your digital stash (MP3 player, cell phone, and PDA) creates an unsightly
bulge in your pockets, a fashion fix is on the way. In an inevitable
move, electronics and fashion have put their opposing left and right
brains together to produce "wearable electronics." Techno-skin may still
be in the visionary stage, but the latest "wearables" are a grand improvement
from MIT's last attempt at this genre (a monitor strapped to the forehead).
Levi-Strauss, the quintessential utilitarian clothier that dressed
Californian gold miners in denim, is leading the wearable tech market.
They've teamed with Philips Electronics to produce the ICD+ line of
which were released in Europe, fall 2000. The four jackets include a
MP3 player, cell phone (earphones and microphone are built into the
collar) and a unified "remote" control (costs range from $600 to $900).
No news yet on when they'll be available in the U.S.
a spin-off of MIT's Media Lab, serves up a sexy edge in their Brave
New Unwired World fashion showcases. Basically, it's futuristic candy
coating on today's still rather bulky mobile tech. In their Sydney 2000
show, Charmed introduced Surf Report: an outfit that communicates --
via wristbands -- to the solar panels in a surfer's body suit to adjust
the suit's temperature.
New combinations of fiber, fabric and micro-circuitry are also turning
up in prototypes for competitive sports and combat wear (and in their
unholy offspring, extreme sports). For example, Philips envisions that
future skiers will have GPS navigation, electronic ski passes and radio
communications built into their clothing. Integrated fabric sensors
are being manipulated to display and monitor everything from body temperature
to pulse and blood stats. Philips suggests that soft fabric sensors
could eventually cover the entire body and monitor an athlete's form,
motion, and health.
The military and medical fields are also creating wearable electronics.
The Department of Defense is experimenting with exoskeletons (or battlefield
armor) that are smart, strong, and lethal to help soldiers communicate
effectively, move quickly, lift large weaponry and leap to non-human
heights and distances. This human performance augmentation promises
to take war to superhero-like levels. A byproduct of this combat technology
is the Smart Shirt,
the world's first wearable motherboard that incorporates two-way sensing,
monitoring and information processing technology into the fabric. It
has all sorts of application in medicine for monitoring and communicating
Eventually we will have the option to wear our work applications.
is already creating a niche market for professionals who need technical
info on the fly. The MA IV Wearable PC includes a headset monitor, voice
control, and arm-mounted keyboard that will give field surveyors, telephone
line technicians, and law enforcement officers hands-free, voice activated
access to data, as well as two-way communication with the home office.
And the Xybernaut get-up is not all work and no play. You can also listen
to MP3s, check your email, and play your favorite computer games while
stuck in a traffic jam or waiting in line for a cheeseburger.