June 2012 management briefing: Smart textiles and wearable technology
The market for smart textiles and wearable technology has the potential to change the way people dress, communicate, respond to emergencies, manage their health and even entertain themselves. But the industry continues to move slowly in terms of commercialisation and is not without certain risks – as this month’s management briefing explains.
While the most common selling points for apparel used to be that that they would keep you warm (or cool) - and look good at the same time - rapid advancements in technology have been creating a whole new industry of 'smart' fabrics, which can offer all sorts of intelligent, functional properties to its wearers.
Research laboratories, scientists and engineers have, for years, been promising the emergence of innovative, 'smart' capabilities for fabrics and textiles, based on advances in the field of nanotechnology. However, as these designs slowly become a reality in the commercial sense, the potential hazards and risk assessments surrounding them are also gaining a sharper focus.
The development and future growth of the smart textiles industry is something of a classic chicken-and-egg scenario, begging the question: which needs to come first - the demand or the technology?
The buzz around intelligent textiles and garments may have continued for about a decade, with research projects and prototypes cropping up worldwide - but commercial success has so far eluded the industry. While barriers remain in terms of consumer demand, cost and applications, industry experts predict that smart textiles will soon make a major impact in a number of markets, significantly changing consumer thinking around apparel.
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