Let's face it, without the technology you use everyday you'd be pretty stuck. No automatic coffee pot, no iPhone, no GPS helping you crash your car. How would you even make it to the office? Not satisfied with the death grip they have on you now, scientists and designers the world over are finding new ways to integrate technology into every part of your life. Enter electronic clothes. These garments and accessories contain computers, lights, and all sorts of gadgets meant to bring you into the modern age. Why wear boring regular clothes when the newest styles will turn you into a walking multimedia phenomenon. Some of these clothes could even save your career. We've got the 10 coolest electronic fashions of the 21st Century for you below. Enjoy the view, but don't try to wear them all at once.
10. The GalaxyDress by Cute Circuit
Need to make a big impression at a formal event? How about wearing a dress that's completely covered in flashing lights. The Galaxy Dress from Cute Circuit is an extravagant example of what happens when technology collides full on with haute couture. Apologies to all those fashionistas out there who want to be the brightest belle at the ball, the Galaxy Dress is one of a kind and currently on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Hopefully they've beefed up security, because Lady Gaga's bound to try to steal this thing any minute. Hey, sometimes a girl's just got to make a flashy entrance.
9. Do It Yourself Electronic Hoodies
Why buy computerized clothing when you can make your own? Arduino will sell you the Lilypad, a circuit board that's tailored made to be easily stitched onto clothes. From there you can wire up some LEDs, some speakers, whatever you want. And by whatever you want we of course we mean a hoodie, because what else do DIY people wear?
Kanjun Qie from MIT Media Lab made a really cool sound-producing hoodie called the Soundie.
Not useful enough? Then how about this hoodie from DIY guru Leah Buechley - it has a turn signal indicator embedded in it. Wear it while you're biking...or when you're driving your invisible car.
For those of us with a little electronics know-how the Arduino Lilypad is definitely a great option to make some kick-ass electronic-wear. The skies the limit. You can make a hoodie that tells time, a hoodie with a GPS chip, a hoodie tracks your heart rate...any kind of hoodie you can think of. Remember though, never bring home-made computerized clothes into a Boston Airport. They're touchy about that sort of thing.
8. The Data Logging Shirt
Sports injuries can take years to overcome, and when you're a professional athlete they can cost you a lot more than time. Major League Baseball reportedly loses $54 million dollars worth of salary investments each year because of pitching injuries. Three students at Northeastern University decided to fix that with the ultimate in scientific clothing. The data logging shirt records how your body moves during every pitch of the ball. Eventually a wireless version will let managers monitor their player's performance from the dugout and pull them off the mound before they start throwing pitches that will ruin their arm. Who knows, one day we could all wear this clothing to give us the latest in health monitoring. Doctor, my shirt is telling me I have pneumonia.
7. The Shirt That Hugs You...Where are The Pants?
Also by Cute Circuit, the Hug Shirt stands on a basic premise: we all want to reach out and touch someone. The shirt connects via bluetooth to your phone which transmits data to another phone and another Hug Shirt. The upswing is that by squeezing the colored pads on the shirt you can send vibrations, heat, and tingling goodness to a loved one wearing a Hug Shirt anywhere in the world. It's great to get a long distance hug, but the um...naughty...possibilities are pretty obvious, too. The Hug Shirt won a Best Inventions Award from Time way back in 2006, so the pants version should be arriving any day now.
6. Clothes with Controls
So maybe you want to put some electronics in your clothes, but you don't want to do all the design yourself. Call up Fibretronics. They are the largest provider of wearable electronics. Their ConnectedWear line puts embedded controllers into all kinds of clothes. Want a satchel that will wirelessly control your iPhone? Done. A winter jacket that hooks up to your GPS locator? Already got one. How about pants that open your garage door? They can make it happen. There's also heating elements, light systems, and even direct communication units. Your socks could be walkie-talkies! While Fibretronics mainly works with clothing companies (hence the NorthFace jacket in the picture) you can get some of these gadgets for your own use. They even give you a quick setup video to help you connect your clothes to your handheld devices. Nifty.
