HHH: Smart Garb

Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

Usually when we think about wearables, items such as watches, clips, and bracelets come to mind. They’re special accessories that we put on – more like gadgets, really. But as time moves forward, the idea of a separate device to carry around will be less and less appealing to us. Instead, we’ll begin to prefer new technologies that directly and seamlessly integrate into the everyday clothing we already wear. 

Today’s highlight: Smart Garb

The smartphone will go away one day. And to that I say, good riddance. I look forward to the time when I’ll see the looks of disgust and disbelief on the faces of my grandchildren as I reminisce about the old days :

“Back in my day, we used to carry this little mini – pocket computer device everywhere we went, and we would keep our eyes glued straight down at its tiny, barely even visible screen clutched in our hands instead of looking out at the world and each other.”

– Grandpa Henry

As Future Today Institute predicts, “We will transition from just one phone that we carry to a suite of next-gen communication devices, which we will wear and command using our voice, gesture and touch.”

Forget about all these devices and gadgets. Let’s just use what we already have – what we already wear.

Smart clothing isn’t just coming soon; it’s here! Allow me to take stock of what smart garb is already out there. You may be adding something like the following to your wardrobe now or in the near future:

> Electronic textiles or ‘e-textiles’ to interact with your music, GPS, and phone

Levi’s Commuter x Jacuard is a smart jacket that is fashioned out of a specially designed denim sewn with conductive thread that only needs to be touched to connect to your smartphone.

Animation showing a cyclist wearing a jacket and swiping at his sleeve to dismiss an incoming phone call from his boss.

> Yoga pants to improve your ‘downward dog’

These pants are paired with an app to help you practice yoga better. It can detect your physical movements and compare your data to baselines. It’ll “nudge” you to walking, sitting, and downward-dogging better. Curate your own personal yoga class! (Examples: Nadi X, Pivot Yoga)

Animation of a yoga practitioner posing next to a smartphone displaying an app that is measuring her body position.
credit: Nadi X

> Pajamas to recover from workouts

Had a hard workout? Put these smart PJs on and help your muscles recover faster using infrared energy.

> Swimsuits to prevent skin cancer

When the UV levels are high, the suit notices and alerts you to apply more sunscreen. Don’t trust your kids – or those sun-worshiping grown-ups whose skin you care about – to be careful about the Sun? The suits’ sensors can even be remotely monitored by the more responsible party (i.e. you).

> Socks to prevent diabetes

Sensors in these socks detect levels of glucose or lactate in sweat and can even alert those with diabetes of the presence of foot ulcers, which can often result in amputations if not caught in time.

Photograph of smart socks
credit: Siren

> Belts for epilepsy and to help you diet

For epilepsy patients, there’s a belt that keeps tabs on your respiration rate and sweat build-up with an automatic alert to your loved one if something goes awry. There are also belts that use sensors and measurements to help give you feedback in your dieting efforts: tracking waist size, food intake, how much you’re sitting, etc – and there is even one that helps you with the opposite: they automatically loosen when you’ve overeaten so you don’t have to cease your feastin’.

Photograph of Smart Belt next to smartphone showing weight loss app.

> Gloves to help you communicate

In Kenya, a researcher invented smart gloves called Sign-IO that can translate sign language into speech using gesture recognition.

Photograph of inventor of smart gloves that translate American Sign Language.
Source: Pulse Kenya

> Shoes to help with health, sports, visual impairment, falls, and personalized fashion

Walk a mile in these shoes… and the shoes will know you traveled a mile, plus a whole bunch of other things…

  • Health:
    • Many smart shoes can measure your gait, calorie burn pace, distance, steps, stride, cadence – all helpful in regard to your fitness and health improvement efforts. There are safety shoes that monitor the posture of construction workers and prevent them from spending too much time at work crouching, kneeling, and on tip-toes. This will prevent fatigue and common injuries, plus lower back pain and sciatica. For those patients needing post-surgical evaluation, the shoes collect valuable data for their doctors to speed up recovery. Diseases can potentially be diagnosed as well.
  • Sports:
    • Improve your athletic performance with your shoes’ assistance. Even your golf swing can be perfected
  • Visual impairment:
  • Aging population:
    • If the wearer falls, an alarm is triggered and the location is sent to a family member or friend. (E-vone)
Photograph showing E-inking on a shoe.

And here’s a list of other “shoe”-per powers I’ve seen out there:

  • Self-lacing, self-tightening
  • Color changing / E-inking
  • Heat up on cold days
  • Audible real-time coaching feedback as you run
  • Altitude measurement

> Helmets to send for help in accidents

A number of helmets now have built in brake lights and turn signals. If the cyclist is struck or falls, the emergency contact is instantly alerted. Some use bone conduction speakers to help you safely play your music and make phone calls.

Animation of a cyclist falling down and his helmet sending an SOS.
LIVALL BH81H Smart Cycling Helmet with HRM

> Nail art to prevent skin cancer and premature aging

Like the aforementioned smart swimsuit, this adhesive-backed decorative nail art by L’Oreal contains sensors to measure the amount of UVA and UVB rays you’re being exposed to and presents the data to you via a smartphone app.

Photograph of the smart nail art on a thumbnail of a woman's hand.

> What about libraries?

Here is some food-for-thought on how smart garb intersects with libraries. Let me know if you have further ideas!

Graphic of a lightbulb

Inclusive & Accessible Services

As described above, there are already numerous ways that smart garb can assist people with disabilities, epilepsy, diabetes, visual and speech impairments, risk of falling, recovering from surgery, etc., etc. – and more no doubt to come in the future. The service population benefiting from this technology is a large, important part of society – and as ALA writes, “libraries should be fully inclusive of all members of their community and strive to break down barriers to access.” Staff should stay up-to-date and pro-active in supporting how smart garb supports inclusion and accessibility.

Graphic of a lightbulb

New Interfaces

If smart garb becomes more complex and widely adopted, and if it replaces smart phones in the future, there will need to be an entirely new haptic language (using sense of touch and motion, rather than speech, text, or touchscreens) so that we can communicate with the systems and interfaces we use in our day-to-day lives.

This would inevitably result in new ways to use library services. ALA Center for the Future sagely points out that “patrons may increasingly expect that their library experiences – search, navigation of the library space and stacks, or even reading time – would integrate wearables and the haptic feedback that they provide.”

Libraries will need to learn to speak ‘garblish’ (I’m coining the term; you heard it here first!) and help empower and enable those patrons who may be left behind as everything shifts to the new paradigm.

Graphic of a lightbulb

Digital Divide

If smart clothing becomes as ubiquitous as the smart phone, how can we ensure that this new technology is made accessible to all strata of society so that all have the opportunity to succeed in the future? Providing access and “wearable literacy” may become part of the library’s mission. Some community members may not be able to afford certain articles of smart garb or may only need them during a particular time frame. Would libraries start adding clothing and accessories to their collections for circulation?

Graphic of a lightbulb

Privacy Issues

Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy – and smart garb certainly poses significant risks in that regard. Security is paramount in ensuring personal biometric and location data isn’t abused by third parties. We don’t want to air our dirty smart-linen in public, so to speak. A recent Wired article outlined how Fitbit heart-rate data of a murder victim was admitted as evidence to try and convict a suspect. It contained this quote: While you have the right to remain silent, your gadgets mostly do not.”

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