Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Ditch the Wristbands: For Next Generation of Wearables, Dumb Clothes Get Smart

As much excitement as there may be about wearable sensors, most of the activity tracking devices today are pretty lame.

That’s because they’re often restricted to a certain body part — usually the wrist — and have limited access to what’s going on with the rest of the body, like heart rate, specific muscle activation, calorie intake, or even what the legs are doing.

The fiery activated threads are a visualization; the clothing won't literally turn the wearer into a girl on fire.

The fiery activated threads are a visualization; the Athos clothing won’t literally turn the wearer into a girl on fire.

The next step in wearables may be for devices to move beyond jewelry and onto the rest of our bodies. But what’s gained in accuracy may be dampened by higher prices and lower convenience.

There’s also the simple challenge of the washing machine. After all, physical activity leads to sweating.

A company called Athos that launched this week had hoped to make garments with electronics embedded in them. When I met the company more than a year ago, the prototype had spiderwebs of wires glued onto it. Each shirt was going to cost something like $300. So the team revised its vision to make a wireless module that can be slipped into pockets on custom apparel so it lies flat on the skin.

That’s not cheap either. Preorders for delivery to U.S. customers in the summer of 2014 cost $99 for tops, $99 for bottoms, and $199 for the Athos Core Module.

“We are targeting individuals who are committed to fitness, ones who go out of their way to schedule in a workout, a ride or a yoga session,” said Athos founder DJ Jayalath, via email. “With regard to the price — it can be compared to being less than the price of five sessions with a personal trainer, or hundred dollars more than a Nike FuelBand and a pair of compression shorts.”

The Athos workout gear has sensors throughout that pick up on muscle exertion from the chest, shoulders, arms, back, quads, hamstrings and glutes, plus heart rate and breathing. The module insert transmits that info over Bluetooth to iPhones and iPads (no Android yet).

The idea is to be able to compare exertion levels between sports, record reps without counting them by hand, and get advice about form — for instance, overcompensating with one side of the body.

The Athos product is being made by a team of 15 in Redwood City, Calif., including Jayalath and his co-founder, Christopher Wiebe, both electrical engineers, and Joel Seligstein, an early Facebook engineer. They have raised $3.5 million from the Social+Capital Partnership.

But they’re not the only ones bringing wearables into clothing. There’s a new Kickstarter project called Notch that is aiming to produce $50 sensors with snap-on mounts, along with athletic and street clothing to hold it. So far, the campaign has raised $10,000 of its $100,000 goal.

Notch is designed to discreetly (sort of) snap into clothing.

Each Notch contains an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer, and together they form a dynamic wireless network and communicate info to smartphones (also iOS, to start) over Bluetooth.

Says the pitch, “Share the movement data you collected with Notch modules to compete with other people worldwide. Imagine sparring with people you might never encounter in real life. Into soccer (football)? Use Notch to learn how the power of your kick compares to taekwondo enthusiasts.”

Another device that recently met its crowdfunding goal is Push, which raised $134,000 for its forearm-strapped device for weightlifters to detect reps and power output.

There’s also supposed to soon be a heart-rate monitoring T-shirt and sports bra from a Redmond, Wash.-based company called Heapsylon.

Nike makes basketball shoes that measure how high you jump. And Adidas and Under Armour have also expressed increasing interest in activity tracking.

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