Wearable Tech: Meet StretchSense

Wearable Tech: Meet StretchSense

Last week we told you about some awesome materials wearable tech companies we saw at WEAR 2016. Today we introduce you more in depth to one of those companies. StretchSense is a global supplier of soft sensors that is based in New Zealand, making very cool stuff. We talked with Shin Jeong Park of StretchSense to learn more.

Describe StretchSense.

StretchSense develops soft squishy sensors and generators that closely measure motion as well as generate electrical energy from the human body. StretchSense was founded in 2012 with the goal of bringing stretch sensing and energy harvesting technologies to the market. Since then, the industry for wearables has evolved rapidly and we are now working with over 200 clients in 28 countries.

What was the inspiration behind StretchSense?

We started StretchSense because we could see that there were no good technologies suitable for measuring the motion of the human body, which if you think about it, moves in complex ways while being soft and squishy.

Our founders had a decade of experience working with electroactive polymers – smart elastic bands – that are excellent for precise measurements of deformation. We also saw the potential that small, stretchy, and precise sensors would bring to industries such as wearables, sport apparel, and fashion. Putting two and two together we launched a stretch sensor evaluation kit based on these polymers. Our timing was perfect – in the last three years, the worldwide market for wearables has exploded.

StretchSense Fabric evaluation sensor - Copy

Tell us about your products.

We develop stretch sensors for measuring human body motion and generators to capture energy from the body to power wearables. They are different but complementary technologies. Our sensors are lightweight, stretchy and can be sewn into clothing to capture motion data while being unnoticed by the wearer. However, stretch sensors alone won’t make wearables entirely unobtrusive. More and more wearables are being dispersed on the body from shoes, fitness trackers, smart garment and even jewelry. All these devices place a huge burden on users to recharge multiple widgets every night. This is where our generators come in. The human body is an abundant source of power that mainstream wearables have not yet really tapped into. With our tech, users compresses and stretch generator material as they move throughout the day – charging their low power devices. By eliminating the need to recharge devices, our generators make wearables much more unobtrusive and will greatly encourage adoption. Our ultimate goal is to combine sensors and generators to create self-powered sensors.

What sets StretchSense apart from other sensor companies?

Our sensors provide three critical elements for creating an unobtrusive wearable: data, energy and comfort. Our sensors can provide real-time information about how the body is moving (Data) and they can be powered through body motion alone (Energy). On top of this our technology is unobtrusive and comfortable to wear on the body (Comfort), where previously tradeoffs between comfort and precision have been necessary. We also provide extensive customization options so that it is easy for customers to adapt our technology for their own needs. We make regular project check-ins with our clients and our staff has mixed working hours so that somebody is always on hand to help our clients whether they are based in Europe, Asia or the US. All clients begin working with us by starting with an evaluation kit to familiarize themselves with our technology. We then work on custom engineering projects to validate their ideas and then prepare for the final stage of integration and mass production.

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What has been one of the most challenging parts of getting started? How did you overcome this and what did you learn?

One of the difficulties of growing StretchSense in the early days was that the concept behind our business –unobtrusive tools to measure the human body motion – was too far ahead of the market. Many of the early conversations we had with people began by discussing why it would be valuable to measure body motion in the first place. The inflection point in our business has been the explosion of wearables in the last few years which has really helped to grow and diversify our customer base. Your average engineer working in a wearables company today, can immediately understand how motion data can be applied to new applications such as in sports training, gaming or physiotherapy. In fact, the tables have turned, and now, we are being approached with new and interesting applications for stretch sensors that we’ve never considered (and of course will never disclose).

Where can we buy your products and what is the cost?

Our products can be bought from our website or by contacting our sales team at sales@stretchsense.com. All of the products on our website are evaluation systems designed for R&D teams to explore stretch sensing and energy harvesting technology. After the initial discovery step, our sales and support teams help clients with validation projects in which we customize sensors or generators to suit the client’s needs. Finally, we launch the custom sensors and mass-produce them for integration into clients’ products at thousands to millions of units.

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What work is StretchSense doing with the fashion industry?

We’re not able to disclose many of our customers’ names or the applications they are working on because supplier secrecy is an important part of our relationship with them. However one of the public examples that we can discuss is our recent collaboration with Chromat at NYFW. Becca McCharen, the CEO of Chromat, loved the sleek look of our silicone stretch sensors and wanted to use them as a fashion accessory for Chromat’s AWLumina16 debut. Becca had the idea of the stretch sensors being mounted on the models’ hands so that subtle hand gestures would trigger LED lights on their dresses.

What can we expect next from StretchSense?

Our long term goal is to combine sensors and generators into one product; self-powered sensors for wearables. In terms of day to day business operations, we are constantly expanding our production and R&D capabilities so that our output can meet growing demand.

Learn more about StretchSense by visiting their website here and watching the video below.

Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave.  Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.

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