Whether you’re a high-performance athlete or just an exercise enthusiast, the winter months are rough. Not just because of the superficially challenging conditions, but also the increased odds of infection from heaving in a ton of cold air. While it’s impossible to change the weather, it’s not impossible to mitigate against its severity with some click innovation. Researchers at the Nottingham Trent University in the UK alongside German advanced knitting machine manufacturer, STOLL GmBH have created an electronic balaclava engineered to reduce the odds of chest infection during winter exercise; not only does it keep your bean warm, but it heats the air you breath.
The technology is built around a knitted patch of electric conductive yarn over the nose and mouth; the patch emits heat when connected to an electronic current. At the back of the balaclava is just that current; a plus and minus pole to connect which a rechargeable cell battery is connected. Since the power of the current is low, the electricity can’t be felt by the wearer. When the battery is inserted, however, the areas around the mouth and nose warms up, heating up oxygen before it is inhaled. In short: the runner, or any outdoor athlete, is never letting cold air hit their lungs, as long as the battery has juice.
Despite being built with electronics inside, the balaclava is fully washable and behaves like any other fabric. For a more comfortable fit, the mask features 3D-knitted pre-shape quantities. To provide visibility in the dark, there are reflective strips all around the piece.
“This balaclava is the tip of the iceberg of what can be achieved through collaborative research into smart textiles,”says Professor Tilak Dias, leader of the Advanced Textiles Research Group at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Art & Design. “By using electric-conductive yarns which are so tiny that they cannot be felt by human skin, we’re able to provide a consistent level of warmth to a piece of clothing so that a runner only breathes in warm air.”
The STOLL smart balaclava won the Outdoor Industry Award in Gold in 2016–they were one of only eight that received “Gold” recognition from a pool of almost 350 outdoor industry innovations. According to the jury, who honored the product on criterion of degree of innovation, functionality, design, choice of materials and workmanship, “This really is an innovation. The seamless construction is great – when we tried it on, the balaclava is really comfortable and the heating system around the mouth is a fine idea.” STOLL is also applying some novel knitting technology to running tights, sports bras, bracelets and hoodies.
STOLL GimbH envisions further developing their smart clothing to measure vital signs and other activity, such as ECG, breathing rate, breathing patterns, skin temperature, perspiration, bodily electrical activity, bodily motion, and gesturing.
Although the electronic balaclava is currently in the prototype phase, you can expect to see more devices like it in the coming years. According to Grand View Research the global smart textiles market is expected to reach $9.3 billion by 2024, with key industry contributors being, due to inherent requirements of durability and resistance to the elements, sports & fitness and medicine.
Charles Costa is a marketing specialist helping technology companies grow, one word at a time. You can learn more at CharlesCosta.net