Wearables 2015: Sports Performance Wristbands, Smartwatches and Smart Textiles

Posted on March 25, 2015

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Sports and fitness trackers come in all shapes and formats, from smart vests or jackets to clip on bike pedals, the simple multitasking smartwatch and medically proven smart sensor.

It was a bonanza for sports performance companies at the Wearable Technology Show 2015, with organisations promoting or launching products to encourage more focused physical activity and more effective exercise regimes. Among the front runners are a handful of companies, with a legion of eager and enthusiastic start ups hard on their heels.

Glofaster previously appeared on TV’s Dragon’s Den with its range of sports clothing for runners and cyclists and the handy Gizmo, which plugs into the company’s smart jacket to monitor heart rate and turn the garment into a wearable device to optimise training. Technology company 2Pure were there with the Mio, which uses the same optical technology as the finger clip-on heart rate monitor (photoplesmographic technology) harness light to measure blood flow through the capillaries. Creating a clever coupling with a built in accelerometer means the Mio can deliver extremely accurate heart rate results at running speeds in excess of 14mph.

Wider Adoption
Blue Chip World represented the cost effective end of the scale with the European launch of an inexpensive fitness product range, from a sensory wristband to a cycle pedal add-on and a skipping rope attachment. “To get to a wider audience you have to have the right price points,” said business development manager Paul McCafferty. “We want to get our products to a wider audience. We want to get wider adoption to those users that perhaps haven’t used complex technology.”

Crowdfunding platform Indiegogo was at WTS 2015 representing several of its tech projects, including the Fitkat band. Fitkat aims to keep you fit and connected to those closest to you, even going so far as including an SOS-style alert so users can contact someone in an emergency. Healthier eating and lifestyle habits are integral to the device. 

Wristbands are one of the less obtrusive and minimally stylish wearables around and a lot of firms are following in the footsteps of Jawbone (whose Up3 was a hotly discussed topic) and Fitbit in that sense.

Atlas Wearables wristband learns different exercises the more you train with it. Water resistance to 50m makes it the perfect swimming companion and when put in coach mode anyone can create or find workout routines via a smartphone app. Vibration alerts and a smart timer help you mark the end of sets and reps.

Step Up
One step up from a fitness band or smartwatch is the Uband from Practech, which the company claim is redefining the smartwatch (with good reason). It is a powerful bit of kit with a full colour LCD touchscreen at more than 300ppi resolution, a quad-core processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon TM 400) running Android 5.0 as standard. Interestingly it has a rotating screen to allow the user to choose between a dedicated fitness band and a widescreen smart watch. It also incorporates a barcode scanner for shopping, keeping track of food’s calorific content and allowing wearers to control how much they spend. Built in NFC technology also allows users to exchange social information through a simple handshake.

Sensors and Smart Clothing
Several companies create hybrid technologies that involve wristband (or chest band or belt) and clothing. These types of smart textile offerings are often pitched at enthusiastic amateurs or professional athletes. Beast Technologies has both a smartwatch for workouts and a sensor that users can hook up to equipment (such as weights machines) to give performance data and body analysis. 

 By using a micro fibre t-shirt with built in sensors and a tech-unit for data gathering, Ambiotex collects rich performance data, all relayed to a dedicated app. Each t-shirt has cardiac sensors and a silicone band that measures breathing depth and rhythm. Sports clothing from Smartlife and Sports Performance Tracking operate in a similar kind of way. Smartlife began life when the University of Manchester’s Biomedical Engineering Department and UMIST’s Textile Department joined forces in 2002. Integrated into clothing so there is no movement restriction, sensors pick up body signals like ECG with lab accuracy and pass them to a lightweight ‘brain’ built into the garment.

Sports Performance Tracking uses what it terms the SPT GPS device, a kind of smart card that slots into a slimline vest. Team performance data is the target for SPT and so coaches can utilise the GameTraka data analytics platform to see who is slacking, how much load is on each player and comparative strengths and weaknesses. SPT’s package brings elite level data analysis to amateur sports, concentrating on six different sports: football, rugby, hockey, netball, Australian rules football and ultimate frisbee.

Finally, MyZone uses a belt and sensor technology, integrated with an app and watch to show vital signs. MyZone aims to help fitness clubs and groups of users as well as individuals – leisure centres, personal trainers and others can sign up online, and the aim seems to be driving membership to existing gym facilities and sporting groups.

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