New Fitness Apparel Will Sport Sensors and Microchips

A new breed of fitness apparel equipped with flexible sensors and microchips for measuring  overall physical health­— everything from heartrate and blood pressure to joint injuries— could be less than two years away.

The thin, stretchy electronic patches for the new athletic gear are being developed by mc10, a Cambridge, Mass., company that has teamed up with Reebok.The idea is that you won’t have to buy devices to monitor your body on the move if the sportswear itself contains these electronics.

“Products that require you to buy gadgets that you then carry around with you are not as appealing as a product where you can get the information you want and it's in something you already own,” said Gilman Callsen, mc10’s co-founder.

Callsen expects the high-tech gear to be in stores sometime in 2012.

High-tech fabrics

To create electronic clothing, mc10 modified computer-chip-making processes to create mesh-like sheets of miniaturized sensors and microchips. Instead of etching these devices using acid, as is usualin chip manufacturing, the company developed a type of imprinting process where a soft, rubber stamp picks up “ink” made up of tiny sensors and microchips and then stamps it onto a material such as a sheet of aluminum foil. The sensors are 10 times thinner than a strand of hair.

Mc10’s creations wouldn’t be the first sensor-embedded fabrics on the market. For example,the MyZeo headband, which claims to help measure sleep quality,uses embedded silver fibers to observe brain activity. But a key difference is the mc10 fabrics wouldn’t have to connect to a separatecomputing device to make use of the signals gathered from a wearer’s body.

“What we would do is to — for as much of the product as possible — [is] have that sensing and active computation take place in the [clothing] itself instead of on an off-board rigid package,” Callsen said.

Reebok and mc10 are keeping the details of their tech-ified apparel under wraps. But mc10 says consumers can look forward to things such as leggings embedded with accelerometers for measuring run distance; tight-fitting shirts for heart-rate monitoring; and fabrics that measure hydration and temperature (to alert the wearer of dehydration and heat stroke).

Michelle Bryner
Michelle writes about technology and chemistry for Live Science. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the Salisbury University, a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware and a degree in Science Journalism from New York University. She is an active Muay Thai kickboxer at Five Points Academy and loves exploring NYC with friends.