Next Generation Smart-Shirt Analyzes Body Movement In 3D Detail

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Cambridge Consultants, the UK-based research firm described as a “DARPA for the private sector,” unveils a new line of sensor-laden clothing that goes far beyond tracking heart rate and exertion. The technology, which Cambridge Consultants is calling XelfleX, “turns garments into active motion sensors” by recording the detailed movements of athletes in real time as they perform, ultimately allowing advanced analysis of form and technique.

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Prior to the unveil, innovation in the budding smart clothing market had been driven by OMSignal and Hexoskin, both of which provide users with clothing options that track vitals during exercise without requiring athletes to wear a chest strap. However, unlike XelfleX, these shirts do not capture the complex and detailed movements of each muscle and extremity as athletes perform. The technology represents an entirely new approach to capturing and quantifying human movement. The clothing houses small fiber-optic cables that run lengthwise down the extremities and core of the body. Light is constantly pulsing through this network of fiber-optics and sensors placed at the wrist, elbow, and other key locations measure backscatter in the lines as the wearer’s movement disrupts the flow of light through the network. By analyzing this backscatter, algorithms are able to replicate the detailed movements of the wearer in real-time. The one major design flaw in the new technology is that the computer that runs the algorithms is bulky, and developers have yet to design a way of attaching it to the clothing without causing secondary issues.

Because Cambridge Consultants is not itself a consumer electronics manufacturer, the company will license the technology to other businesses that will commercialize it in a variety of new products. Beyond sportswear, technology capable of accurately tracking movement could have uses in healthcare. Physical therapy done in the home could be supported with “virtual coaches” that would use the data being captured by the XelfleX clothing to track repetitions and correct technique. Several digital health startups have been pursuing virtual physical therapy coaching solutions like this by leveraging the motion tracking features within the Microsoft Kinect console.

Cambridge Consultants is showcasing the technology at CES 2015.


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