NTT DoCoMo reveals smart clothing, fitness band in healthcare push

Mobile carrier sees wearables as key to health business.

Japan's dominant mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo is pushing into wearable technology with new smart clothing and a wrist band that can monitor wearers' health while sending data to smartphones and the cloud.

Developed by DoCoMo parent NTT in collaboration with chemical company Toray Industries, Hitoe is a nanofiber-laced line of clothing that uses conductive fibers to measure heart rate. It's designed to be less invasive and time-consuming than an electrocardiogram test.

The smart cloth contains nanofibers that are coated in conductive resin to transmit signals, along with three credit card-sized sensors attached to the material. The clothing is sensitive enough to produce ECG-style data and yet durable enough for washing and rugged use.

A variety of Hitoe clothing has been created, including t-shirts, long-sleeved dresses, and hats. It's unclear which form the clothing will take, but NTT DoCoMo said in a release that it will aim to release the smartphone-linked wear this year.

"We want to provide our healthcare services through wearables," said NTT DoCoMo spokesperson Jun Ootori. "We are aiming to expand into nursing care as well as expand our current healthcare-related services portfolio with the data collected through the devices."

The clothing could work in conjunction with health-monitoring apps on DoCoMo phones such as i Bodymo, a paid service that has functions like an automatic step counter, exercise tracker, and calorie counter.

Hitoe follows the launch on Wednesday of Move Band, a ¥9,576 (US$93) fitness tracker DoCoMo worked on in conjunction with Toshiba. The 22-gram water-resistant wristband links to Android or iOS smartphones via Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0, transmitting data that it collects on time spent walking, number of steps, calories burned, and sleeping time.

Medical tech is one of DoCoMo's eight new revenue fields. In its January 2013 newsletter, the carrier targets sales of ¥10 billion from healthcare support services by fiscal 2016.

In July 2012, the carrier set up DoCoMo Healthcare with Omron Healthcare, a major Japanese manufacturer of digital thermometers, blood pressure monitors, and other health products. The new company's mission is to provide healthcare support services such as visualizing and managing health data.

Last year, DoCoMo Healthcare launched two services aimed at linking health info with smartphones. WM (Watashi Move) monitors and analyzes body data from phones and healthcare devices, making suggestions based on the info, while Karada-no-kimochi, which is targeted at women, links DoCoMo smartphones to Omron digital thermometers so users can track their daily basal body temperature, useful in estimating ovulation dates.

In a sign of the mobile carrier's increasing interest in health, NTT DoCoMo said that WM services will be available to i Bodymo subscribers from Friday. The link will allow users to collect data from compatible devices such as body composition meters and blood-pressure monitors simply by waving their DoCoMo smartphones over them.

DoCoMo wants to make the Hitoe smart clothing more rugged for numerous washing cycles. It's considering releasing its wearables overseas but hasn't decided on a date yet, according to Ootori.

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Tim Hornyak

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