Nike appears to be looking into new uses for the Nike+ sensor it first released in 2006. A patent awarded to the company on Dec. 9 shows a device that looks very similar to the Nike+ sensor slotting into a sleeveless shirt that has, as the patent says, the ability to monitor various levels and send the information to another device.
While there are a lot of devices on the market (and more on the way) that track heart rates, blood pressure, hydration, skin temperature, and the like, there are few that do them all in one device. If Nike turns this patent into a product that incorporates its Nike+ sensor, it will most likely be a hit with the weekender-warrior and amateur-athlete sets (Nike+ already had more than 18 million users in 2013). But Nike could have a product with a market well beyond quantified-self runners.
James Winger, a sports medicine physician at Loyola University Medical Center, says a product of this type could have an impact on the way we treat cardiac rehabilitation. Winger says that in the first stages of rehab after heart surgery, patients will go to a gym and exercise attached to an EKG machine and other sensors, which can be cumbersome to wear—“this is the same thing in an easier package,” and something rehab facilities could find useful, says Winger.
There also may be applications for professional sports, which could be why Nike’s patent covers transmitting data over radio frequencies—traditionally used in American football helmets for communication between players and the sidelines. (The patent also covers the type of connectivity usually found in consumer devices, such as Bluetooth and WiFi.)
Winger says that the skin temperature and hydration levels that this device could monitor wouldn’t actually have much correlation to internal temperatures that would indicate if an athlete were having a serious health issue on the field, but nonetheless he says it’s the sort of device that “people would find uses for.”
Nike is not alone in the connected apparel game. If it decides to develop and market this patent, it will face competition from startups like Athos and OMsignal. Also, it will be interesting to see how this patent ties into Nike’s decision earlier this year to scale back its hardware team, as well as Nike’s connection to the Apple Watch, which will have some of the same sensors that according to this patent could be in this shirt.
Nike did not respond to a request to comment on its patent award.