There's an old Swedish saying that cyclists often like to paraphrase: There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. Now, a new smart shirt seems to suggest that, indeed, clothing has the potential to not only affect how we weather the weather, but how we maintain our health, too.
The FitnessSHIRT, which was developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen, Germany, may be available sometime in the next year. It uses conductive textile electrodes integrated into its material to capture cardio activity -- including breathing, pulse, and changes in heart rate. The shirt employs an elastic band designed to sense chest movements associated with breathing.
All this data is captured by a removable electronic unit that collects the raw data and uses algorithms to calculate various parameters. That data then is sent wirelessly to a linked mobile device or PC to store the data and translate it once again into broader metrics, such as overall performance, exertion, and stress.
It's unclear whether the FitnessSHIRT will be affordable for the masses, but its use among high-paid elite athletes seems inevitable. It could even replace those ubiquitous and notoriously uncomfortable chest-strap heart rate monitors. The shirt has the extra benefit of spotting potential problems, such as a high pulse rate coupled with a low breath rate and activity level, which can be a sign of heart complications.
Fraunhofer also is partnering up with BitifEye Digital Test Solutions to combine the FitnessSHIRT with the MENTORbike, a training device that uses a pedelec (small electric motor) and handlebar-mounted smartphone to collect data from both the cyclist and the bicycle to calculate speed, energy expended, and other metrics. The bike could maximize performance and provide a safer way for people with heart problems to exercise.
The researchers say they are still working on an algorithm that can help spot arrhythmias, enabling physicians to use the shirts as long-term electrocardiograms. For now, the researchers plan to demonstrate the bike and shirt at the Medica 2013 Trade Fair in Düsseldorf later this month.