Komotini, Greece (CNN Business)Wearable technology has made big strides in recent years, from fitness trackers and smartwatches to shoes that vibrate to give you directions, tops that soak up air pollution, and a jacket that doubles as a solar-powered phone charger. Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger are among the brands getting in on the act.
Now Greek startup Tribe Wearables wants to use high-tech clothing to make your workouts more effective.The company is developing gym shorts that sense your every move, tell you how to improve your workouts and help prevent injuries.A laboratory in your shortsOnce a keen basketball player, Tribe Wearables founder Demetres Stordopoulos suffered a knee injury in 2010 during his studies at university. The computer science student was frustrated by weeks of physiotherapy exercises, unable to check whether he was healing in between check-ups with his doctor. Read MoreA trip to a biomechanics lab in 2013 inspired Stordopoulos. He wanted to take the lab’s monitoring technology and put it into gym clothes. He hoped these smart garments could track the wearer’s progress and health outside the lab — at a fraction of the cost.But making a complex technology suitable for everyday use was not an easy task. The prototype was “like a pair of shorts, a computer and an octopus had a child,” says Stordopoulos. Tribe Wearables clothes analyze your body’s performance during exercise, using artificial intelligenceNikos Aggelousis, Tribe Wearables’ lead bioengineer, admits he was skeptical at first and felt the project was too ambitious. “The idea was to develop a wearable by putting an entire biomechanics lab on a pair of shorts, using an embedded technology that itself was under research and development,” he said.Now, paper-thin sensors make the smart technology in the clothes almost unnoticeable.The 'living laboratory': Inside a neighborhood of smart homesEach pair of Tribe Wearables shorts contains sensors that collect data and send it to an app, which then suggests which exercises would best suit the user. It also provides virtual coaching, offering feedback and making sure that a workout is at the right level of intensity.Stordopoulos believes this technology will prevent sports injuries and give people more control over their own fitness. A smart T-shirt is also under development. Smart watches lead the way”It’s early days for smart clothing,” says Ed Thompson, of data analytics company GlobalData. “Only a few products are seeing the commercial light of day.” Thompson says recent progress in areas such as smart fabrics, motion capture technology and artificial intelligence allow wearable tech companies to develop clothing for specific tasks.”Smart clothes also have uses in the healthcare and defense sectors, where continuous monitoring of body activities is of the utmost importance,” he adds.Would you trust an algorithm to diagnose an illness? The industry is dominated by the smart watch, which makes up 60% of the wearables market, according to GlobalData. Biochemical sensors, fall detection and heart rate monitors are becoming standard in these devices, which can also carry out smartphone functions like playing music and tracking location.Meanwhile, fitness trackers are losing popularity because they have fewer features than smart watches, GlobalData states. Aggelousis believes there is a unique opportunity for fitness technology in the multi-billion-dollar wearables market. The task is to make that technology “unobtrusive and invisible to the user,” he says. So the most important challenge for future fitness technology may be to make you forget you’re wearing it.