As designers of wearable technologies, we need to step back and ask why we want our garments to be electronic. What kind of information processing do we want to carry out on our bodies? What kind of functionality do we want to enable inside our clothes? The clothing and electronic industries are looking for the killer application, the next big thing that will introduce wearable computing to a mass market. However, many research directions are misguided. The focus on health monitoring and surveillance technologies clearly reflects the (military and pharmaceutical) funding structures and fails to deliver appealing product ideas that respond to personal, social and cultural needs.
The killer app for wearable computing is to convey personal identity information. This is called fashion and it is mostly visual.
The field of electronic textiles (also called "smart fabrics" or "wearables") is quite fashionable right now. On one end of the spectrum, there are pragmatic applications such as military research into interactive camouflage or textiles with nanobots that can heal wounded soldiers. On the other end of the spectrum, there is work being done by artists and designers in the area of reactive clothes: "second skins" that can adapt to the environment and to the wearers, that can express aspects of their personalities, their needs and their desires, and represent aggregate social information.
What we do
Our research focuses on the development and design of electronic textiles, responsive clothing, wearable technologies, reactive materials, and squishy interfaces. We develop projects that focus on aesthetics, personal expression, and the idea of play, as opposed to the prevalent utilitarian focus of wearable technology design on universal connectivity and productivity applications. We are particularly concerned with the exploration of simple interactions that emphasize natural expressive qualities of electronic circuits and of the body.
We develop dynamic clothing that has the ability to change color, shape or texture over time and reactive clothing that responds to input with sound, animation or some other state change. Materials such as thermochromic pigments, light emitting components, miniature speakers and conductive yarns are used together with input devices such as soft fabric switches, variable resistors and capacitive sensors to construct reactive garments.
We can think of clothing as a second skin that allows us to construct meaning in interaction with the world.
One application of reactive fashion is to enable the idea of changing our skin, our identity and our cultural context.
Our art/design philosophy focuses on the use of technology as an art/design medium through a good understanding of its potential and its limitations. We develop the technologies that enable the kind of visual expression we seek. We develop conceptual prototypes and also develop the enabling technologies.
We come from a perspective where the lines between traditional roles are really starting to blur. Nobody can be an expert in all aspects of art, design, science, technology, research and practice. However, we believe that we all need a fundamental understanding of the technologies we use on our work. We cannot ignore the fact that technology is a medium. It shapes content and, importantly, concept development.
We work with emerging technologies that enable aesthetics and design. We attempt to discover new applications for existing materials in chemistry, physics, material and electrical engineering. (1) We use existing technologies, (2) we misuse (or abuse) and thus transform or re-contextualize existing technologies and, finally, (3) we develop/invent new technologies.