August 31, 2014
Ralph Lauren And Athos Enter Wearable Tech Market With New Products
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
One of the biggest names in fashion is entering the wearable tech industry, as Ralph Lauren recently announced that it had developed a new polo shirt featuring biometric sensors that had been knitted directly into the fabric of the product.
The product is known as the Polo Tech shirt, and it was unveiled on the opening day of the US Open tennis tournament (for which Ralph Lauren is the official clothing provider). Company officials explained that the shirt is designed to combine biometrics and active lifestyle apparel in order to improve fitness and overall wellness.
Polo Tech features technology developed by Canadian-based sports science and engineering firm OMsignal, and the sensors capture an array of biological and physiological data from the individual wearing the shirt. Ralph Lauren also claims that the compression shirt has a “sleek look” and a “second-skin fit” that “enhances comfort and agility.”
According to San Francisco Chronicle reporters Michelle Devera and Carolyne Zinko, the Polo Tech shirt, which the company planned to test at the US Open on tennis player Marcus Giron, can detect data pertaining to movement and direction, as well as measure a person’s heartbeat, breathing, stress levels and energy output. The information is then transmitted from a type of black box to the cloud, where it is analyzed and then passed on to a smartphone app.
“We just wanted you to be able to put on a shirt and go,” David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising at Ralph Lauren, told Julianne Pepitone of NBC News during an interview at the company’s New York offices this week. He added that he was “really surprised” that other big-name retailers had yet to launch similar garments, telling Pepitone, “I kept reading the newspaper, waiting for someone else to get out ahead of us.”
Now that they have unveiled the Polo Tech, however, industry experts expect other companies to follow. As JP Gownder, a principal analyst at tech research firm Forrester, told NBC News, “For [wearables] to reach mass adoption, it’s an exercise in cultural engineering. People need to want to wear it on their own merits… If someone doesn't know wearable-embedded clothing exists, or what it looks like, they aren't going to covet it.”
Like Ralph Lauren, a Redwood City, California-based company known as Athos is also entering the wearable clothing market with a line of shirts and shorts that use electromyography to detect heart rate, respiration and muscle exertion, Devera and Zinko reported. Their products cost $99 each, and transmit data using a $199 thumb-size metal Core device ($199) in a port on the clothes to a smartphone app.
Using that app, individuals can obtain instant and detailed feedback on their body’s performance, such as how much harder one part of a leg is working than another, as well as advice on how to improve their form and performance levels. The idea was first developed when cash-strapped co-founders Dhananja Jayalath and Chris Wiebe needed a more economical alternative to personal trainers while they were attending college.
“They had time for the gym but no money for personal trainers and started developing crude sensors that they welded onto their clothing,” the Chronicle reporters said, adding that the technology has “since been refined” and will even be used this season by the Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Only time will tell whether or not this type of wearable tech can find a foothold with the general public – after all, as Pepitone explained, a recent poll asking men and women what type of wearables would interest them discovered that 42 percent said they would only wear a wrist device, while just 19 percent said they would be interested in garments. However, industry experts said this should not be a cause for concern for Athos or Ralph Lauren.
“I think this is low-hanging fruit for them, because people want wearables that look good – and we really don't have much of that yet,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager at tech research firm IDC. “There are a number of customers out there who will say, 'Yes, I'll pay a little bit more for something that looks high-end.’”
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