Will we be wearing our gadgets as clothes in the future?

by Administrator | Apr 26, 2010

There is a category of gadgets which, while just beginning to appear, may give a hint as to what the future holds and it arguably began with a class of mobile phone known as the 'watch-phone'. These are gadgets which, instead of being hand-held by the user, are worn about the body. However, until now, the use of such technology has remained oriented around traditional interactions and this is shown most clearly by the aforementioned watch-phones.

In short, although the mobile phone is actually worn on the wrist, just as a normal watch would be, the user still interacts with it by pressing buttons or using a touchscreen (albeit, in the case of watch-phones, a very small touchscreen).

However, designer Jennifer Darmour envisages a different way of interacting with wearable technology which has led her to develop a new project called Ping. Rather than attaching things such as keyboards to clothing, which has been attempted in the past with varying levels of success, Darmour instead designed a system where the clothing itself, in a sense, becomes the user interface with electronics built directly into the garment itself. The key to how Ping would work is based around gesture controls so that instead of having a keypad mounted on an arm, for example (as seen in certain technologies the American armed forces use), the Ping garment would recognise a person's gestures and use those to control the technology.

The technology controlled, in this design, is an Arduino Lilypad circuit board, specifically designed to be built into 'electronic clothing', combined with an Xbee wireless unit and a network of sensors to measure movement. It could then be set to, for example, send a status update to Facebook when the user puts up the hood, or ties the bow, presumably with specific updates being tied to certain actions.

However, Darmour plans on the Ping garment using two way communication, so that it would be able to apply pressure to the users shoulder when someone is trying to get in touch with thrm, with a different rhythm of taps being used to tell the user who is trying to contact them

Even this is probably only scratching the surface of what will be possible in the future where it is entirely feasible that all of our mobile phones, laptops, or even games consoles, could be built into our clothes. This would, of course, require the clothing to have some kind of visual output but many companies are working on glasses, or even contact lenses, which use augmented reality. In other words, they superimpose the display on top of the user's view of the real world. This has already proven to be a successful new technology in mobile phones, and it is entirely feasible it could be made into spectacles, visors or contact lenses.

There is, however, one crucial requirement of all gadgets whether they are laptops, mobile phones or games consoles: power. It is in this area that many commentators are expecting a developing technology called carbon nanotubes to pay off. They combine remarkable physical properties with thermal and electrical properties and can also be used as a kind of capacitor, to store power, whilst being waterproof, incredibly strong, and heat and fire resistant.

So, in the future, we may all be wearing shirts that, while they are waterproof, tear-proof, and resistant to fire, also house a laptop, a mobile phone and a portable games console. They may even be able to draw power from solar energy, or from our own body movement, becoming the ultimate self-sustaining, wearable gadget.

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