By: Thomas Hall
A better-performing you? “It’s as easy as putting on a shirt!”
The Hexoskin, a plain, black shirt, is actually a lightweight, all-encompassing fitness tracker for extreme athletics and everyday activities alike. Hexoskin has been in development since 2006, when a Montreal design duo came up with the idea to streamline the existing method of invasive and uncomfortable physical trackers. Their design was so tantalizing to aerospace use that the Canadian Space Agency has been working closely to fund and test the product since its conception. They plan to send the shirts to the International Space Station in coming years for use by astronauts.
How forward-thinking is Hexoskin? A Bluetooth transmitter slipped into a pocket of the shirt connects to your device of choice, and beams information such as heart rate, lung capacity, oxygen levels, and sleep patterns, all in real time. The most high-profile uses thus far have been by the 2014 Spartan Race World Champion, the Canadian Olympic skiing team, and by polar researchers for the Canadian Space Agency. Those with conditions such as cardiac defects can wear the shirt to monitor their activity for any dangerous deviations. The only option previously was to wear sticky sensors beleaguered with wires until enough data was recovered.
Possibly the biggest boon to Hexoskin is that it is an Open Data device, meaning that any developer, or user, can pull the sensors’ readings into whatever platform they wish. This philosophy of openness has really taken off in recent tech products, from Fitbit, to Android Wear, to Apple’s Health app and smart watch. The Hexoskin technology has already been licensed to clothing manufacturers, in the hopes that popular name brands can bring down the hefty $399 price tag, as well as create buzz in pop culture.
The team claims that products like Hexoskin are key to “preventative medicine,” much like the dozens of sensors in your car are key to preventative maintenance. If wearable technology and the Quantified Self movement seemed like a fad in recent years, then that stigma is quickly dissipating. According to Nielsen, 15% of the population is trying on wearable technology, and over half of those early adoptions are fitness bands. So what is stopping a majority of the population from grabbing the best, or cheapest, or most colorful fitness tracker from the nearest shelf? The answer seems to be that the intersection of technology and fashion simply isn’t where it needs to be for wide adoption. Designers can only be free to make something truly usable and artistic when “not directed by marketing demands or production methods,” and the smallness, lightness, and excellent battery life of today’s cutting edge tech is only just beginning to become usable by fashion designers (Bradley Quinn, Cybercouture). With its minimalist design, loaded feature set, and lack of visual cues that scream “nerd,” Hexoskin is a chance for technology and quantified health to break into the most worn of all wearables: clothing.