir in the tech press.

A few months on and Wareable caught up with the company's founder and CEO Keith McMillen to see how close we were to seeing these ideas in real life.

"We've had a wonderful response, we have had probably 300 leads – a lot of them from Fortune 500 companies – a lot of which have had programs in place but have struggled to get reliable sensors into their products," he told us, speaking from his office in Berkeley, California. "These companies are all top of their fields and names you would recognise."

Read this: How wearable tech can work with our bodies and emotions

Prior to starting BeBop last year, McMillen spent six years running KMI, a smart sensor company focused in the music instrument industry and shipped over a million sensors to "some of the most demanding musicians in the world".

However, after receiving numerous requests from brands looking to make use of his proprietary Monolithic Fabric Sensor Technology, he decided to take the smart clothing plunge.

"We are the only company that's offering fabric that's responsive to physical changes such as bend, stretch, tension, pressure and is able to locate x and y vectors and is reliable, can be produced on large scales and is affordable," he explained, when we asked why so many brands wanted access to his platform.

Big business in 2016

He told us that many of the big name's BeBop is partnering with previously had smart clothing prototypes of their own, but struggled to get the accuracy required in order to create genuine game changing products.

"I think next year we will see some very impressive examples. Most of the well-known outdoor clothing brands are working closely with us and I think that's where it will show up first.," he said.

"On the sport side you can accurately measure paces, how quickly an athlete responds to a firing pistol at the start of a race, how high he jumps if he plays basketball and so on. This tech can help pick out better performers and help train them more efficiently.

"The amount of applications out there that can use this data is stunning. It's very exciting for us."

Medical movements

McMillen also explained how it's not just the sporting industry set to benefit from BeBop's clever fabric tech; medical tracking is also a possibility as well.

"It's well documented that a person's gate changes, and how he walks is affected, if he is going to have a stroke and sometimes you can tell two days in advance.

"To some people that would be like living in California and knowing when an earthquake is going to hit," he said, before explaining how BeBop's smart insoles could play their part in early detection.

"The insoles are just 2mm thick, are machine washable, waterproof and you can slip them into any shoe.

"There are 22 sensors and this allows us to measure a hell of a lot of stuff. The same insoles can detect swelling of the feet, so can also help with diabetics."

Better than bands

When asked why smart fabrics were better positioned to revolutionise the wearables industry than, say, a wrist-based tracker he said it was all about the added dimensions and metrics clothing, with its multiple contact points, can offer.

"There are 50 to 60 wearable bands or watches that are all trying to do the same thing, pick up your heart rate, your perspiration, figure out how far you walk and so on – but if you really want to know detail about the body and how it reacts to other physical components, they don't really tell you anything," he told us.

"I don't know how something I wear on my wrist can really determine my paces, whether I'm pronating in my walk or how my posture is affecting my steps."

McMillen is confident that smart fabrics are all set to become embedded, quite literally, into people's everyday lives.

"When we can bring convenience and utility to the average consumer that's really when wearables and smart fabrics will really take off," he explained.

"I think as clothing becomes more intelligent and can do things that are useful, we'll be able to provide the level of convenience that most consumers are after."

You can read more about BeBop on its website. And you can find out more about smart clothing on Wareable right here.

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