SMART CLOTHES, GADGETS OR THE FUTURE OF TEXTILES
When we talk about fashion and its evolution, it is common to declare that it is cyclical. Thus, it would be a perpetual restart, forms and colors combining in patterns already explored through the seasons and collections. Undeniably, there is a part of truth in this observation, only the evolution of clothing also corresponds to an evolution of its technologies, whether these are related to its use or its production process. As technology becomes more and more nomadic, it is also more and more likely to infiltrate our wardrobes as well as our approach to clothing. To be able to project ourselves in a more or less near future where our brief will be able to make us a weekly colposcopy, We will therefore try to make a brief summary of the evolution of digital technologies applied to textiles. Then we will go for a walk on the side of its concrete applications, whether in the prototype state or already present on the stalls of stores. “Are you ready Mr. Spock? Energize! “
1 – History
The history of clothing and its onboard electrical circuits began with the democratization of electricity in Western societies. In the 19th century already, employees of the company “Electric Girl Lightning Company” wore evening dresses encrusted with small bulbs to shine in society. Thus, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, isolated initiatives attempted to include this combination of electrical and textile in everyone’s practices, without any real success. In the 1990s, it’s electronics’s turn to take a chance. In this dynamic, MIT researchers have developed “wearable computer”, portable computers that, we can imagine at the time, had nomad only concept. However, engineers from the same university studied not the creation of a laptop but that of flexible conductive fabrics capable of being woven to create clothing. It was also at this very moment that methods were developed to embroider electronic circuits in the textile fibers.
It was these techniques that led to the proliferation of intelligent textiles in the mid-2000s. The miniaturization of electronic chips as well as the improvement of conductive fabrics (especially with fiber optics) have thus allowed entrepreneurs and the craziest inventors to engage in the adventure of intelligent textile. Obviously as in any adventure related to innovation, the majority was lost on the road, thereby condemning all these inventions as a prototype. However, some technologies have managed to become frequent use, especially in the workplace.
This is the case mainly in the military field, with combinations able to reduce infections in case of injury or improve the ability of concealment of soldiers. One can also think of firefighters who can take sensors able to control the temperature inside and outside the suit and thus alert the wearer in case of critical conditions. But of course, when we talk about smart clothing, it’s the aerospace industry that is the queen of the discipline, the astronaut combinations being a veritable digest of ingenuity and micro-technology. It can be seen that embedded technology is not limited to gadget status, but can also have concrete and sometimes necessary implications in certain areas. However, With regard to everyday clothing, it is clear that the industry has not been enthusiastic about including flexible electrical circuits in all of its productions. A technology that, imagine, represents costs and therefore very significant risks.
To overcome this relative reluctance of the industry, it is crowdfunding that came to the rescue of smart textiles in the early 2010s. Many projects have flourished on platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo to allow engineers from all walks of life to satisfy their technological-textile fantasies. This craze can be explained by two means: in the first place, the concepts are limited only by the imagination of the inventors, so it can be proposed to the public far-fetched projects without these being constrained by any financier or expert accountant (at first). It will be directly to the public to judge the viability of a project or idea. In a second time, crowdfunding has the particularity that it is necessarily remote. So, if I offer a very well cut t-shirt, of perfect quality at a price that defies all competition, potential investors will have to believe me without having been able to try my product. On the contrary, if I propose a t-shirt able to turn on my computer when I press on one of my nipples, and to make a smoothie when I press on the other, I have only to show it in operation (by a video demonstration for example) to convince of its value. The strength of crowdfunding is ultimately to value more the concept than the object, a significant advantage when talking about smart clothing. if I propose a t-shirt that can turn on my computer when I press one of my nipples, and make a smoothie when I press the other, I just have to show it in operation ( by a demonstration video for example) to convince of its value. The strength of crowdfunding is ultimately to value more the concept than the object, a significant advantage when talking about smart clothing. if I propose a t-shirt that can turn on my computer when I press one of my nipples, and make a smoothie when I press the other, I just have to show it in operation ( by a demonstration video for example) to convince of its value. The strength of crowdfunding is ultimately to value more the concept than the object, a significant advantage when talking about smart clothing.
2 – Smart clothing applications
The evolution of techniques and the new forms of financing have allowed a large part of the population to access these new features of the clothing. We will try to highlight here some of the possibilities offered by these new concepts. However, before this it is necessary to make a distinction between two forms of intelligences when we speak of textile: a passive intelligence and another active. Passive is technology that does not require electrical power or circuit board. It is the very material of the garment that by its properties tends to confer technical qualities. Active intelligenceas for it requires a power of computation, in this sense, it must benefit from a processor and an electric current able to put it in action. That was for the technical side. Let’s get a foothold in the future and see what our future wardrobes will be capable of!
