Forecasts and predictions are routinely made in the field of wearable technology. Analysts all sit around, crunch the numbers and decide which offshoots of the industry are trending up and down. And if you've been following the most recent patterns, you'll know that smart clothing is being tipped for big things.
Some estimations, like this one, label 2020 as the year when shipments of connected garments reaches will reach dizzy heights. Another report places it among the areas expected to see the biggest growth over the coming half-decade. And we're already seeing more signs that the space is building into the potential wearable powerhouse it's routinely billed as.
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Looking to get a slice of the action is Emglare, a Czech startup soon heading to Kickstarter with a range of smart clothing, which emphasises tracking the wearer's heart health. Available from $199 (before its eventual retail price of $299), backers will be able to choose between a smart undershirt, sports t-shirt, bra or sports bra and receive monitoring without having to wear something on the wrist.
"We want to create the best smart clothing for athletes and people who want to monitor their health, but we don't class ourselves as a fitness startup," Emglare's Michaela Privrelová tells us.
"[The idea] started two years ago when the founder's father died from a heart attack, and he began to think about how it could have been prevented. Initially, when the idea was first developing, he wanted to find out if it was possible to predict heart attacks and other cardiac issues. And smart clothing wasn't the first way this was explored, but after research was conducted it did prove to be the most suitable way.
"We're focusing more on the medical and health side of things; Emglare will monitor you, give alerts to cardiac problems and also offer a prediction of your future health status and then advice on how to stay fit."
Monitoring heart health, then, as Privrelová describes, is at the centre of Emglare. But plenty of wrist-based wearables are already working towards tackling the same issues with the heart – not least, Apple – so what helps this smart clothing startup stand out from the growing crowd?
Well, instead of using the photoplethysmography (PPG) heart rate technology that's common throughout smartwatches and fitness trackers, the four pieces of clothing from Emglare will feature electrocardiogram (ECG) tech. Since this brand of heart monitoring is used in the medical field, it's considered more accurate than its light-based equivalent, though it's still yet to hit the mainstream in wearables.
"ECG tracking is much more accurate. But besides accuracy, the other reason why we decided to implement it is the efficiency," Privrelová explains.
"It means we're capable of taking faster and more accurate measurements of the user's current heart condition, and we can measure HRV which can be used to find out about stress level.
"PPG technology provides data and information that's sufficient for fitness purposes, but not for medical – and as we want to focus more on health, we need readings to be as accurate as possible. Currently, we're capable of storing all tracked information, including ECG waves, in the mobile app for people to view over time."
Unlike other smart clothing examples we've seen crop up over the past few years, Emglare also manages to incorporate the technology into the garment itself – there are no modules to attach, and there's nothing you to worry about accidentally throwing in with the rest of your clothes wash.
As the image below shows through the Emglare undershirt, the chips and sensors are embedded into the front of the vest, while a Bluetooth antenna, wireless charging receiver and battery rest at the back of the garment.
That battery, if you're wondering, lasts for 16 hours, meaning that you'll likely have to rest the clothing on a charger at the end of the day if you're monitoring continuously, as well as finding some time to wash it in between.
"We do realise that fitness watches can last for several days now, but it's understandable that due to hygienic reasons it is vital to change the clothing more often, so we believe that the battery life is sufficient for now. If there's a demand for longer battery life from our customers, then that's something we'll work on improving for future models," Privrelová says.
We've seen plenty of ambitious startups look to make waves in the field of smart clothing, and Emglare is among this same pack now trying to bring a convincing product to the market. However, its task is made doubly difficult since mass-produced ECG heart rate technology is also still in its early phases.
And while we can't speak to the accuracy of the smart clothing or how it feels to throw on with the rest of your clothing or for a gym session, there's a lot to like here if Emglare is able to pull off the ECG tracking. But it's not just that, with the integrated design also looking like something you would actually wear while working out or underneath your regular threads. That can't be said about all smart clothing.
It's fair to point out that the battery life and price may turn some potential backers off here, but this also isn't too uncommon for first-generation devices – especially one from a startup.
Privrelová indicates that production is ready to begin if the company is able to reach its funding goal of $70,000, while the development of the iOS and Android companion app is already complete.
If everything goes to plan, shipping is expected to commence later this year, and those looking for a next-level heart monitoring system may be hard-pressed to find it in a nicer and more discreet package than what Emglare is touting. We look forward to testing it out, if everything goes to plan through its crowdfunding campaign.
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