This month's IEEE Spectrum cover story is on e-textiles. Most of the discussion of potential applications (for soldiers, firefighters, snowboarders, etc.) was pretty predictable, but there were a few points of interest.
1) Reliability will be maintained through redundancy. "A truly smart fabric could route data packets or control signals around a hole in a wounded soldier's uniform or a wet area of a baby's outfit."
2) Safety and privacy will be key issues for consumers. Disappointingly, the authors glossed over this topic, saying that these issues haven't stopped sales of PDAs and cell phones. Maybe not, but cell phones have already been banned in some health clubs due to privacy concerns over camera phones. And consumer concerns over Benetton's proposal to imbed RFID tags in clothing labels shows that privacy is indeed an issue for wearable technology.
Newsweek ran a similar article this summer that focused mainly on an interview with Sundaresan Jayaraman, creator of a "supple mixture of natural fibers and gossamer-thin wires and optical fibers". My favorite quote: "Just don't call Jayaraman's invention an e-textile. 'E-textiles are so passive and passe,' he says. The future, he says, belongs to i-textiles -- 'i' for interactive." As I mentioned in a previous post, people are really concerned about naming wearable technology!
Jayaraman also says, "The user shouldn't know when he's wearing an electronic textile." (Did he just say "e-textile"?) Not sure if Jayaraman means that users shouldn't be able to tell the difference from a comfort perspective, or that they really don't need to know at all. The latter is scary...
P.S. Does anyone know anything about the illustration for the IEEE cover story? I love it! I want it!