Smart clothing moves beyond sportswear sensors

By Catherine


Written by Catherine Bolgar


Clever clothing is moving beyondsensor-laden sportswear, adding capabilities that keep us cool, or warm, and improve our health; smart clothes might one day even make us invisible. Consider the following possibilities.

Cool under fire: Past clothing innovations, such as Kevlar, have greatly enhanced personal safety, for example, by improving bulletproof vests. But being impermeable, such vests also keep out air and trap in the wearer’s sweat. It is a problem that researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) have tried to solve by developing a smart protective vest with an integrated cooling system using “Coolpad” technology originally designed for medical uses.coolpadvest-2

The Coolpad consists of two breathable membranes and a thin hydrophilic textile from which the added water is evaporated for cooling. An active cooling mechanism consists of a Coolpad and a ventilation system based on a spacer fabric (a three dimensional knitted fabric) to guide the air. A tiny fan, similar to that in a computer, pumps air through the spacer fabric, which in turn guides the air through the inside of the vest, increasing evaporation and cooling the wearer, Martin Camenzind, an EMPA electronic engineer, explains. A small water reservoir creates a mist in the fabric channels and, along with the perspiration, helps cool the wearer.

The drop in temperature varies according to how the Coolpad vest is worn. Sometimes a police officer will want to display his or her bulletproof vest, other times to hide it. When worn close to the skin, over a T-shirt, it can reduce body temperature by four to six degrees Celsius, says Mr. Camenzind. “You would feel even smaller temperature changes than that,” he adds. Furthermore, the active cooling system vest weighs about one kilogram, compared with the nearly 20 kilograms of equipment—including radio, gun, flashlight and more—that police officers regularly carry.

Hot fashion: At the other end of the thermometer, nanowire clothing could keep us all warm. Stanford University researchers have developed metallic nanowire-coated fabrics that reflect body heat back to the wearer, augmented by Joule heating in which an electric current releases heat. The clothing is also breathable, so the wearer stays comfortable. One benefit of the technology lies in not having to heat a whole house for its inhabitants to stay warm.

Walk like a robot: In another remarkable development, a Bristol University research team is developing soft-robotic clothing, such as smart trousers that support wearers as they walk or climb stairs, helping to prevent falls. Wearable robotics, especially for the elderly, might be more efficient than bulky walking aids or stair lifts, and more comfortable than braces that can restrict blood circulation.

Healthy fabrics: Other smart fabrics, being developed at the University of Laval in Quebec, can monitor and wirelessly transmit a wearer’s biomedical information. Such fabrics can provide a minimally invasive way to monitor chronic diseases, glucose levels, heart rhythm, brain activity, movement or location.

Clothes hide the man: In the distant future, scientists may be able to develop an “invisibility cloak,” using metamaterials—materials with properties not found in nature. Metamaterials could be used for better imaging, for visual prosthetics such as contact lenses, or for sensors. Metamaterials might also be used to create fabric with an interesting, colorful pattern that can change an object’s image, including its color, says Andrea Di Falco, lecturer in nano-photonics at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Researchers there are developing Metaflex, a flexible metamaterial with electromagnetic properties.

Invisible man concept

Metamaterials often consist of metal particles smaller than light waves. To make something invisible, a metamaterial must keep light from interacting with the material itself, Dr. Di Falco explains. “If you hide the object with a cloak but you see the cloak, you haven’t done the job. You have to hide the object and hide the cloak itself.”

Researchers are therefore experimenting with ways to bend or alter light in order to hide objects. But each object needs its own unique cloak, making it feasible on a small scale but impractical for bigger objects such as people, says Dr. Di Falco. “Cloaking today is possible provided you accept some limitations,” he says. “Will we ever be able to have a Harry Potter cloak? It’s possible, but it’s very, very far off.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. 

For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion.


Images courtesy of iStock

Can 3D Technology Spawn Better Athletes?

By Alyssa

Sports performance

Over the last few decades, technological advancements in sport have been moving the benchmark of human limitations. Some ways are easy to understand: fiberglass poles became more flexible allowing vaulters to reach new heights; replacing wooden tennis rackets with ones made of fiberglass and graphite improved accuracy; swimming bodysuits were developed to reduce drag.

But while these advances may have been game changing at the time, a new era of technology has arrived that seeks to lift the lid off the secrets to our biomechanics and help push both professional and amateur athletes to greater heights.

In every sport, and at every level, companies are now supplying equipment, clothing and gadgets in a bid to revolutionize the way professionals and amateurs train, compete and recuperate.

Personalized Footwear

Sports performance

As an example, in recent years, a growing consumer appetite for customization has seen sports brands embrace technology in order to create the perfect footwear for individuals. While it is already possible to go online or into a shop to choose the color and design of shoes, 3D modeling and printing technology is now being used to mold and shape footwear for customers to create the definitive personalized design.

Next Up: 3D Modeling for the Masses

3D modeling sole

Although professional athletes have greater support and access to use and trial these kinds of technologies, Susan Olivier, vice president of consumer goods and retail at Dassault Systèmes, believes 3D modeling techniques will soon be readily available to the public.

“The cost and size of 3D scanning is going down dramatically. I can imagine in three to five years that before shopping we will visit a booth that scans our feet and other body parts. Then we can take the scan to our favorite sports outlet who will be able to design equipment, clothing and footwear to our specifications,” says Olivier.

