IoT: The Internet of Textiles

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The Next “Big Thing” in Wearable Technology

The “Internet of Textiles” is just around the corner, a radical shift into implementing  e-textiles into clothing for daily and specialized use. Forward-thinking companies such as Nike and Under Armour have already begun developing these next era wearables, possibly inciting a slew of unusual partnerships between tech and fashion industries in the years to come.

If you’ve ever used the hashtag #IOT, savvy businesses and consumers are likely to interpret it as a reference to “Internet of Things” — a concept that encapsulates the growing interconnectivity of devices, vehicles, and household appliances — but there’s an up-and-coming offshoot acronym describing a nearly limitless range of futuristic, wearable products: The Internet of Textiles.

Smart fabric and garments is an inevitable and exciting proposition for customers as people embrace the idea of being plugged into the Cloud on a 24/7 basis. Wearable technology melded into the very fabric of clothing is an idea fast catching on, not just in fashion and design, but also in very real-world applications in healthcare, industry, and the military.

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The Internet of Textiles is, in fact, an extension of the Internet of Things.

For instance, hospital gowns sewn with e-textiles can implement interactive sensors and displays which send vital patient data to doctors in real-time, thereby helping hospitals reduce dependency on bulky, expensive monitoring machines. This same technology can be extended to soldiers in combat, providing their medic team with live feeds to better treat injuries and wounds on the battlefield.

But with total connectivity that only works effectively with massive data sharing (aka Big Data), privacy concerns continue to grow as recent global data scandals permeate the news. The infamous Facebook and Cambridge Analytica episode has demonstrated the insidious underbelly of Big Data if it’s not managed judiciously, and for smart clothing to take off, public trust is critical.

Despite the lengthy debates surrounding data sharing and privacy concerns between governments and the private sector, the Internet of Textiles is still expected to become fully realized within the next decade.

The smart textile market size is forecasted to be worth 5.3 billion dollars in 2022 from 943 million in 2015, according to Allied Market Research. Both developed and developing countries are projected to witness escalating demand due to an increase in standard of living, rising incomes, and growing awareness of safety and environmental concerns.

Also important to consider is the reduced manufacturing time to produce e-textiles and smart fabrics, thanks to digital printing machines, which have resulted in lower production costs and increased efficiency — a boon for e-commerce.

Smart fabrics are expected to see a high rate of acceptance into big industries, especially in the coming decade. This advent will open up a vast new era of possibilities, including the ability to charge your smart devices just by placing them in your pocket!