Smart clothing is on its way – are you ready?

Major international business opportunities have been forecast for smart clothing for at least the last 10 years. Important, recent developments in sensors, telecommunications and other technologies mean that the time is ripe for major international breakthroughs.

Pull on some smart clothing and experience some smartwear success stories.

Andy the installation engineer – safe, precision work in challenging conditions

An employee at Hyötytuuli’s Tahkoluoto wind farm, Andy travels to an installation site by boat during an autumn storm. The supervisor monitors Andy’s journey to the installation site and notes his safe arrival. Andy climbs up the tower in pouring raining, but the chilly conditions don’t seem so hard since his smart shoes are equipped with heating elements which keep his feet warm. However, an accelerometer installed in his work jacket detects the extra heat generated by his climb up the tower and a smart heat-detecting application in his smartphone switches off the shoe heating before he becomes too warm. It also sends the functional ventilation gap on the back of this jacket an automatic signal to open. Andy begins installing large bolts in the nacelle (turbine housing). The supervisor monitors Andy’s pulse and respiratory rate. An hour after the installation work, she notices a worrying amount of strain and sends Andy a message urging him to take a short break. Andy takes a break but also notices a smoking cable in the narrow nacelle. A detector installed in the nacelle has already alerted the nearest rescue unit and Andy uses his smart jacket to confirm that he is in good working condition and can section off the threat of fire. Andy and the rescue unit that arrives extinguish the smouldering cable together and the installation work can continue normally.

Antti Asentaja

Tommy the Trekker – enjoying nature in comfort

As an active outdoors person, Tommy the Trekker takes his smart jacket along when trekking. A sensor in the jacket follows the weather conditions in real time and Tommy can use his smartphone to monitor changes in air temperature and humidity. Tommy chooses a slightly shorter route when the temperature seems to be dropping faster than forecast. Tommy has given his wife access to his monitoring data – she sends him a message from home to say that, since it is getting colder, he should probably shorten this hiking trip. Tommy gets moving. 15 minutes later, the acceleration and pulse rate sensors on his smart jacket sense that his level of activity has clearly risen. A smartphone application calculates that, for someone of his weight, his body is generating so much heat that (in these clothes and in this weather) he will start to sweat in four minutes. To reduce the amount of sweating, the application sends a personalised control signal to his functional smart jacket, telling it to open the ventilation gaps on the sides his jacket by 13 mm. The smart jacket opens the ventilation gaps. Tommy keeps walking until he reaches a resting place, where he makes a fire, sits down and starts to prepare a snack. The smart jacket’s sensors detect a decrease in activity level and temperatures on the back and chest. Its control application calculates that, in these conditions, he will sweat less and begin to chill in around 7 minutes. To avoid this, the application sends a control signal which closes the ventilation gaps in the jacket and Tommy enjoys his snack in a light drizzle. Back home, Tommy use his tablet to view the route he took and decides to share it with his friends via the social media.

Ville Vaeltaja

Playful Pete – bustling indoors and outside

Mary heads for the playground after giving her five year old, Pete, his breakfast. Pete is not bothered at all by the ten degrees of frost and sharp wind, since he is wearing a new pair of smart overalls. The overalls sense cold weather and warm Pete’s back at a setting of 3.2W, which is just right for him in these conditions. When Pete has been playing in the snow for five minutes, the smart overalls sense that heating is unnecessary and cut the power. After an hour, Mum starts getting cold and heads for the shop with her son. In the shop, she becomes a little too warm. Pete is just as comfortable in the shop as he was outside, because the ventilation elements in his overalls sense the warmer conditions, and his mother opens them upon receiving a message from a smartphone application.

Risto Reipas

Paula the postwoman – brisk delivery rounds no matter the weather

Paula is delivering the morning post in a suburb in November. Her smart T-shirt includes wireless technology that monitors her activity level, and the temperature and humidity. It is unusually cold outside – 10 degrees below freezing – and her smart shoes and gloves are warming her fingers and toes. The internal temperature on the stairwell is +15 degrees. Paula climbs the stairs briskly to the top floor, three floors high. Sensors in her T-shirt detect that her body temperature is rising. Before she starts to sweat, the heating elements switch off and the ventilation elements in the hem and armpits of her smart jacket open up. Outside, the temperature is so low that the computation application on Paula’s smartphone closes the ventilation elements – and she remains warm while going to the neighbouring block of flats. Despite the active light element in her coat, Paula almost slips in the poorly gritted yard. The accelerometer in her smart shoes detects this and sends a time and place-tagged electronic message from the place of the incident to Paula’s shift manager. The shift manager sends a text message to ask if everything is OK. Paula acknowledges that she can handle the rest of her shift – this time it was just a “near-miss”.

Paula Postinkantaja

Fred the fireman – a safe hero

Fred’s unit is called out to fight a dangerous looking fire in an apartment building. Fred puts on his smart smoke diving outfit and arrives at the scene with the first unit. His most urgent task is to rescue a person with limited mobility from the third floor. The Fire Chief guides Fred’s smoke diving, uses a positioning application to watch his progress and gives him directions based on a floor plan of the building available on his own tablet. The dangerous apartment fire on the second floor is belching smoke onto the stairway. Based on sensors on Fred’s clothes, the Fire Chief can see fume indicators on his tablet; Fred can see the same information on an augmented reality display installed in his helmet. He receives instructions to get to the apartment quickly – an infra-red display helps him to find it. He enters the apartment and takes the endangered resident to the balcony, from where they are rescued by the fire engine’s turntable crane. Back at the fire station, the team reviews measurement data stored by sensors during the rescue operation. The data reveals that Fred had a maximum pulse rate of 188 and his oxygen saturation level fell to 78% at its lowest. This data is also used as part of the Rescue Department’s material when discussing and developing the fire service’s joint materials at a course given in the following spring.

Paavo Palomies

What do these possible success stories have in common? They at least describe the benefits of smart clothing for end users, and that is what lies at the heart of the matter: smart clothing will become a major business when, and only when, the technology serves people.

Smart clothing is on its way – are you ready?


Pekka Tuomaala VTT

Pekka Tuomaala, Principal Scientist
+358 40 720 1724, pekka.tuomaala (a)
Twitter: @pekka_tuomaala

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