Buff male models and scrawny U.S. Open ball boys strolled silently around Ralph Lauren HQ on Monday, standing on platforms and lifting their arms and turning slowly when asked; they were showing off the latest wearable fitness technology, though it was hard to tell. There were no wristwatches, chest straps or pinned-on step counters in sight. The first mainstream fashion brand to make a foray into the wearable technology marketplace, Ralph Lauren revealed a form-fitting black shirt with integrated, silver-coated threading around its chest, a small, detachable Bluetooth-enabled “black box” on the left rib and, of course, Ralph Lauren’s insignia, large and yellow, on the left breast.
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The Polo Tech’s introduction marks the beginning of major fashion brands’ movement into a new realm of wearable technology — an obvious step for Ralph Lauren, which began to bolster its sports line in 2005 by sponsoring the U.S. Open; Wimbledon soon followed, along with the U.S. Olympic team. Their washable compression shirt eschews clunky monitoring devices, offering the comfort of a single compression garment while tracking heart rate, respiration rate and depth, steps, calories burned and activity intensity via a breathing sensor, gyroscope and accelerometer. These data are delivered to an accompanying app in order for wearers to better understand their workouts and compare them against their previous performances with the help of technology developed by the Canadian-based OMsignal company.
David Brewer, Director of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament — where, in their first major public appearance this year, the shirts will be on the backs of several ball boys scrambling across courts — said that the shirt’s features will “revolutionize how players train and compete” by supplying players and their coaches with real time feedback so they may adjust their play and breathing.
Marcos Giron, a highly ranked rookie on the Grand Slam circuit, wore the shirt during his practice sessions last week to test out its capabilities. By combining biometric data with his practice data, Giron and his coach could see his biometrics of critical missteps in his performance during his session, potentially allowing them to prepare for similar shortfalls during match play. But David Lauren, son of Ralph Lauren and executive vice president of global advertising, marketing and corporate communications for the company, also views the U.S. Open premiere as the first step toward introducing his product to the general population.
“The U.S. Open is an incredibly high-profile stage, and it’s very demanding”, Lauren said. “To see high-performance gear tested at the highest level is proof that the technology is up to the standards that a professional athlete would want, which will make it immediately interesting to customers and let them know that it’s the real deal.”
LifeBEAM Smart Helmet
The LifeBEAM Smart Helmet is the first bicycle helmet every produced with a built in heart rate monitor. An optical sensor at the front of the helmet measures heart rate without forcing the cyclist to wear a chest strap and communicates the biometrics via BLE or ANT+ to a bike computer, smartphone or smartwatch. Heavier than other helmets in its price range, but worth the money for the comfort of a built in monitor. $200
Garmin Approach G6
Garmin is moving into the wearable device marketplace with a golf-centric watch. The Approach G6 tracks your swing’s tempo and strength for adjusting your stroke with more than “just a feeling”. Preloaded maps allow you to see an overview of the course, while PinPointer blind shot assistance directs you to the pin when you can’t see it. $400
Sony Smart Tennis Sensor
Coming January 2015, Sony’s Smart Tennis Sensor will be available in select models of Wilson, Prince and Yonex rackets. The sensor will sync with a smartphone or tablet to provide metrics such as shot count, ball impact spot, swing speed, ball speed and ball spin, along with real-time shot visualizations to help correct your shot. The sensor can differentiate between shot types, has 12,000 shots of internal storage and can be transferred between rackets. Expected MSRP is $200. Learn more.
And while the price points of the performance gear from Ralph Lauren’s RLX line surely suggest that these shirts won’t come cheap, the potential benefits outweigh the cost: customers will be able to hit the gym more effectively, with the OMsignal’s realtime feedback coming in the form of during-workout audio cues, along with the visual app display, which helps users reach workout goals based on their personal history of metric data. You can’t lie to an expensive shirt on your back.
The introduction of “smart garments” signals the targeting of younger consumers, who have been resistant to wearing extra wristwatches or chest strap devices, but who already carry their smartphones everywhere they go (athletes wearing the shirts must stay within Bluetooth range of a smart device). Already on the market are offerings from other brands, like adidas’s Numetrex brand, which will edge out Ralph Lauren for more budget-conscious consumers with admittedly less sexy but undeniably cheaper “smart” shirts. Adidas’s smart shirt can be paired with a detachable miCoach-enabled heart rate monitor for measuring cardiovascular health, or an accelerometer for measuring acceleration and jump height.
Looking forward, Ralph Lauren plans to expand its shirt’s data-tracking capabilities (the company mentioned that spatial tracking was on the horizon) along with the number of garments that can carry its silver thread technology effectively. These transitions will take time; the snug compression fabric currently used is the most obvious material for keeping the silver threading against an athlete’s body for accurate heart rate and respiration readings.
“As the technology evolves we’ll be able to explore all kinds of fits in all kinds of shirts and all kinds of fabrications. Our goal is to make it a part of any lifestyle that Ralph Lauren celebrates”, said Lauren, pulling casually at the shirt he plans to release to the world in 2015.