5. Costumes that Listen
Ok, so you love the Galaxy Dress but you wish that it was sound-sensitive? Check out the wares of Show-of-Light. These electronic clothing visionaries aren't building clothes so much as they're building mind-blowing costumes. SoL has put flashing lights and fiber optics that respond to sound on all the most eloquent performers. Ballet dancers, check. Ice Skaters, check. Opera singers? Oh hell yes. Watch Cary Ann Rosko sing improvised notes to break your heart while her dress gives you hallucinogenic flashbacks.
4. Scarfs for Autism
Autism is a serious condition with a ever growing list of patients. Clothing may not be able to cure a child of this illness, but it can sure help them when they're feeling stressed. Leo Chao, a student at Emily Carr University, designed the Beagle, a scarf that people can wrap around them. Texture, sounds, and even smells create a calming cocoon that will distract and soothe an autistic person when they're feeling over stimulated. It's the electronic version of a blankie that has actual health benefits. Chao won an award for his design - Linus van Pelt would be proud.
3. The Part of Your Body that Doesn't Need More Attention
Geeks are the coolest people on the planet. Girl-geeks even more so. Electronics enthusiast and student Chung-Hay Luk has built a bra with lights. Because yeah, breasts need a light show. Seriously though, I have to applaud Luk's expert use of the Schemer chip from Aniomagic to get her 5 LED system to flash in interesting patterns. I almost forgot I was watching someone in their underwear. What's the funniest part of this eye-drawing project? Luk calls it "another light up bra." Oh yes, she's made others. This is why the Geek will inherit the Earth.
2. I'm Sorry, Is Your Ring...Ringing?
Ok, you can't have electronic clothes without talking about electronic accessories. The ORB serves as not one but two computerized accoutrement at the same time. It's a Bluetooth enabled device that connects to your phone. Wear it as a ring and it's tiny screen will alert you when you have call - it even lets you know the caller's ID. If that wasn't cool enough, if you want to answer a call the ring unfolds into a headset that wraps around your ear! Instead of a standard speaker, the ORB uses bone conduction to transmit sound directly into your skull. That's some sweet technology and it's no wonder this gizmo from Hybra Advanced Technology won awards at CES 2010.
I was at CES 2010, and just like these gentlemen in the video I never got a chance to see the ORB either. All the live demonstration models were always out on special meetings, they were never in the booth. That's how popular this ring-thing was. Looks like they'll come out sometime next year for around $130. Get in line now.
1. Any Shirt ThinkGeek Has Sold...Ever
When it comes to electronic clothes there's one company that reigns supreme. ThinkGeek's line of computerized clothes covers the spectrum from mildly useful to deviously entertaining. Every one is practically a must-have. Don't believe me? Exhibit A - the drum kit shirt:
They also have a guitar shirt for those who prefer George to Ringo. If you want some apparel that might actually serve a purpose, ThinkGeek has a WiFi detector tee (and baseball cap), as well as a sound equalizer tee. The best of this subgenre serves as Exhibit B - a shirt that let's you stalk your friends.
Ok, so the Locked On shirt only works within 3 meters (It would still probably be cool for warring factions of cubicle slaves) I've saved the best for last though. Exhibit C for ThinkGeek's electronic clothing supremacy - the Personal Soundtrack Shirt. A speaker on the tee lets you broadcast an assortment of music to highlight the moments in your life that really need some musical accompaniment. Not satisfied with the built-in sounds? Upload what you want to a SD memory card and it plugs right in. This shirt is the essence of geeky cool and personalized mayhem. Which is why The Big Bang Theory squeezed all the laughter they could out of its use:
The computerized clothing of the future is going to let everyone personalize their style and improve their lives. Not only will we have shirts that can change at the touch of a switch, we'll have clothes that serve a purpose. Socks that tell us when we need to take a load off our feet, shirts that monitor our hearts, jackets that never let us get lost, hats that soothe our headaches with gentle massages...it's all coming down the pipeline, folks. Those who want to become a fashion mogul of the future should start thinking about getting an electrical engineering degree. In the meantime, I'm saving up for some electrodes and a sewing machine. I'm pretty sure I can make a propeller beanie that reads your mind.
[image credits: CuteCircuit, Leo Chao, Hybra Advanced Technologies, Fibretronics]
[sources: CuteCircuit, Northeastern News, Fibretronics, Emily Carr University, Bunnymeetsbean Blog, Hybra Advanced Technology, ThinkGeek]