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Softmatter Sees Big Potential for High-Tech Textiles

Textile tech company Softmatter sees big potential for its wearable technologies, including smart apparel.

A subsidiary of Sri Lankan Victoria’s Secret supplier MAS Holdings, the company’s innovations include engineered wrist straps made with advanced textiles like flat knit and woven elastics and sensor-integrated apparel. CEO Ulysses Wong said the diverse possibilities for Softmatter’s apparel business include not just the wellness space, but the medical field as well.

These products were engineered for both fit and aesthetics, so that sensors, haptics, battery reserves, dry electrodes and more are integrated without compromising the wearer’s comfort. Bio-sensing technology on tops, bottoms and full body gear could provide users with essential health data and enable remote patient monitoring. Softmatter’s apparel can capture motion-related data through its integrated textile-based and electronic sensors. An electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor embedded in apparel measures heart rate and breathing, while measuring a wearer’s metrics during intense activities. The electromyography (EMG) sensors are incorporated to track muscle activity and gestures.

Softmatter has developed and tested all of these applications, Wong said, and “now and we are keen to unlock flexible powering for these wearables.” In late February, Softmatter technology launched in the Therabody Recovery Pulse sleeve, designed to increase circulation and provide pain relief in the arms and elbows. Last year, the company worked with Scandinavian sportswear maker Odlo to debut I-Thermic base-layer and mid-layer tops, which offer adjustable warmth without bulky layers.

“Integrating technology elements, without taking away the natural, beneficial parameters of textile, has been a challenge and that’s where many of our innovations are focused,” Wong said, noting that the goal is for the technology to disappear into the fabric. “Another big challenge and limiting factor for the usability of smart textiles is on the powering that requires bulk and heavy batteries, which we are trying to address via an integrated flexible, drapeable and washable battery technology.”

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An Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor embedded in a smart bra.
An Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor embedded in a smart bra. Courtesy

Softmatter aims to see these products fold into consumers’ lives as seamlessly as any product, tech-enabled or not. Adoption of wearables is increasing as smart textiles become more accessible to everyday wearers, with costs decreasing and reliability and durability improving, he added.

“We focus on positioning the sensors on the most accurate location on-body and keeping them there using engineered knit, variable modulus and other techniques,” Wong said. “This enables less noise and better insights.” When it comes to applications like remote patient monitoring, “getting a repeatable and accurate signal is vital for health interventions,” he added.

Meanwhile, on-skin feedback tech like haptics and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) could provide pain relief, while electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) can strengthen and rehab muscles. Heating and cooling can be embedded into garments, while light-up technology provides safety notifications and alerts. Wearable technology and smart textiles are advancing at a rapid pace as their use cases and benefits continue to take shape.

In the not-so-distant future, the sector is likely to see headway in the realms of miniaturized batteries or other power sources and touch controls embedded in textiles, Wong said. “We are on a journey to enable positive change, driving progress through smart engineering solutions and wearable technology to elevate and empower the human experience,” he said.