Wearable experts talk smart apparel, supply chains and security at conference

By Heather Mack
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Smart clothing, such as sensor-enabled running wear and thermoregulation jackets, may not be in everyone’s closets these days, but software developers and manufacturers see that future as very near. At the Wearables Technology conference this week in San Francisco, companies looking to go beyond fitness trackers say the changing landscape of the healthcare world and the consumer world is shaping up for mass smart-clothing markets to emerge.

While most companies presented devices or enhancements for clothing rather than full-on smart clothing, many speakers heralded smart apparel as evolution of wearables.

“When you look at the convergence of wearable technology and the connected systems, it’s really about looking at the technology connected to the senses,” said keynote speaker John Dwyer, who is VP of consumer technology at Flex, which manufactures electronic hardwares. “That is what we are trying to do, along with iconic designs.”

MAS Holdings, Flex partner on Firefly, Lumo collaboration

It’s big partnerships that will enable such introductions to the mass market, Dwyer said. Flex unveiled their partnership with global apparel manufacturer MAS Holdings, demonstrating their safety fitness clothing line called Firefly. The clothing features flexible, sewn-in green lights, aiming to protect the wearer during any low-light situation without adding any bulk to the clothes.

MAS, which is a Sri Lanka-based company that works with companies such as Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Lululemon, worked with Flex to develop Firefly, which was demonstrated at the conference onstage with runners, a cyclist and a construction worker. Slim-cut and made out of lightweight material, the clothing is also washable, has an eight-hour battery life, and doesn’t carry the bulk and obviousness of earlier safety fitness gear.

"We've sewn some LED lights on jackets before, but those were just prototypes," said Dwyer. "Functionality needs to be a huge part now."

MAS and Flex also showcased their newest collaboration with Lumo Bodytech, which makes Lumo Lift and LumoBack posture and activity tracking devices. The new device, Lumo Run, clips on the users’ waistband tracks distance, time, posture, cadence and maps through the users smartphone and provides real-time audio coaching cues. (Last year, Lumo announced it would also be distributing shorts or capris with an embedded device, but the clip-on was highlighted here).
 
“It gives you auditory feedback on running, like having a coach right next to you,” said Lumo Bodytech co-founder and CEO Monisha Perkash.

The devices may be developed, but the hard part isn't over. Perkash described the current climate around wearables as one in which everyone is “drowning in data.”
 
“We can measure all that,” she said. “But how do we transform that into an actionable product, with enduring value? At the software layer, then the app layer, how do we really do that?”
 
The companies are focusing first and foremost on reaching a mass audience.
 
“The secret is working with brands that are strategic,” said Nathan Sivagananathan, CEO of MAS. “Flex is an expert on technology. MAS is an expert on apparel. We’re coming together to disrupt clothing.”

Halo Neuroscience mulls move from athletics into healthcare

With a different kind of wearable, Halo Neuroscience presented data from their study of elite athletes and neurostimulators. Dr. Daniel Chao, co-founder and CEO demonstrated Halo Sport – a set of headphones that provides pulses of energy signals to the motor cortex, purportedly increasing neuronal “excitability,” during a “neuropriming session.”
 
To test the efficacy of Halo Sport, Chao worked with college-level, Olympic and professional athletes during the research phase. They found that over several weeks’ training, those who wore the neurostimulation headphones increased leg strength more than those who didn’t. But it’s not just for sports.
 
“Now, we’re looking into how it could be used for stroke rehabilitation,” said Chao. “Physical therapy doesn’t actually work that well, so what if we could combine with neurostimulation to accelerate the rate at which these people improve?”
 
Data security concerns

After the fun and games of sportswear and brain stimulation, users may start wondering about the safety of all that data they're handing over. So, on a cautionary note, Gary Davis, who holds the title of Chief Consumer Security Evangelist at Intel, took to the stage.
 
“Before I besiege you with data about how terrible security is for wearables, I want you to know that I believe in it,” Davis said. “But it’s simple: the type of data that exists in healthcare files is way more valuable data than that that exists in credit cards.”
 
Davis predicted a coming flood of data from wearables to the tune of 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors by 2020, with nearly half of connections being machine to machine.
 
Davis cautioned for all wearable companies at all ends of the data think about security from day one, giving an example of the nightmare hack with off-the-shelf-technology: taking control of a device like an insulin pump and turning it off.
 
“What you rarely hear is the number of sensors that connect to these devices," he said. “These are going to be generating a tremendous amount of data every day. Every link in the ecosystem is a hacker’s dream.”