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Wearable Sensors Track Exercise Data/Apparel and Shoe Manufacturers Adopt Technologies, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The big news in sports equipment is wearable sensors that can measure anything from heart rates to speed achieved to physical exertion.  Sensors are being embedded in all kinds of apparel, shoes and accessories.  This sector will evolve very quickly by adopting the latest breakthroughs in the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning, in order to capitalize on data generated by device wearers.
A private company called Catapult Sports makes a matchbook-sized GPS device called Vector that professional and amateur athletes wear to measure performance.  The firm also offers the ClearSky local positioning system (LPS) and the Catapult One athlete monitoring system.  The devices are paired with analytical software capable of tracking multiple athletes both indoors and out.  Catapult acquired sports monitoring device company GPSports.
Sporting goods manufacturers such as Nike are using sensors to entice customers.  Nike and other shoemakers, including Adidas, have long offered sensors that can be worn on running shoes to collect data on steps, mileage or calories burned.  Nike provides a technology called Nike+ that is incorporated in certain running shoes and can communicate with Apple or Android smart phones.  Users can see total running time, distance, pace and calories burned.  It can provide feedback during the run to let the runner know whether or not personal goals are being met.  If you don’t want to buy the special shoes, you can buy standalone sensors that can be attached to your favorite shoes from other makers.  The Nike FuelBand (a wristband that can track a user’s walking, dancing, basketball playing and many other activities via a built-in accelerometer) was a pioneer in this field.  However, after a few short years Nike dropped the band itself while maintaining the underlying technology.  Nike now makes its Fuel software available to outside firms for incorporation in a wide variety of activity trackers.  Nike’s Fuel Band was widely admired but did not rack up impressive sales.  One of the trends causing the firm to change gears was the development of the Apple Watch.  Nike Fuel is now available as an Apple Watch app.
GPS company TomTom offers a watch with a large screen and built-in GPS. enables users to upload complete running and workout information, compete with friends, store personal exercise history and find popular running routes.  A large number of TomTom editions are available specifically for golfers, hikers and participants in other types of activities.
The system can also be used by people using exercise equipment indoors.  Compatible cardio machines such as treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes made by firms such as LifeFitness, Precor and Cybex have ports to which iPods can be connected to record pace, time and distance.  In addition, iTunes is featuring upbeat music for workouts, favorite playlists from famous athletes and even real-time voice feedback during exercise.  The sensor and transmitter retail at a modest price.  The result has been a massive online running community, with millions of members.  Members can post comments about their runs, share tips and engage in friendly competition to see who makes the best time for a given distance or track.
Eyewear is also utilizing sensors for a variety of uses.  Luxottica’s Oakley offers athletes the Radar Pace sunglasses and attached earphones with a voice-activated system that tracks heart rate, power output, speed, cadence, distance and times, while it partners with Intel for data analysis.  The OrCam MyEye integrates glasses with earphones and cameras that read text to assist the visually impaired.  Vuzix’s smart glasses are Android-based wearable computers for industrial and medical applications, with the ability to take still photos, record and playback video, track timed events and link to other devices such as smartphones.
Apparel and fabrics are also being redesigned to incorporate sensors or at least provide connectivity to personal electronics.  Textronics, Inc. makes fabric with circuitry, sensors and a functional component woven in that render the material capable of sending signals to heart rate monitors, which are popular among serious athletes.  Textronics makes a sports bra under the NuMetrex brand which senses the wearer’s heart rate and communicates that data to a wrist monitor.  The bras free female athletes from wearing separate heart rate monitor straps and sensors.
Adidas has been innovating with sensors as well.  Its latest effort is a line of smart products under the miCoach brand, including fit smart, a wristband which measures heart rate, calories, pace and speed, distance and stride rate; smart run, which is an all-in-one running watch; smart ball, a soccer training ball embedded with a sensor that measures speed, spin and strike force; x_cell, a wearable sensor that measures vertical movement in addition to heart rate and running speed; speed cell, an on-shoe sensor; and the Adidas heart rate monitor with strap.  Most Adidas miCoach sensors link to selected smartphones.  OMsignal, a Montreal-based company, makes machine-washable t-shirts that measure the wearer’s heart rate, breathing and body temperature.  
Fitness apparel maker Under Armour invested $710 million buying fitness app companies MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal and Endomondo.  MapMyFitness is U.S. firm that offers an app aimed at runners and cyclists.  MyFitnessPal is a calorie counting app with a massive community of users.  Endomondo is a European app for logging exercise data for a variety of sports.  Analysts expect Under Armour to develop clothing that tracks and analyzes fitness data.
Another twist on wearable electronics is the use of conductive fibers, which are typically substrate fibers such as cotton, polyester or nylon coated or embedded with electrically conductive elements.  The result is lighter and more flexible than using metal wires as conductors, making it easily wearable and washable.  Conductive fibers can be used in a wide variety of applications, including in military uniforms (which can power equipment), RFID tags in clothing and sensors in active wear that can measure heart rate and distance covered.

Internet Research Tip:
For more about conductive fibers, see the web site for the Conductive Fibers Manufacturing Council,

     The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced the founding of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Institute (AFFOA), a public-private consortium of manufacturers, universities, agencies and companies to accelerate innovation in high-tech, U.S.-based manufacturing involving fibers and textiles.  AFFOA includes dozens of universities, industry members, manufacturers and startup incubators across 29 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
Electronic components, which are becoming smaller and smaller, are now easily incorporated into articles of clothing.  Industrial applications for wearable electronics will also evolve.  For example, police officers, soldiers and emergency medical technicians may benefit from the ability to see up-to-date data on a wearable dashboard such as Google Glass, while built-in cameras and microphones may exchange vital real-time information with experts and analysts in remote locations.  This could move remote collaboration in highly critical situations to a new level.

SPOTLIGHT:  CuteCircuit
London-based CuteCircuit is a fashion house that produces women’s and men’s clothing made of fabric embedded with micro-electronics that create changing, lighted patterns, shapes and texts.  CuteCircuit projects include the Sound Shirt, with micro-actuators embedded in the fabric that receive music transmissions that the wearer can feel; and the Hug Shirt, which captures the strength, duration and location of touches such as hugs and actuators that recreate the sensations.  CuteCircuit produces custom clothing through its Haute Couture line, and offers ready-to-wear through its website,

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