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Intel Takes Wearables Literally With New Smart Shirt

intel-smart-shirtToday processor maker Intel unveiled a new smart clothing platform that the company hopes will lead the charge in the new wearable technology frontier. In an interview with Recode, Intel’s head of new devices Mike Bell explained the way the new platform could transform our relationship with the very clothes we wear every day.

With a “smart shirt” in hand, Bell explained that clothes made with “smart, conductive fibers” can be used in conjunction with a small module built using its Edison mini-computer to give users a glimpse at their biometric data.

“You can get very accurate heart rate information just by wearing the shirt,” said Bell, who demonstrated the technology by plugging the Edison-based module into the shirt itself. The module can then transmit that information to a smartphone or tablet app. “This particular box, because it has Edison inside, can use both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. We could’ve built one with a 3G cellular chip.”

Intel has partnered with smart clothing company AiQ to develop products using the new platform. While heart rate information is one biometric for the smart clothes to transmit, Bell said that there are many more possible applications for their smart clothing suite.

“The idea behind our platform is that we’ve produced the hardware and software for our partners to go out and build stuff with it,” he said.

For instance, if a person needs to stay on top of monitoring the health of a loved one, like a child or an elderly relative, the smart shirt could transmit important biometric data back to them via email or text message.

“The nice thing,” said Bell, “is because we built intelligence into here, this can actually let you know if something goes wrong.”

Intel’s new platform is but one of many forays into weaving technology into the clothes we wear. OMsignal makes a line of smart clothes that uses sensors embedded into fabric, as well as a module that transmits biometric data back to the user. Another company called Hexoskin makes smart clothing that does much the same. Meanwhile, the Wearable Technology Lab at the University of Minnesota has been conducting experiments using the same technique for the last few years, even working with the Johnson Space Center in Houston to better equip astronauts heading into the final frontier.

Wearable technology like smart clothes seems like the perfect method for people to learn more about themselves and their bodies. The real question is whether or not users will actually want access to that data, or if they will be content to live their lives blissfully unaware of how their heart rate fluctuates with every step.

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