The hype cycle of wearable computing, as measured by analysts at Gartner Research (IT), recently reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations and is now beginning a descent into the Trough of Disillusionment. Just don’t tell the professional basketball industry and its burgeoning investor class.
Athos, a company developing clothing that can detect which muscles are used during a workout, said on Tuesday that it had raised $12 million from a group of investors that include Joe Lacob, chairman of the Golden State Warriors, and Jermaine O’Neal, who has spent the last 18 seasons banging bodies in the paint for seven different NBA teams. The round was led by DCM, a venture firm specializing in wearable computing.
While a dizzying array of wearable computers is on the market, Athos thinks it can stand out in a world of ubiquitous step-counting bracelets and foot-monitoring socks. Its clothing is made from sensor-laden fabrics that sit tight against the skin, sending information about how hard each muscle is working to your phone via a transmitter that can be tucked into any small pouch. In addition to information about muscle groups, the company says it can also measure more commonly tracked metrics such as calories burned and heart rate. It’s like a Hypercolor shirt with scientific precision!
Athos’s founders came up with the idea when they were gym-rat engineering students who wanted insight into their workouts but didn’t want to pay personal trainers. They tested early prototypes themselves, a process that was cost-effective but meant enduring burns amid fears of electrocution. “The very first time we powered it up, it was a very scary moment,” says Dhananja Jayalath, one of the founders. “If one random thing had a short, it could have electrocuted me.”
The company has raised more than $15 million so far. (The other famous NBA player/tech investor, Carmelo Anthony, hasn’t invested.) While Athos has attracted interest from people in professional sports, it aims to win over the obsessive weekend warrior. It is making shorts and shirts, each of which will cost $99; the removable transmitter costs an additional $199.
The Warriors have no immediate plans to integrate the clothing in training routines, and it’s not clear if O’Neal is planning to don any Athos gear. The veteran player faces serious training if he wants to spend any time on an NBA court this season, and he indicated in a statement that Athos’s major attraction is its ability to help athletes extend their careers with smarter training.
Jayalath thinks O’Neal could benefit from the smart clothes: “His body has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations.”