August 2003 Archives

A few months ago Haven suggested to me that studying tattoos might give me some ideas about the future design of wearable computers. Turns out he's not so crazy after all...

In the book Stylemakers: Inside Fashion, the authors talk about David Wolfe, one of Seventh Avenue's foremost fashion forecasters, and his ideas about tattoos. "Based on research from [the MIT experimental clothing laboratory], he predicts a future amalgamation of apparel and technology. 'Tattooing and body piercing are the first steps in this transformation,' he maintains. In less than a century, Wolfe predicts, fashion will be driven more by innovation provided by technology ñ heat-sensitive fabrics, holographic prints, computer-generated designs ñ than by traditional artistry. There will no longer be designers per se ñ only 'technicians,' he prognosticates. The very term 'designer' will seem archaic."

Haven and the fashion maven might just be right...

In 1997 Wired ran an article on a programmable tattoo that could be used as a medical monitor, sensing things like insulin levels.

In a related vein, slashdot recently posted a link to an article about spray on computers. The spray is actually millions of tiny "semiconductor specks" that communicate with each other over wireless. Another medical monitor, the spray would "go on the chest and monitor the performance of the heart." They plan to get this working within four years.

- articles from Haven

class envy

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As another semester begins, I'm reminded that CMU really doesn't have any great classes for people interested in exploring interface and interaction design for wearable computers. Two classes I'd love to take:

1) Columbia's User Interfaces for Mobile and Wearable Computing. Class topics include input devices, applications, context awareness, form and function, and wearability. Students give presentations on displays, body-worn sensors, assistive interfaces, collaboration, privacy/social issues, and augmented reality.

2) Ivrea's Designing for The Body in Context. Students explore the functional/cultural/personal value of items kept on or near the body -- everything from wedding rings and eyeglasses to pens and cell phones. They then go through a series of exercises that culminate in the design of a new wearable device. Along the way they sketch, create storyboards, research cellular technology, and create a video. Not bad for four weeks! The class site currently links to many completed exercises and final projects from this year's students and has an amazingly extensive list of references and resources. I could easily get lost for hours.

Sigh.

I just saw an ad for Gateway flat panel LCD TVs. It said, "Your big fat bloated TV went out of fashion with, well, big fat bloated TVs."

In The End of Fashion, Teri Agins says, "fashion, by definition is ephemeral and elusive, a target that keeps moving. ... Traditionally, the fashion system has revolved around the imperative of planned obsolescence." I doubt that original developers of CRTs were evilly plotting the introduction of LCDs 50 years later, though that's not to say that LCD manufacturers are above exploiting what now looks and feels like a dated technology.

Agins also says, "Today, a designerís creativity expresses itself more than ever in the marketing rather than in the actual clothes. Ö In a sense, fashion has returned to its roots: selling image. Image is the form and marketing is the function." Technology companies can play this game too. Apple's Think Different campaign from a few years back is a perfect example of this, as is Microsoft's pairing of Madonna and XP.

Such emphasis on design and marketing may not be surprising from companies that target the general public, but even Sun's mid- and high-end servers are designed with pretty purple details that remind me of running shoes.

Exponential growth in performance means that systems from six months ago are on their way to the junk heap anyway. Their longevity will only decrease as they are more frequently designed and used as fashion pieces. Have last season's iPod or a cell phone that is too large? Better get shopping!

What will the market look like when these devices are physically integrated into clothing?

wear your seat

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Oliver Peyricot has created a wearable chair. I'm not sure whether you can only wear it while sitting or if the seat is flexible so that you can also wear it while standing/moving. A rough translation of the product description from the babel fish --

"Comfort with nearest: self-service design to be related to oneself, more piece of furniture that one wears, the WYS (Wear Your Seat) settles like a seat and threads like a prosthesis. Maintained by a rigid file (with height of lumbar), it offers a comfort tender and measured to each part of the back, sitting or upright."

Peyricot also has also developed Body Props, several ergonomic forms intended to support the body while resting on the floor. His attention to human form reminds me of the Design for Wearability work done at CMU several years ago.

- seen in Clear magazine, vol III issue 3

Eurowearable '03

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I just found the Eurowearable '03 website and am MORE than a little shocked that their logo is nearly identical to mine! They even cut the guy into squares like I did! What are the friggin' odds? I am now a true believer in the collective consciousness...

The conference looks great, though, and seems to address social issues and design much more than ISWC does. There's also an exhibition called Wear Me which showcases several intelligent garments. Apparently this is just part of a larger exhibition that will begin in Sept 04.

a means of self-expression

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Dianna Miller, who is finishing up a Masters degree at Ivrea, is looking at how wearables might be used as a means of self-expression, just as clothing expresses the personality and identity of the wearer.

For her thesis, she's developing a "sound accessory" that can be integrated into clothing and controlled by motion or pressure. There's a short interview with her about the project, which is called "Wrapt: sound to suit the wearer". The project site doesn't seem to be available yet.

She's also developed a very cool cape that simulates some of the sensations of flying. I want one! Flightdream.org has demos and a lot of process & implementation details.

- thanks for the link, Haven!

smart-e-pants

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"Smart-e-pants" - the trousers that automatically determine how much turkey you've eaten at Thanksgiving, and adjust their size accordingly. No more loosening the belt, etc.

- from Mike, who has also requested computerized underpants on several occasions

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