Microsoft researchers spin up a smart scarf

microsoftscarf
Credit: Mobi Health News

Microsoft researchers have dreamed up a high-tech version of the heated scarves you might find at your local pharmacy.

The prototype scarf, dubbed Swarm (Sensing Whether Affect Requires Mediation), made its debut at a Stanford University conference this week, accoridng to MIT Technology Review and Mobi Health News. It consists of hexagon-shaped modules of industrial felt with conductive copper taffeta on top, with some of the modules able to heat up and others able to vibrate.

The modules then form a chain with a master controller module, which connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth for controlling the heating and vibration. Users can also rearrange the order of the modules using metal snaps at the end of each one, or use a sleeve to change the look of the scarf.

This may seem like a lot of hassle to just to mimic the functionality of non-smart scarves, which are readily available in heated form. But as Technology Review points out, Microsoft researchers see Swarm as having deeper medical uses beyond keeping your neck warm. Some day, sensors may be able to detect stress in the wearer, and provide heat or pressure as a form of therapy. This type of treatment is occasionally used for people with autism, and researchers say they consulted with people who have autism, hearing disabilities and visual impairments as part of the project.

Michele Williams, the co-author of a paper on Swarm, told Technology Review that she's like to add cooling and music playback. However, Williams only worked on the project during an internship at Microsoft, and it's unclear the company will continue development.

Why this matters: Like many other Microsoft Research efforts, there's no guarantee Swarm will ever become a finished product. It's merely another step toward creating wearables that are less about logging health activity and more about providing some kind of treatment for the wearer. Expect to see more devices of this kind over the next several years, even if Microsoft's smart scarf isn't one of them.

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