According to the Japan Economic News, Japanese chemical manufacturer Asahi Kasei announced that it will launch smart clothing that can be used to obtain human body information as early as next summer.
Setting this goal, Asahi Kasei holding two cards - their own research and development of conductive fiber products and the US subsidiary of Zoll (ZOLL) advantage in the field of medical equipment, which mainly produces life jacket automatic external defibrillator and other emergency equipment .
Zor is currently developing the "Roboden", an electrically-conductive fiber made from Asahi Kasei, for use in the manufacture of life jackets and the use of automated external defibrillators based on human information such as electrocardiograms. As a result, Asahi Kasei’s smart clothing is more suitable for first aid and condition management.
Focusing on health and medical care is the most important research direction and function setting of smart clothing.
Asahi Kasei’s investment in smart apparel is backed by the saturation of Japan’s domestic fiber market. Major fiber manufacturers are seeking new sources of revenue, and smart apparel is locked in a cultivable new market.
According to data from the survey company Data Resource, the smart clothing market in 2015 will have a scale of 10 billion yen; in 2021, the market size will expand to about 400 billion yen. According to the report of Gartner, an American information technology consulting company, shipments of smart clothing in 2013 and 2014 were almost zero.
In addition to Asahi Kasei, Toray, a Japanese chemical material company, and Kurashiki and Toyobo, both Japanese textile companies, are also involved. At present, Toray is at the forefront.
Toray and NTT, a telecommunications carrier, have jointly developed a new fiber material called “hitoe” that can read weak electrical signals on the human body, enabling 24-hour monitoring of the human heart rate. The use of this fiber-produced service is already on the market. It is mainly aimed at sporting goods companies that need to measure the factory load of workers under high-temperature environment, and the sales of hospitals.
Kurashiki and Toyobo's smart clothes are still in the experimental stage. The former started to cooperate with companies in the transportation industry in May to conduct verification tests for heatstroke prevention products. Similarly, the latter developed COCOMI, a thin-film product made of conductive materials and resins, and is also doing a functional test to prevent sleepers of buses and trucks from falling asleep.
In fact, the emergence of smart clothing is closely related to the awareness of consumer health movement. In the past few years, sports brands have introduced smart clothes that can monitor health data such as heart rate, blood pressure, motion trajectory, and muscle activation to better suit this trend.
Nike launched the Nike+ series of smart devices early on, and Adidas' miCoach is also used in professional football training. Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, also made it clear that the company’s two future directions include smart sportswear for high-end users, and fitness information and data platforms for general consumers.
At the 2014 US Open, the American clothing brand Ralph Lauren also unveiled The Polo Tech Shirt, its first smart wearable device. This product's fabric contains a silver silk component, comes with a Bluetooth sensor, can sense the user's heartbeat, calculate the amount of exercise and calories consumed, and synchronized to the iOS system. A year later, the brand began mass production of The Polo Tech Shirt, priced at US$295, and is mainly for high-end sports enthusiasts.
Smart clothing is locked up to nurture new markets Japanese companies join the ranks of development (Figure 2)
The Polo Tech Shirt by Ralph Lauren (Source: Ralph Lauren)
Some businesses also set the direction of R&D of smart clothing beyond medical and sports. Last summer, Google teamed up with Levi's, a clothing brand, to create a smart denim jacket that enables call play, smart navigation, and more.
Smart clothing is locked in a nurturable new market Japanese companies join the ranks of development (Figure 3)
A smart jacket created by Google and Levi's and a cuff button to answer the phone (Source: Levi's official website)
The comfort of fabrics, the perfect and sustainable function, the ability of clothes to be washed repeatedly, and whether the price is “close to the people” are the key factors affecting the popularity of smart clothing.
We have reason to believe that with the increasing number of companies in related fields, the pace of development in the field of smart wear will be effectively promoted.
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