At the crossroads of fashion, health and technological innovation, OMsignal designs ‘smart’ bio-sensing apparel, which performs just as well as some professional medical devices.
As the self-measurement trend continues to gather pace, wearable technologies are taking various forms, from watches to ‘smart’ contact lenses. A recent Forrester report shows that 12% of the US adult population is comfortable with the idea of wearing ‘smart’ clothing, the same percentage as for Google Glass. ‘Smart textiles’, which already seem to have found favour with the general public, are no longer in the realm of fantasy, they are already with us. OMsignal is a company which is developing ‘smart’ apparel that enables everyone not only to measure his/her own personal data, but also to stay in touch with the wellness condition of friends and loved ones. The T-shirt sends the wearer’s data to his/her mobile device, either immediately or with a time-lapse, where it is displayed in the form of a dashboard. Users can also choose to receive data from a family member or friend.
Hospital quality quantified-self technology
OMsignal, which combines ready-to-wear clothes, self-measurement technology and mobile communications, invents, designs and makes its own line of ‘smart’ apparel in Montreal, Canada. Sensors are woven into the textile fibres, enabling measurement of a range of parameters: pulse, respiratory rate, skin humidity and temperature, plus external humidity and temperature, the number of steps you’ve taken and your overall physical activity. From this data, the fabric calculates not only the number of calories you’ve burned but also your emotional state – stressed, relaxed, etc. OMsignalunderlines that the sensors it uses are of professional medical quality. A simple T-shirt can thus provide you with an electrocardiogram up to the standard of what you would expect to obtain at a hospital. “Being able to measure and record a patient’s breathing, together with his/her heart rate, is incredibly useful from a medical point of view,” pointed out Stéphane Borreman, a qualified doctor who is OMsignal’s Chief Medical Officer. The medical sector is one of the main fields of application for the product. A doctor could certainly track the health status of many patients if they were wearing OMsignal T-shirts.
It may sound like a dream solution, but in fact combining state-of-the-art technology with clothing manufacture is far from simple. First of all, the textile and technology sectors do not generally have much in common. “We needed partners who were able to go forward with development on a weekly rather than a monthly basis,” explained OMsignal co-founder Frédéric Chanay. Another major challenge was to actually weave the sensors into the clothing. The OMsignalteam, composed of physicians, developers and ‘smart’ fabric experts, needed to undertake some very serious research before they were able to combine the technical and aesthetic demands of their product. Their efforts have however paid off. “We’ve now managed literally to create woven IT,” declared Joanna Bersowska, Head of Electronic Textiles at OMsignal, though it has not been easy to “understand how these fibers work, and establish the parameters needed to ensure excellent signal quality.” The way the fibers are aligned, the cut and suppleness of the garment and its sensitivity to movement are all elements that can affect the functioning of the sensors and therefore the accuracy of the data. The T-shirts have not yet been launched on to the market, but are being ‘road-tested’ by hundreds of beta users, with priority given to applications developers and medical staff.