Xenoma: The Future of Smart Apparel?

The prefix “xeno” denotes foreignness or strangeness, a four-letter word for the unfamiliar. The words “man” and “machine,” despite naming completely polarized entities, share one thing in common: the first two letters of each word.

A company founded in 2015 at the University of Tokyo has looked to these words to coin a new one for its name: Xenoma. Xenoma has used Printed Circuit Fabric (PCF) technology to become a leader in the smart textile market.

Xenoma uses a propriety process to create an e-skin with stretchable electronics — that is, integrated sensors and devices that can be comfortably worn on the body. The company shares via its Kickstarter page that it does not refer to its product as a “wearable device,” the reason being that its flagship product in development is a shirt, and shirts are meant to be worn regardless.

The focus of the product has always been on creating a technologically-advanced shirt that does not compromise in comfort, durability, or its ability to be machine washed with ease; Xenoma believes that unless its product maintains all of the convenience of a regular shirt, it will never become popular in the mainstream. This mass appeal is integral for Xenoma, as it believes that in the near future, “connected clothing will be the most natural way for people to interact with [the] Internet and other people.” The company’s answer is an 80% polyester, 20% spandex fabric with the fit and feel of a compression shirt.

An entire lineup is said to be coming down the pipeline, with a wide variety of functions and features. The possibilities of e-skin are seemingly endless, from leisure to health and fitness; intuitive, immersive input makes it easy to interact with virtual reality content and games, while it can also collect data when exercising or engaging in sports activities.

The e-skin is wireless and camera-free, making it durable, long-lasting, and suitable for both indoor and outdoor environments. It can track and analyze human motion anywhere, anytime, moving with the body in an unobtrusive manner.

The e-skin shirt houses 14 strain sensors as well as a 6-axis accelerometer and gyroscope to capture and monitor upper body motion as the wearer jumps, steps, etc. The resistance of the strain sensors on e-skin changes when they stretch. Using an algorithm developed by Xenoma, human movement is measured by the voltage drop in each channel of the e-skin’s Hub, a small device that fits over the chest area. The shirt can track respiration, useful as an input controller in games or in analyzing form in sports and fitness activities. Of course, it can also simply be used as an activity tracker as the wearer goes about daily tasks. This collected data is transmitted through the attached e-skin Hub via Bluetooth.

A demo of the product made its debut at CES 2016 and won a CES Innovation Award in November of that year. The following January, at CES 2017, a second 14-channel demo created quite a buzz of excitement. Here it was shown with a variety of applications:

Game Demo. The shirt allowed the movements of the player to be rendered as the avatar’s movements, enabling the wearer to remotely control the game as data was transmitted from the shirt to a host laptop, upon which the game was running.

Dance Demo. The stretching of the sensors was designed to create an electronic signature that could prompt triggers for sound effects; this allows dancers to create music as they dance, rather than dancing to pre-determined music.

Golf Demo. Xenoma developed a series of golf swing algorithms that could identify proper and improper swing forms, sending data straight from the Hub to a smartphone for processing.

HoloLens Demo. In an application poised to fuel excitement for the gaming community, the shirt can be used in correlation with the Microsoft HoloLens to enable motion input beyond the eyesight of the goggles.

The e-skin is also poised to ignite the imaginations of developers, as a Developer’s Kit (the e-skin DK) is designed to allow users to create their own applications.

The rest of the coming lineup holds a lot of promise. E-skin baby wear will allow parents to remotely monitor the posture, breathing, and other vitals of an infant. For drummers, 6 touch sensors in e-skin drum pants will enable practice anywhere, anytime, without the need for the physical instruments. An e-skin undershirt will monitor vitals and arm movements to alert drowsy and distracted drivers. E-skin IMU shirt and pants will increase worker efficiency in IoT factories. An e-skin ankle band can help maintain a comfortable sleeping environment, remotely controlling an air conditioner based on the ankle’s external temperature. Lastly, e-skin IMU shirt, pants, and arm sleeves can help facilitate rehabilitation, monitoring training effectiveness from the comfort of home.

Curious to learn more about Xenoma’s future possibilities? Check out the company website here. For more exciting smart apparel, click here. Interested in seeing how similar technology can be applied to temporary tattoos? Click here.



Images via Xenoma.