Sensoria: Wearables – “Apparel, The Next Gen Ultra-Mobile Computers”

Sensoria is a leader in the smart apparel area. The company (formerly Heapsylon) has released three products to date, all fitness garments with built-in sensors and electronics: smart socks; a sports bra; and a t-shirt. The socks, which require an attachable anklet, pair to the company’s iOS and Android app, Sensoria Fitness. The sports bra and t-shirt are to be used with an attached heart monitor (and can link to Sensoria Fitness or other fitness apps).

The road to smart wearables has taken five years. As Davide Vigano, CEO of Sensoria told us recently, there are three elements in their platform: 1) the cloud, (essential for gathering data about the utilization of the products); 2) sensing, specifically, the ability to weave in sensors into textile material; 3) microelectronics that can carry the sensed data and transmit it out of the garment.

Clearly the key hurdle is incorporating the sensors into the garments. This must be done in a way that not only works, i.e., collects data reliably. In addition the garment, with the sensors must be capable of being manufactured reasonably cost effectively, and must be washable and comfortable to wear.

“It can be done.”

The company released the smart socks for sale in May 2015. Vigano states that this shows, “It can be done.” It signifies that a practical garment incorporating the necessary sensors and electronics can be produced.

There have been a fair number of reviews of the smart socks. Predictably, these range from quite favorable to more reserved ones that pointed out a number of aspects of the product that can be improved. This is to be expected with a first generation product.

Strategy Issue: Being A Products Company vs. A Platform

Vigano explains the company’s strategy is to be a “platform provider.” He states, “We want developers to build apps on our platform.” They have issued an SDK and he notes that they have 50 developers currently working on various solutions.

The first app built with a partner is the RenaultSport special edition t-shirt, with heart monitor. Designed for race car drivers, the shirt is worn while driving and links into Renault’s iOS Monitor app, which tracks vehicle metrics and captures footage of the run. Now the driving team also will have information about the driver’s heart rate, which is transmitted to the Monitor app via Bluetooth.

He also mentions that Respond Well, a company that offers telerehabilitation solutions, has an app that incorporates the Sensoria smart sock. It involves using the Microsoft Xbox Kinect (motion sensing) feature as part of an in-home rehabilitation routine. Additional information about the patient, e.g., posture, is also gleaned from the socks.

At this early stage Sensoria faces strategic issues that are always faced by breakthrough technology companies (Qualcomm, in the early days, being the prime example.) It is necessary to develop products to demonstrate that the technology works and is practical.

Vigano states, “At this stage we have be a solutions provider.” He also told us that the company has filed and received patents on its sensors and on the socks, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Development Pains

Since we at mobilecloudera have written quite a bit about sensors and early academic projects, we asked Vigano whether Sensoria had gone to universities for assistance when they started the company. In fact they had.

However, he told us that the academic sources were “no help at all.” While they had done work on sensors and early designs of garments in some cases, they were not at the point of solving practical issues such as washability, manufacturing problems, etc. He states, however, that he hopes that the sensor industry will continue to invest in improvements, since it is still at such an early stage.

Solving Wearability Issues

One of the most obvious issues about the company’s smart socks is that they require an accompanying electronic anklet. When it is snapped on, it activates the sensors in the textile and communicates information via Bluetooth to the Sensoria app on the user’s phone.

Various reviewers have commented on issues involving the anklet, such as the possibility of its falling off, its shape, size, etc. Vigano told us that the company’s long term objective is to make the garment be the computer, so that the electronics virtually disappear. This will take time and he told us that within the next 12 months they expect to reduce the size of the anklet and deal with the issues.

Wearables Market Potential

How big is the market Sensoria is shooting for? Vigano believes that textile-based sports apparel is the addressable market and each garment could be a computer. He points to a forecast (Gartner) that there will be 26 million smart garments purchased by the end of 2016 and that smart garments are the fastest growing category of wearables.

A key to the company’s strategy is the ability to gather data from users (with user consent.) This allows them to identify trends, not only in running, but also in running shoes. The company has a database of 7,000 running shoes and it proposes not only to analyze the wear and tear on an individual’s shoes, but also to advise them on what could be the best choice of shoe in the future.

Style vs. Functionality

We also asked how important style was in the garments the company was offering. Vigano explained that they are working with various clothing brands and that they would rely largely on brand partners to develop fashion aspects of the garments. He said, “We shield them from having to understand the technology and let them work on the style.” He noted that they have NDAs in place with a few apparel companies.

The Need For The Cellphone

The app assumes the runner will have their cellphone with them. The app, among its many features, gives prompts to the runner while they are running. It assess whether the foot is landing properly (it tracks whichever foot has the anklet attached), helps maintain cadence, indicates speed, distance covered, etc., through audio and video cues.

He points out that about 50% of runners wear their cellphones when they run. Could this requirement be eliminated in the future? Vigano listed possible alternatives, including: 1) smart watches, 2) smart glasses, or 3) connecting the garment anklet directly to the cloud.

As for watches, they will probably develop into a useful alternative when they have a wireless link to the cloud and a longer battery life. He is also quite interested in glasses because of their ability to give feedback in real time to the runner. As for direct connection of the garment to the web, he states that the technology exists today to do it, but the problem is the loss of the real time feedback to the runner.

Healthcare In Addition To Fitness

The company’s infrastructure relies primarily on Azure for cloud support. One reason, he states, for selecting Azure was HIPAA compliance. This has a direct link to a potential strategy initiative of Sensoria going forward. Anyone with athletic training will recognize that while running is an easy sport to engage in, most runners don’t receive training.

Sensoria states that about 65% of runners experience injuries at some point. Most underestimate the risks in running. Vigano adds that, “HIPAA may become an interesting aspect for us.” What he is indicating that the runner’s need can easily slide over from fitness to healthcare. This could affect the financing requirements of the company as well. While the company raised $5 million recently and is well financed, Vigano states that it could look for more financing if it accelerated its move into the health space.

Vigano notes: “Wristband fitness devices don’t prevent injuries. Our products can help the user avoid injury or recover faster. We track how well you run, not just how far or how fast.”

Sensoria Product Pricing

  • Socks: 2 pair + anklet and charger with Sensoria Fitness app – $199.
  • Additional pair of socks – $49. Additional anklet – $159.
  • Sports Bra + heart rate monitor (HRM) – $139. Sports Bra without HRM – $69.
  • Fitness T-shirt + heart rate monitor – $149. Fitness T-shirt without HRM – $79.
  • Heart rate monitor – $79.
  • Sensoria Fitness app – Free download.

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