It seems we have recently started seeing a big momentum change in the fields of wearable tech and smart clothing. Recent innovations in embedded RFID technology (as I discussed back in 2012), cost-efficient 3D printing for accessories (as I’ve also been following here), and new materials research have finally come together to create a proper trend in wearable technology innovation.
The InnovateUK Blog has written a good overview of the many different directions of wearable technology research happening now.
But there is so much more going on right now in many fields of accessory design and experimental fashion. While some of the immediate applications are clearly more practical than others, all of them show the commercial possibilities we’re only just barely starting to explore within these technologies.
Accessories and Your Data
Even beyond smartphones, there has already been a trend going for several years now to make computers more wearable. Besides the MICA mentioned above, the expensive but versatile Apple iWatch and Will.I.am’s tragic Puls smart-wristband are two obvious examples. We’ve even seen a growing trend in finding ways to store useful personal data in a wearable accessory. Gadgets like the Fitbit and Smartmove do this with your athletic data, allowing you to record online and track you progress towards your fitness goals. Also, since this summer Barclaycard’s bPay system has been able to do this your personal payment information, allowing you to pay by wristband, keychain, or sticker.
BBC News recently filmed a nice report on many of the applications of smart technology and data tracking being used now:
Smart Jewellery at Last
As news more relevant to us jewellers, we are now finally seeing commercially available jewellery products with embedded technology.
The most recently launched product is Bellabeat’s Leaf smart jewellery. It is a brooch designed to help mothers and mothers to be track their health data to help them when trying to have a baby:
There is also the Cuff. It is a leather and precious metal bracelet or necklace which gives you a signal when getting a phone call or allows you to quickly signal an emergency.
Then there are Kiroco charms. These charms are able to store within their RFID chips personal audio messages which play whenever you touch it to your smartphone.
Experimental Fashion and Wearable Living Sculpture
But most of all, fashion seems to be seeing some of the most dramatic and exciting uses of wearable technology. Here are two recent examples of the best of the new experimental creations.
Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht has created a Spiderdress which changes shape by reacting to real-time biometric data from the wearer’s body. The effect is both beautiful and quite intimidating.
American-based Designer Behnaz Farahi has created a fascinating interactive garment called Caress of the Gaze. When it is worn, embedded image sensing and face tracking technology changes the shape of the garment according to the gender, age, and direction of the onlooker’s gaze.
On a more practical level, a research team called bioLogic has teamed up with New Balance and the Royal College of Art to create a smart fabric controlled by bacteria which responds to body heat by opening vents. They call it BioSkin.
Achieving a similar result with different technology, a company called Chromat has developed a sports bra which opens vents for air circulation when it senses body heat. They call it the Chromat Momentum.
The Questions These New Technologies Raise
As so many of these new technologies are still very new and experimental, they create far more questions than they resolve, all of which will need to be answered. For example, while many of these devices are capable of outputting large amounts of personal data, it is clear our society hasn’t quite learned what to do with the information yet. Likewise, who will actually own this data, and what will be done with it?
Perhaps when these technologies combine with the Internet of Things, we will really be living in a world where countless computer operations and calculations happen around us without our even being aware.
(Thank you to Dauvit Alexander’s recent talk at the Society of Jewellery Historians, giving an overview of various new materials for some of these references.)