Want to learn more? We invite you to watch the video below that shares some specific stories of  how technology is helping both professional and everyday athletes race towards perfection.

YouTube Preview Image

You can also read more in an article that includes examples such as how Olympians like Usain Bolt are benefitting from 3D technology mapping human motion to help athletes gain split second advantage and at the same time protect themselves from injury.

NOTE: The video and article were first published as an Advertisement Feature on running from 27th June 2014 to 5th September 2014, and was created by the BBC Advertising CommercialProduction team in partnership with Dassault Systèmes.

Making a Better World Starts in Your Kitchen

By Zoe

Welcome back! This is our fourth post in the Leapfrog Project series.  Today, we’ll take a look at another success story with Duc Thanh company as part of the Sustainable Product INnovation (SPIN) project we’ve been supporting in Vietnam.

The company

Duc Thanh LogoEstablished on May 19th, 1991, Duc Thanh is one of the leading manufacturers in Vietnam specializing in producing wooden kitchenware, household utensils, home furniture, children’s toys and other customized products.

Duc Thanh Company asked the SPIN experts for technical assistance on both market ant sustainability aspects, to develop a sustainable design collection for their business in 2014.

Hoang TRANThe new collection is indulged with the trend of sustainable design to reduce the environmental impacts of our products. By supporting the environmental protection, we would like to contribute our humble changes to our ecological system

said Ms. Duong from Duc Thanh Company.

To achieve this ambitious goal, Duc Thanh worked with Hoang TRAN, a young SPIN designer supported by SOLIDWORKS Sustainability to design a range of products that is not only sustainable, useful but also beautiful.

The products

The new collection is a range of 7 kitchen items. They should be all functional, but also contemporary and with a timeless style.

The design concept was to create objects that are “Sharp with clever design that is not heavy, bulky and rounded, and uses the available material in an optimal way.” says Hoang.

The target was a mid-market customer, so a bit higher segment than Duc Thanh is now supplying to.

The Sustainable Design Dimensions

Hoang, together with the company’s designers and stakeholders decided to focuses their design on 4 main sustainable design dimensions.

Sustainable Material

  • Using Recycled Material: Most of Duc Thanh Company products are made with rubber wood, recycled after rubber production.
  • Local Material: Duc Thanh wants to create a Vietnamese brand based on Vietnamese plantation wood. However, due to lack of side material suppliers, they still need to import from China or Taiwan while looking for more local suppliers for other materials.


  • Material Reduction: The design had been though in order to use the materials as economically as possible. For example creating designs that fit the wood sizes Duc thanh can buy to create least leftovers. They also worked on using the leftovers from bigger products for smaller ones. Finally, they designed products by minimizing the thickness of the parts, so the amount of material is reduced and the product is weight-lighted for transportation.
  • Simple Parts: The products designs are mostly rectangular flat pieces of wood, saving many manufacturing steps, material and making them easy to manufacture, preventing working accident.

Green Manufacturing

  • Energy Efficient: Duc Thanh is still working on saving electricity in production by replacing new machines that uses solar energy for example. They also work on calculating and preparing sufficient materials and labor force to use full capacity of the machines in production to save time and energy, in a safe process.
  • Reduce transport: The different suppliers are located near the assembly manufacturing workshop, in Vietnam or South East Asia region, which reduce the transportation steps and distances.


  • Preserve Local Culture: Vietnamese traditional culture of wood handicraft is sustained and employees are encouraged to do research, give ideas to improve the production into an effective process.
  • Responsible Customers: Social and environmental aspects are considered along the entire life cycle of the products to raise awareness from workers to consumers. Duc Thanh also clearly explains to their customer: “that we do use the wood economically so as to keep the best price for them and create least leftovers, they are totally agree and support our methods.” said Ms. Duong.


A Jump ahead with the Leapfrog Project

Based on these sustainable dimensions and the first designs made with Hoang, I went to Duc Thanh company to help them using SOLIDWORKS Sustainability to assess the environmental impacts of their design choices.

Eco-Designer Using SOLIDWORKS

For each product of the collection, we used SOLIDWORKS Sustainability to make environmental assessments. Here are the results we got:

Hexagon cutting board with groove: 62% CO2 reduction

Hexagon cutting board with groove LCA

Tangram cutting board with hole: 55% CO2 reduction

Tangram cutting board with hole 390x195x24 LCA

Rectangular tray with 20 holes and 2 handles: 65% CO2 reduction

Rectangular tray with 20 holes and 2 handles LCA

Salad set: 61% CO2 reduction

Salad set LCA

Wine rack with 8 floors: 59% CO2 reduction

Wine rack with 8 floors LCA

The entire collection has been shown at the Ambiente fair, in Germany last February, part of the sustainable design booth. The calculation made has been used to create marketing content and awareness for customers.

Duc Thanh At Ambiente FairDuc Thanh At Ambiente Fair

After this experience, Duc Thanh shared with us:

With sustainable design and practices, we can reduce the price and improve the quality of products. Our customers are very happy and satisfied with this practice, so it is the success that we have achieved and will maintain during our journey.

Finally, we also want to communicate our vision and mission to our customers gradually. It is not an easy road to go, but it is necessary if we want to protect the world for our children. Each product contains our will and trial in making a better world.

So making a better world could really start in your kitchen… tell us what you think?  And stay tuned to the Leapfrog Project series :-)

Zoe BEZPALKOZoé BEZPALKO is an Eco-Design Specialist at Dassault Systèmes

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