This past weekend in Chicago, Royal Philips (NYSE:PHG) had its American debut of a new product called Lumalive -- an innovative, light-emitting fabric.

For a lowly textile, it is pretty cool. (Interested readers can watch a short video of the technology.) But does Lumalive have any legs? Upon reflection, I think that it does -- but perhaps not in the area that company officials are thinking.

The obvious application for such a dynamic fabric -- which Philips expects to have on the market in early 2007 -- is the apparel industry. And undoubtedly there will be some early adopters who are anxious to publicly display any cutting-edge technology.

There will also be that segment of society that welcomes the opportunity to display visual images on their clothes as a personal expression of who they are. One need only look at the popularity of tattoos and bumper stickers to understand who some of these folks might be.

I am also confident that corporations and politicians alike will sense the potential of being able to flash their logos or slogans to thousands of unsuspecting people. And who knows, maybe even grandmas will thrill at the chance to wear a digital photo of their grandchildren.

However, these possibilities represent limited opportunities. Philips has always done a great job of dreaming up cool products, including the x-ray machine, the audiocassette, and the compact-disc player. It has done a decidedly less stellar job of capitalizing on these ideas.

Will the same thing happen with Lumalive? It's too early to tell. But in my opinion, the market for dynamic, smart textiles lies less in hawking photos and messages, and more in providing people with real and instant feedback about their health.

Today, Philips is very active in installing heart defibrillators -- in retirement homes, senior centers, and fitness clubs -- to assist elderly people who may experience serious heart problems. It is a wonderful initiative, but wouldn't it be better to help prevent such attacks in the first place?

Lumalive, by incorporating sensors into the light-emitting fabric, could help prevent attacks by either sensing when the heart is working too hard or, alternatively, detecting the release of a biological signature (such as a protein) that is a positive indicator of a heart attack.

If Philips doesn't jump on this opportunity, my guess is that someone else like Nike (NYSE:NKE) or Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) -- both of whom have openly talked about creating "smart shirts" -- will. And that would be a loss that Philips shareholders won't need any technology to wear on their sleeve.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich does not have any tattoos, but he does have a mother who would probably welcome the chance to wear a t-shirt that displays pictures of her grandkids. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.