Shirts that light up with LED ads. Textiles with embedded temperature sensors. Athletic gear that changes color to show the intensity of an athlete's workout. Technology is not just for your desktop anymore; it has the potential to infiltrate your closet.
Wearable technology is being used in sports and medical care to improve performance and help people lose weight. Fashion designers are incorporating tech elements into fabrics to give clothes a modern edge, and gamers are using wearable tech to enhance their gameplay. It's a cultural and technological time when the ubiquitous nature of tech means that people interested in the fusion between portable circuits and fashion can now wear what's "smart" and what computes. And with social networking technologies taking off in certain circles-generating a true look at me syndrome-wearable technology follows that fashion, along a means of self-expression, and picks up where computers, portable or otherwise, leave off.
Activities by researchers and clothing designers with wearable technologies show an active interest in the field.
One example of such interest is the 12th IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers, which will be held in Pittsburgh starting Sept. 28. Researchers, designers, manufacturers, fashionistas and others will convene to see new developments in wearable computers. Conference goers will see how wearable tech can help people learn to play piano more easily, for example. They'll also take a tour of BodyMedia, Inc., a company dedicated to producing gadgets that monitor such important health data as calories burned, dietary intake, and duration of sleep.
Other big name events include the San Francisco Exploratorium's 2nd Skin Exhibition, which ran April 25th to Sept. 7. Last winter, MIT and Boston's Museum of Science hosted "Seamless: Computational Couture" which showcased wearable technology created by designers from around the world, including a fashion show and interactive exhibit between the audience and wearables. One such project shown was the Charming Burka," which was able to send an image of the wearer's face (or any other body part) beneath the Burka to the audience, via Bluetooth.
Wearable technology is making its way into classes as well. MIT, along with Georgia Tech and University of South Australia, for example, offer courses where students spend time in research labs working on wearable computers, augmented reality and virtual reality.
Professor Lucy Dunne recently started teaching wearable technology and apparel design at the University of Minnesota's School of Design. "The wonderful thing about the position is that it's actually titled a 'wearable technology position.' That might be the first time I've ever seen that, so it's definitely new and definitely an exciting development," Dunne says.