Adam Childs: Footfalls And Heartbeats (Fhl) Are a Smart Textile Company Based In Nottingham, Specialising In Textile Sensors

August 24, 2022

Footfalls and Heartbeats (FHL) are a smart textile company based in Nottingham, specialising in textile sensors. Footfalls have developed a revolutionary and patented knitting technique, whereby “The Textile is the Sensor”.

This innovation avoids the need for solid sensors, transforming how we interact with fabrics and textiles. Our mission statement – Be Bold, Be Brave, Have Fun and Change the World is at the very heart of our culture and technology.

Tell us about yourself?

I joined FHL as the marketing executive after university, having completed an initial internship with the company.

Upon graduation, I found myself eager to work in the technology industry but not for a large corporation where I would be just another cog in the machine. FHL represented the perfect opportunity for me, offering the chance to work for a disruptive and innovative start-up in a fast-growing industry.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

One piece of advice I’d give my past self would be fine tuning my communications, focusing on the benefits of smart textiles.

As with all innovative tech, especially in novel areas like smart textiles, people can sometimes struggle to grasp what this technology does.

Switching from solely focusing on explaining the technology to demonstrating the benefits and use cases has been far more effective at selling the tech and its potential to clients and the public.

What problem does your business solve?

The key problem area that FHL addresses is in the sensing and monitoring market. Current solid sensors are often large, bulky and uncomfortable, with this being especially true for wearable sensors and sensors that sit close to the body.

Footfalls & Heartbeats core technology offers a clear solution to this problem.

Our textile sensors are as accurate and precise as solid-state alternatives, but are more comfortable to wear/interact with, are less intrusive and can be integrated into surfaces and materials with minimal impact on the overall size and shape.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

Footfalls & Heartbeats is the vision of our founder Simon McMaster, who originally thought up the idea of incorporating sensors into textiles 20 years ago whilst baking muffins in Bristol.

Intrigued by a previous discussion with his brother – a keen white-water rafter, about a perspiration monitoring jacket, Simon realised that the textile material themselves could become the electronic sensors.

Fascinated by the idea of creating electronic, textile-based sensors, Simon saw the potential of smart textiles in a number of industries like healthcare, sports and wellbeing and logistics.

What is your magic sauce?

FHL’s magic sauce revolves around our textile sensors. Footfalls have a patented knitting process that uses the interactions between electronically conductive yarns to create sensors that are highly sensitive to external stimuli.

It’s this unique process that gives us our tagline: “The Textile is the Sensor”. By incorporating the sensors directly into the textile, our products can accurately track a range of metrics while still maintaining the original feel and shape of the textile.

The ubiquity of textiles in our everyday lives means our tech has wide-reaching applications, enabling discreet tracking in a variety of surfaces like clothing, seats and beds.

The comfort of textiles also enables monitoring in positions and areas which up to now were difficult to track. For example, by knitting our sensors into a bed sheet, we can visualise the full body of a patient as they sleep, helping stop the development of pressure sores.

While solid sensors can do a similar job if applied correctly, the ease of integrating our sensors directly into the bedding coupled with the comfort factor mean that our sensors are much better at monitoring a vulnerable patient over a long period of time.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Our plan for the next 5 years is centred around targeted expansion. We want to see our technology have widespread use in our key markets of healthcare, sports and wellbeing, automotive and logistics.

We envisage a world where every medical mattress, bus seat and sports-wear garment include our sensors, creating an interconnected network of smart textile devices.

We plan to continue developing the technology and sensors, building a reliable library of sensor combinations and responses that can be customised for clients.

We are also looking to expand our technology, focusing on incorporating our sensors into new sectors like offshore wind turbines.

Our sensors form a part of the push towards more advanced and efficient wind energy infrastructure, helping create high-tech renewable energy sources that underpin the move towards net zero.

Outside of business focused achievements, we also want to continue pressing forward with our vision for changing the world through smart textiles.

We want to be at the very forefront of growth in the smart textiles industry, pioneering its use and utility in a variety of markets, communicating the clear benefits that it brings and continuing to research and explore new techniques and methods.

We see ourselves becoming the smart textile experts, working with companies and businesses to help them use smart textiles to make a real difference in the world.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

As with any fast-paced start up in a disruptive industry, there are a multitude of challenges we have faced as we have grown over the years.

One of the big obstacles we have faced has centred on how best to position and demonstrate the technology to potential clients, a challenge that has grown in parallel with client interest and technological advancement.

FHL technology is a whole new medium of sensing and it can sometimes be difficult for interested parties to grasp how the technology works, and the potential benefits.

This is especially true in regard to demonstrating the look and feel of the sensors themselves and how their integration into the textile truly has no impact on overall feel of the textile material. Covid further exacerbated this problem, as we were unable to showcase and demonstrate the technology in person.

Since then, we have worked on creating high quality demo products and kits to help potential clients understand the technology, as well as prioritising face to face meetings where possible.

We find that the best way for potential customers to understand the tech is to get it in their hand, so they really feel and see what it can do.

We have also worked on improving our communications when talking to clients, focusing less on the technical side of the company and more on the benefits and use cases of the technology and the positives of working with us.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Getting people to buy into our company and vision can be a challenging task. As previously discussed, the novel nature of our technology means it can be difficult for people to really appreciate how our tech works and the potential it has.

We’ve found that physically interacting with our technology and getting it in the hands of people is crucial to getting them to buy into the company and the potential it has.

Our tech is best explained and understood when demonstrated in person, when people can tough it and feel the sensors and materials.

By focusing on demonstrations and in-person discussions, we can really hammer home the familiarity and comfort of our textile sensors in addition to the advanced functionality they possess.

Effectively communicating our vision and purpose for the company is also important to people understanding us.

We really believe that our technology can change people’s lives for the better, especially in areas like healthcare and fitness and wellbeing.

Our mission statement “Be Bold, Be Brave, have Fun and Change the World” is pivotal to our overarching purpose but also guides how we work every day, how we interact with clients and the direction we take our technology in.

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