Internet Enabled Consumer Devices

The internet of garments: The new fashion in wearables

08 February 2022
One application of IoT-based garments is biometric monitoring. Source: Adobe stock

Smart wearables are electronic devices that are meant to be worn near, on or inside the body in order to deliver intelligent services that may be integrated into a larger smart system via the use of communication protocols. By integrating smart wearables into clothing, smart clothes or internet of things (IoT)-based garments may be developed. Such wearables-based clothing is a viable candidate to replace or supplement smartphones and other portable linked devices as the future gateway between the real and digital worlds. Additionally, textiles are the ideal wearable medium because their physical attributes and the advent of flexible electronics are a great match: form-fitting, malleable and frequently in close contact with our bodies.

Shirts also feel more natural on the body than wristbands or chest straps and are capable of tracking additional biometric data due to the larger surface area they serve. Therefore, biometric monitoring is simpler, as signals are detected precisely where they occur, allowing for maximum interpretation. For instance, heart rate signals received from the body's extremities vary considerably from those received from the chest. Therefore, smart clothing is capable of monitoring, documenting, augmenting and actuating our lives, opening up the formerly unimaginable potential for addressing global societal issues in fields such as safety at work, personal productivity, aging and crowd-sourced health.

Introduction to the internet of smart garments

The IoT has enabled various industries, including agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, home automation, emergency management, energy, and military and public safety, to take advantage of the data economy. Additionally, when combined with advancements in 5G communication networks for virtual/augmented reality, device-to-device communications, cyber-physical systems, smart textiles and artificial intelligence, the IoT and wearables can elevate human-to-human and human-to-machine communication and engagement to incredible heights.

Smart wearables and smart clothes are at the nexus of the physical and digital worlds, and when paired with other advancements (smart glasses), they have the ability to modify society due to their widespread adoption and transformational implications across several industries. The aforementioned disciplines are laying the groundwork for the innovative paradigm of 'Internet-of-Smart-Clothing,' which foresees a world in which smart garments interact with one another, with their environment, and with remote web servers to deliver enhanced services.

Types of IoT-based garments

According to various attributes, IoT-based garments, or smart wearables, may be characterized as accessory wearables, patchable wearables, textile wearables and implantable wearables. Accessory wearables are low-power gadgets that have been modified for use as accessories, such as smart eyewear, smartwatches or fitness trackers. Patchable wearables are skin-patchable gadgets that are extremely thin and flexible. Textile-based wearables utilize flexible materials to incorporate electronics into textiles. They are also functional textile systems that communicate with their surroundings (they adjust or reply to environmental changes). Implantable wearables are small, self-powered devices that are safely implanted into the human body.

These IoT-based garments can also be categorized according to their position near, on or within a living organism's body as on-body wearables, near-body wearables, electronic textiles and in-body wearables. The on-body wearables are situated on the body, in close proximity to the skin, while near-body wearables are designed to be near the body but do not have to make physical contact with it. Similarly, in-body wearables are surgically placed into the body. Finally, electronic textiles incorporate electronics and components made of cloth or textiles.

[Discover more about the IoT and smart wearable technologies and suppliers at GlobalSpec.com]

Powering IoT-based garments

Electricity is required to power the electronics integrated into the IoT-based smart garments. While batteries are widely recognized as the most essential and effective method of building electrical networks, alternative technologies, such as supercapacitors, have made significant advancements in recent years, attaining energy density levels equivalent to lead-acid batteries. Additionally, supercapacitors are environmentally benign and provide rapid charging/discharging, high power density and high durability. Power requirements vary substantially based on the quantity of energy consumed by the wearable. Therefore, three distinct categories of IoT-based garment devices may be identified based on these power needs:

1. Low-ranged devices. These are devices similar to conventional pacemakers or watches that can be operated for an extended time (years) using button-type batteries due to their extremely low power consumption (often less than 100 µW).

2. Mid-ranged devices. These use an average of 500 mW, owing mostly to the use of wireless communication transceivers. They typically survive less than a day (sometimes just a few hours) when transmitting constantly, but certain technologies (BLE beacons) utilize sleep modes or intermittent broadcasts to extend their life significantly. As a result, these devices require larger batteries than low-ranged devices (for example, AA or AAA batteries), making them less suitable for integration into smart clothes at the moment.

3. High-ranged devices. This category includes gadgets such as cellphones and laptops that utilize up to 50 W. They are often powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are large and add strength to garments.

Conclusion

Smart wearables or IoT-enabled garments are electronic devices embedded in clothing and designed to be worn near, on or within the body to provide intelligent services that may be linked into a larger smart system via the use of communication protocols. The widespread use of smart garments in various application areas will require additional advancements in functionality, flexibility and energy efficiency. Today's single-purpose wearables (for example, stiff electronics and ancillary mobile phones) will give way to the next wave of IoT-enabled garments and wearables.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com


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