It's settled: Wearable tech is the next big thing.
Designer and professor of fashion technology Dr. Sabine Seymour says in a recent interview with SmartPlanet that the future of wearable technology is "all about creating the superhuman" ... and this means a fully augmented experience, with tech providing real-time information about your internal functions as well as your environment.
Basically, imagine Iron Man-style, suit-to-wearer interaction ... but lighter, maybe a polyester blend instead of all that clunky metal.
"Before, we couldn't grasp the concept," Seymour says. "It was a computer geek trying to put something on the body ... fashion designers weren't able to communicate what they wanted. We were at a kindergarten stage, now we've graduated from high school and we need to get serious."
Seymour breaks down the advancement of wearable tech into three phases. She claims that artist Maggie Orth's seminal Firefly dress in 1995 started the first wave of true wearables, which led to the second wave, a time in which well-executed concepts were explored but confined to a niche market. The third wave, she says, is the most amped and productive period to date. Within 10 years time, sees herself (and the rest of us) working on the go, being able to download files while she takes a walk around Central Park, wearing a garment that can cool her down when it gets too hot and that can even change color and style to suit her mood. What will have to happen is greater collaboration between technologists, artists, and designers working in the fashion industry.
That doesn't even sound far fetched when you consider what's already for sale at a mall near you. These products are collecting data about the wearer's activity and calorie expenditure, sleep habits, and other biometric signals. Check out Jawbone, FitBit, and the athlete centered Under Armour's Armour 39, which even claims to measure willpower. That's not even mentioning the crop of smart watches and the well-known Google Glass.
Here is a short list of some of the more interesting advancements in functional, wearable tech.
1. FIDO Project (Facilitating Interactions For Dogs With Occupations)
The Acronym is ok, but the technology is crazy. According to Clint Zeagler, a member of the research team, "The FIDO team ... created four different sensors that dogs could activate (based on biting, tugging, and nose gestures) and tested them on-body with three assistance-trained dogs. We were able to demonstrate that it is possible to create wearable sensors that dogs can reliably activate on command."
This tech can be worn by seeing eye dogs or bomb sniffing dogs, where sensors would activate either audio commands that handlers would hear or visual commands that would appear on a head-mounted display.
2. Smart Diaper
Another cool innovation comes from New York startup Pixie Scientific, which developed a diaper that can detect possible urinary tract infections, kidney dysfunctions, and dehydration, as well as the more common indicator that the baby has pooped itself. The New York Times reports on the diaper, which features a patch with different colored squares that each represent an interaction with a protein, water content, or bacteria. The patches change color if they detect something out of the ordinary.
The diaper is accompanied by a smartphone app that takes a picture, makes a precise reading, and transmits the information to a physician. The diaper will soon be tested at children's hospitals, and the creators are hopeful that it will become a popular consumer product (even though it will cost about 30% more than regular diapers).
3. Focus Headset
So this one is a little controversial, but this wearable tech claims to make you think faster, or even make you momentarily smarter. Turns out it can, but only by attaching the Focus headset electrodes to your head and shocking your brain.
There are still questions about how safe it might be to clamp this type of device to your head on a daily basis. So far, scientists have tested the technology, but mainly to figure out if it's effective. And creating a mass consumer product of this sort raises whole new concerns. The medical community remains wary.
You might look dumb with it on, but it's painless and research published in Neuroscience Letters last year shows that it does work in making you smarter!
Ping is a social networking garment which connects the wearer to their social media accounts, wirelessly. By performing natural gestures — lifting the hood, bending or swinging your arms, and moving the zipper — you are able to interact with your social network friends when they send you a comment or message. The wearer can use an app on their smartphone in order to customize messages sent by sensors that track when you move your clothing.
Another social-network garment inflates to simulate the feeling of a hug whenever a friend likes or comments on your Facebook page.
...OK yeah, these are ridiculous.
5. Body Language Correction
This piece of clothing seeks to assist with posture and help those of us who struggle with social interaction and body language, which is said to be more than half of all communication.
Called RISR, a web of sensors which is connected to a smartphone scans your target — perhaps your boss or a potential customer — and vibrates in order to tell the wearer how best to correct their body language in return.
This could mean the end of natural gestures and interaction ... so be afraid.