Smart clothing has been tipped as the next great frontier for wearables for some years now. Connected clobber that gives us all the capabilities of our smartwatch or fitness tracker and packing them into a garment that's both cheaper and less obtrusive.
However, for the space, it's still hasn't happened. And though we've seen some examples of smart clothing done right, this is one wearable that hasn't gone truly mainstream yet. But as early iterations grapple with limited functionality and accuracy issues, one Greek startup – Zac.k Intelligent Apparel – wants to bypass the teething of smart clothing and create a complete tracking experience for your activity right now.
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The company's $259 Exisom smart clothing set is currently doing the rounds on Indiegogo in search of $35,000, aimed at tracking the wearer's activity and combining it with ECG heart rate readings and information on heart rate variability, stress, breathing and training effects in real-time.
"When I was in Greece, I was a fitness instructor for a local gym and I had an engineering background after studying in London," says Zack Kallidis, the co-founder of Zac.k Intelligent Apparel. "I was hospitalised for around a week because I had an issue with my heart, and the doctors told me I had to quit my job. So here I am, sat in hospital, wondering what I was going to do for a living.
"I wanted to combine fashion and fitness, and so I began actually just Googling how to create your own brand and looking for what I could make that was unique. I think I settled on smart clothes because, when I was an instructor, I saw the limitations of smartwatches – they can’t take the most accurate measurements, you need to charge them every couple of days and if you’re in the gym they’re not very comfortable to wear," he continued.
Giving Exisom life
For the past two years, Kallidis and his team have been crafting the sensors and clothing required to create a full-body tracking experience – not something that just sits on the arm, or a top that forgets about the physical leg work in the grand tracking equation.
And this, Kallidis told us, is what separates the startup from the rest of the field. While others – like Nadi X's yoga pants, and even Google's Project Jacquard – focus on giving users functionality in a very specific area, Exisom instead wants to track as much as possible when you're working out.
With the leggings, wearers receive data on their steps (something which the company says is 30% more accurate than fitness trackers it's tested against, and 5-8% more accurate than Garmin Fenix watches), stride rate, calories burned, distance covered, floors climbed, and active minutes, all while staying connected to your phone and tracking your location through GPS and feeding over data. Auto-detection of running, walking and cycling is also in tow, with different modes (such as HIIT and treadmill) looking to make the tracking experience more accurate.
But, as we say, that's just half the story. When the pants are synced up with the smart bra or t-shirt, the heart rate metrics mentioned above are added.
"You can, of course, use the garments separately, but it's a much richer experience to have the two pieces of clothing combining – that's how you get the best accuracy and a full picture of your workout," Kallidis continued.
That accuracy, naturally, is all down to the sensors woven inside the startup's garments, with Kallidis noting that the company has a strong emphasis on quality materials, too.
To help with this tracking, it's harnessed sensor technology from Xiaomi, and already received help and certification from Indiegogo's Arrow program. If Exisom is able to reach its goal, Kallidis noted that he would look to try and explore further collaboration with the Chinese tech giant.
Exisom has officially joined the list of startups breaking into smart clothing and hoping to bring a genuine solution for the masses. And on paper, there's a lot to like here. The way sensors are spread across the two garments means a more rounded approach to tracking is in place than that of wrist-based wearables, and the prospect of ECG-level heart tracking accuracy and real-time activity stats is intriguing.
It also just ticks a few practical boxes you may be wondering about: it's machine washable, lasts for several months on a single charge and stores data for up to a week.
As with any campaign, there's reason for caution here, of course. The startup has left plenty of room between now and its June 2019 launch, though Kallidis did indicate that the next steps are entirely dependent on how much money is raised through the campaign. That means the company will potentially have a lot of work to complete before next summer rolls around, though thankfully a prototype is already in place and it's simply a case of refining the technology before finding a factory for manufacture.
It's also impossible to know at this stage just how accurate Exisom is at tracking everything it sets out to. However, in theory, it should be more precise than tracking heart rate, breathing and steps from the wrist.
Like any burgeoning technology, it isn't cheap, and the price ramps up considerably after the Indiegogo campaign closes, but everything we know so far indicates this is worthy of a closer look for those interested in an unobtrusive and innovative way to track their activity.
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