Technology is connecting more things with every passing day. Some technologies are moving so quickly that what was the latest breakthrough yesterday is passé today. Enter smart clothing. As it catches on, smart clothing is making yesterday’s wearables less attractive to both manufacturers and consumers.
A recent Ray Smith article published by the Wall Street Journal suggests that smart clothing has been around for a couple of years now. Apparently, articles of clothing embedded with RFID chips and Bluetooth already populate the military, pro sports, and even medicine. But now that same clothing is coming to the typical American workplace.
Is the world ready for smart workwear? We’re not so sure. Smart fabrics require some sort of connectivity to be useful. Making smart workwear worthwhile seems to dictate making it part of the internet of Things (IoT), which has plenty of implications that should raise flags of concern.
Smart Clothing Explained
While the concept of smart workwear may be a bit much for you to wrap your brain around, its technical principles are actually quite simple. It is possible to embed all sorts of tiny components into fabric during the weaving process. You can also sew all sorts of sensors into garments during the manufacturing process.
Those sensors and components can be used to do all sorts of things. For example, consider a wearable for your wrist that monitors your heart rate and respiration. The data is collected and stored locally on the device, but it can also be sent to remote computers for storage and analysis. Maybe your doctor wants to keep track of your heart rate because he is concerned about your health.
You could do the exact same thing by embedding sensors in a shirt. But that’s not all. You could equip the sleeves of that shirt with additional sensors that are linked to your smartphone. If one cuff turns green, you have new messages in your inbox. Touch the cuff in just the right spot and an app on your smartphone will read the messages to you.
Military clothing suppliers have been sewing RFID chips into their products for years. The chips make it possible to track the wearers anywhere within a given field.
Smart clothing seems like a great idea at first glance. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot of things actually. For a start, consider the privacy concerns smart clothing raise. Uniform rental companies like Alsco have been cautious to adopt this technology because of these privacy infringement concerns.
Have you ever used Google Maps to check traffic? If so, have you ever wondered how the app is capable of identifying congestion, traffic accidents, and police cruisers? It is actually pretty simple. Even when your phone is safely tucked away in your pocket, Google is tracking it. Google uses your phone’s GPS function to do so.
As you travel down the interstate, Google tracks you along with every other Android phone belonging to every other customer on the highway. All that data can be analyzed and extrapolated from to determine traffic conditions. Accident and police data are gleaned from individual reports.
If your smartphone can be tracked virtually anywhere in the world, it is not a stretch to assume that smart clothing will also be trackable. As for whether or not manufacturers will actually do so, there really is no question about it. If tracking capability is built-in to an article of clothing, you can bet somebody will be utilizing it. Think about that before you dive into the smart workwear pool.