A. Sport and health
Sport and well-being are certainly the themes that smart clothing has taken over most of the time. There are so many technical fabrics capable of giving athletes optimal comfort during their outings. This is called “spotex”, a range of textiles that helps protect the skin from temperature changes while letting it breathe. Major sports equipment manufacturers such as Nike, Adidas or Reebok already use this type of technology in most of their technical parts such as compression tops, leggings or socks. Active technologies include the “SmartSensing” t-shirt, which is a top with electrodes and a GPS plotter capable of transmitting a lot of data such as temperature, the level of hydration or the speed of the runner. In a similar approach, we find thefrenchies from “Shapeheart” who designed a smartphone armband equipped with a sensor that continuously monitors the heart rate of its wearer. Embedded technologies able to give athletes accurate data on their practice in order to better adjust their training to their physiology.
If the digital is able to improve the physical condition of individuals, it can also save their skin. In this, the field of health has seized intelligent fibers in order to monitor people with heart failure. Thus it would be conceivable to equip people with cardiac disorders in the receiver able to alert help at the first signs of heart attack. Scientists are also looking for solutions to equip diabetics with garments that would constantly monitor their insulin levels and warn them if the rates are too low or too high. Tissues able to help their wearer to live better, see to live longer. In this they are exciting prospects for the near future.
It’s well known, nobody has the time, nor the energy to take his phone out of his pocket. You have to reach out, slip it in your pocket, grab your phone, take out your phone. In short, it is a calvary without name! That’s why some brands wanted to save us this chore by offering to include features specific to our connected phones, directly in our clothing. Recently, it is certainly the project of the “Trucker Jacket” by Levi’s and “Project Jacquard” (funded by the American giant google) which made the most talk about him. This jacket, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, allows you to remotely control your phone, including receiving calls, notifications and GPS information. In this, it is mainly reserved for hard-core cyclists such as couriers so that they can continue their journey without endangering themselves. The coin should be available in 2017 but its price is still unknown.
If this jacket cut by Levi’s seems quite attractive, there are also slightly more dubious concepts. This is particularly the case of the “TieFi” which as the name suggests is a tie equipped with a Wi-Fi receiver. The accessory has the distinction of capturing the wireless network so that it is accessible only within a radius of 10m around it. Thus, the object is presented to encourage family members to gather around dad (or dads) to use the internet on tablets or mobile phone. Indeed, it seems like an idea – not creepy at all – to force loved ones to spend time together. Still in the family register, the “Mimo” body allows worried parents to monitor the activity of their infant and to receive notifications according to the sleep and possible crying of the children. Raise the nose of his screen just in order to watch his children or spend time with them? What’s the point ?
Beyond the notions of necessity or practicality, the wardrobe of tomorrow will also be able to serve the entertainment. This is particularly the case for Jenny Chowdhury’s “intimate control” range, which invites couples to wear underwear with analog buttons. Then, a video game broadcast on a screen invites participants to support one by one on the buttons with more or less speed. What shake the joysticks and … No I have too many questionable word games on this theme, I will stop right now.
More typically, many major brands have developed coats as well as hoodies with built-in loudspeakers within the hood, a jack is discreetly placed inside the pockets and the various keys controls sewn to even the sleeve. In case of prolonged hiking or trekking in large wilderness, researchers have also tried to integrate as discreetly as possible, solar panels into the garment. It’s a story of not running out of power if you want to listen to a good piece of Taylor Swift in the Siberian tundra: the technology is great.
Finally, for your clothes to directly testify to your sports achievements (or not), the “V1sion Smart Jersey” offers a built-in camera directly on the chest to better follow the point of view of the wearer without it ‘clutter of a camera screwed on the head. What to stream your daily without interruption, exciting no?
If we can look with a slight smile at the time when women were dressed in electric garlands, it is clear that the idea is still present. That with the difference that the bulbs were replaced by LEDs, more compact and more resistant. On Kickstarter, there are campaigns such as “Lumo” or “Badger 360” which offer cyclists jackets equipped with small lights to be seen at night and have a small effect on the road.
If it can make you shine brightly, smart clothing can also bring the concept of custom-made beyond its own limits. It was the engineer Paul Luckham of Imperial College London who amazed the observers by offering clothes spray. A gun thus applies polymers and a solvent in liquid form directly on the body to solidify in contact with the skin and perfectly fit the curves of each. Finally, for lovers of spaghetti bolognese and t-shirts of a bright white (two passions sometimes difficult to reconcile), there is an ultimate anti-stain spray. It is applied to any garment and makes it perfectly insensitive to water or Bolognese sauce. Thus the liquids do not congeal in the fabric but simply roll on the one.
So we can see, there is a plethora of applications when we look at smart clothing and its procession of technology. It is estimated today that 7.5 million citizens would be ready to invest in the “wearable technology” market. If facing the total textile industry, this is not an overwhelming number, it is a huge increase since this figure amounted to 3.1 million in 2015. While this development is particularly exciting, it can also represent risks. Because each connected object is a new IP address and new data produced by each individual. With these new practices will therefore appear new ethical and societal issues.