That outfit looks smart! What’s in store for smart clothing?

We take a look at how tech is changing what we wear
The Owlet smart sock is designed to monitor heart rate and breathing of a newborn. Its tech is similar to what hospitals use. (Owlet)

May 7 to 22 is Science Odyssey, a celebration of all things science! OWLconnected is recognizing this two-week event with lots of science content, as well as with an amazing contest, presented by our friends at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Details are at the end of this post—be sure to enter!

The brains behind your closet

What are you wearing today?

Whatever your personal taste, chances are that your clothing choices came down to a few simple factors. Comfort. Look. The weather outside. And, sometimes, what was actually clean! (Guess it's laundry day already...)

But a whole new breed of clothing is giving us new things to consider about the clothing we wear. Smart clothing!

Though it is all called 'smart clothing', this blending of cutting-edge tech and fashion comes in many styles and functions. For example, from workout gear for adults to socks for babies (see the top of this post), there are already clothes that monitor heart rates, breathing, and more.

Here is just a taste of the closet of the future!

Transforming soles

These soles combine modern engineering and ancient art to create the ultimate grip! (Diemut Strebe/MIT/Harvard Seas)

We all know that there are different shoes with different soles for different tasks. Dress shoes have flat soles to be worn indoors. Hiking boots have deep treads for gripping uneven surfaces. Running shoes have grooves to help push off the ground, while cleats have spikes to dig into the grass.

But what if your shoe's sole could transform to suit the moment?

Borrowing from the Japanese art of kirigami, a new sole designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), extends spikes as the wearer's foot bends. The deeper the bend, the further the spikes extend. So if you're casually walking, the shoe's sole is mostly flat. But the moment that you start digging in and running, the spikes will protrude to give you extra gripping power. The best of both worlds!

Correcting clothing

"Okay, a little lower... to the left... perfect!" These pants can run a yoga class for you. Which is helpful when a pose is this complicated! (Nadi X)

Yoga is great exercise and it's also challenging. The most difficult part of yoga is getting each pose right. At a yoga class, one of the jobs of the instructor is to come around and help students perfect their positions. But what if you don't have a teacher?

The Nadi X yoga pants are designed to correct your yoga positions as you do them. They interact with an app on your smartphone, which understands the position that you are trying to perform. As you hold the position, the pants are filled with tiny actuators that create small vibrations at the point on your body that needs adjustment.

Being taught yoga by your pants? We told you this clothing was smart!

Solar jacket

This illustration shows the two different polymers in the fabric, which work together to harness the power of the Sun. (EMPA)

Solar power has been around for a long time, but we're only just beginning to understand its true potential.

The scientists at EMPA (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) are creating a fabric that can act as a solar cell that could charge small devices like a phone. The problem?

Solar cells aren't comfortable as clothing. They don't 'breathe'—or let air pass through it—like fabrics like cotton do. But what if you had a breathable material that could also amplify (or boost) the Sun's energy before directing it into a smaller solar cell within the clothing? That might work!

To do this, the team at EMPA are using something called an APCN, or Amphiphilic Polymer Co-Network (a polymer is an artificially made material). Their wearable fabric contain two fluorescent polymers that have been combined on the nano level (a.k.a. super small!). The result is fabric that receives solar energy and turns it into a different type of light that the solar cells can use more easily. In other words, you can get more energy from a much smaller cell.

Clothing 'FIR' healing

Athletic brand Under Armor's UA Recovery line is an example of clothing with far-infrared fibre. It is also being used in bedsheets to help you heal as you sleep. (EMPA)

Far-infrared radiation, or FIR, is a big deal in healing. FIR is actually a type of light, but something that is well below what humans can see (for more on the light spectrum—what we can see and what we can't—go here). This radiation does wonders for our cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), as well as for our muscles and fatigue.

FIR light therapy clinics already exist to help people heal their bodies and improve circulation. But what if clothing could do it for people, right on the spot?

Scientists and engineers are working with far-infrared fibre in athletic gear. This material absorbs heat created as a person works out or plays a sport. Then it reflects it back on to their body as FIR. So the harder you work, the more you heal. Amazing!

Contest alert

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