The market for sensors and smart materials used in clothing will grow from roughly $212 million this year to more than $1.8 billion by 2021, according to a new report from industry analyst firm NanoMarkets.
Smart clothing might finally evolve to become the computing devices of the future with watches and displays being printed on fabrics. However, the materialization of either scenario depends on the industry’s response removing the main barriers to mass adoption of smart clothing. The key areas at the center of development are:
- Improved connectivity between modules
- Improved washability of smart fabrics
- Standardized protocols.
Herein lies the opportunity for both materials and sensor manufacturers to develop new and improved types of smart fabrics and sensors: lighter and soft flexible sensors, functional fabrics, conductive polymers and fibertronics—electronically functionalized textile yarns without the need for attached sensors.
For suppliers of sensor devices, new techniques are in development, and work on standardizing smart clothing is underway. Devices must also satisfy the requirements of end consumers and be perceived as value-integrated products. Siloed solutions will be replaced by wearable clothing that integrates multiple sensors, ultimately solving application-oriented needs, though such functionality may not find favor with customers if it’s merely what can be achieved through a smartphone, nor if it requires a peripheral device, such as a control unit.
The report projects the market for sensors in smart clothing will grow from roughly $187 million in 2014 to $476 million by 2018, and $983 million by 2021.
For fabric and material suppliers, opportunity exist in developing smart fabrics, replacing metallic fibers with conductive polymers and ultimately integrating nanomaterials. (The report specifies carbon nanotubes.) Flexible and stretchable electronics, either through structural consideration or by exploring novel materials, have imparted mechanical compliance and biocompatibility to otherwise rigid and brittle electronic devices.
The market for materials in smart clothing is currently smaller compared with the sensor side, but a higher growth trajectory that will nearly equalize the two by the end of the forecast period is expected, with growth to roughly $24 million in 2014, $225 million by 2018 and $849 million by 2021.
Sports and healthcare segments are expected to lead the way, followed by military and fashion segments. In sensors, biosensors will dominate followed by pressure sensors. In the case of materials, the report expects conductive polymers and conductive yarns to capture the most market share.
Information provided by NanoMarkets, which tracks and analyzes emerging markets in energy, electronics and other area created by developments in advanced materials.