Are we ready for wearables beyond watches/bands/etc?

Anyone who knows me, or has seen a photo of me, or even has read about what a tubby schlep I am probably knows that fitness is not high on my list of priorities. Indeed, if I go for a long bike ride, there’s probably a Dairy Queen at the end of it, sad to say. But while I was watching Lenovo/Moto’s event last week, one item struck me as interesting to say the least. Smart shoes. Because why not, right?

Of course the concept of the smart shoe isn’t new. There are actually a few brands out there that already working on such devices, which is very intriguing to me. Then again, I own exactly one pair of boots and two pairs of sandals – and that’s only because I forgot I bought the first pair of sandals. So I’m not exactly up to speed on all the latest fitness nor all the latest shoe trends. Probably makes me insanely unqualified to be the one writing the editorial, but here I am.

Maxwell Smart: Securing phone calls since 1965

Maxwell Smart: Securing phone calls since 1965

Smarter clothes

But the prospect of smart clothing – even beyond shoes – is what I wanted to talk about today. Shoes will probably be my prime example because that was the muse for this piece as it were. Of course, right off the bat, you have to consider the benefits of smart clothing. Why are we relying on bands worn around our wrists to tell us what our feet are doing? From what I’ve seen most step counters are basically making educated guesses anyway. Accuracy is seemingly not a really high priority for these devices, but when you get into the 10,000 step range, a minor variance isn’t going to affect much.

But to take the actual piece of clothing that is surrounding those steps and building them into a smart device? Now we’re talking. Because the key thing with any kind of biometric data has to be accuracy. Without accuracy, what’s the point? When you go to the doctor, they don’t guess at your blood pressure. They have instruments dedicated to the concept.

And so far, I’ve only talked about steps. Smart clothing could lead to a whole new generation of biometric data that can drive science and medical technology into futuristic areas of health and lifestyle that simply weren’t possible before. Sensors covering our clothes could potentially detect even the slightest variance in things like muscle mass, temperature, or any other potential warning sign of dangerous things to come. For those of you scoffing when Lenovo handed over a pair of smart shoes, you need to look at the possibilities such items could lead to.

pants-pocket-phoneAnd yet…

But there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Going back to the shoes – how much do those things weigh anyway? Electronic devices – especially those that are broadcasting data to a something like a smartphone – require power. I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention, but batteries tend to be heavy and somewhat inflexible. I’m not sure our footwear is ready to accept such burdens, let alone our underwear. Not to mention, smartwatches are one thing, but try selling society on the idea that you now have to plug in your pants every night?

But beyond the practical concerns, we also have to wonder about accuracy of these devices. I mean, I would hope that a smart shoe is capable of counting my steps, but what happens if these devices cut corners, or are otherwise inaccurate. Just because a sensor is located in the vicinity of your foot or your heart doesn’t necessarily mean that the sensors themselves are going to be accurate. And that leads to a new problem. As a society, we could become dependent on these sensors to deliver accurate results, and if they can’t, what then?

Looking good

Let’s also consider the super-practical concerns we’ll have – look and cost. If we are expected to be wearing smart shoes, or smart shirts or smart bras, they are going to have to look like normal clothes and cost around the same as well. Otherwise people as a whole will reject them. Perhaps there’s an answer in the healthcare field, but that won’t make a product like this ubiquitous enough for them to become accepted.

There are a lot of challenges to overcome if smart clothes are going to become a thing. While the prospect of more and better medical data is exciting to me, I’m worried that if we try too much, too soon, it may get set back to the detriment of the field. But that’s just where I am on the subject. What about you? Are you excited to see such devices starting to make the rounds? Are you concerned like me that they may be premature? Sound off below and make sure to include how long your socks will have to go on a charge before you’ll buy in. I’ll be interested to see if we can figure this out.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!