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High-Tech Times Article 036

The Technology Tides of Fashion

Welcome back to the High-Tech Times. One of the main reasons I love Hawaii is our adoption of Alohaware. I fondly remember the “tie-burning” party I had when we moved out here a decade ago. But time, technology, and the fashion industry hold still for no man (or woman), and our clothes may soon reflect a few interesting changes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Philips NV and fashion manufacturer Levi Strauss & Co. are developing jackets with built-in electronic equipment, promising consumers that the days of pockets bulging with phones, audio equipment, and wires have come to an end. Called ICD+, the water-resistant outdoor jackets feature built-in MP3 players, headsets, mobile-phone handsets, and small remote controls. Making a call is as easy as flipping up the collar, and MP3's can be accessed by reaching in a pocket, while buttons on the sleeve adjust volume controls.
The electronics jackets will be launched commercially in September, and will be available at some 40 boutiques across Europe, mainly in fashion centers like Paris, London, and Milan. Browse over to the Philips Web-site at
Though still in its infancy, wearable electronics are getting increased attention from clothing and electronics makers. What started with portable transistor radios may soon develop into fabrics that conduct electricity and can connect audio-video equipment and pocket computers. Several conceptual products have already been developed at tech labs around the globe, including a T-shirt featuring in-ear speakers and solar cells to provide energy, and a solar-energy recharge jacket serving as battery to a microphone and a video camera.   Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab spin-off Charmed Technology has even launched high-profile fashion shows featuring futuristic-looking clothing showing all sorts of built-in wireless technology on catwalks around the globe.
But wearables aren't just geeky fantasies, they are serious business, and there are several commercial projects already up and running. Nike has started a tech lab aiming to integrate digital equipment like MP3 players into sports clothes; telecom equipment-maker Motorola and watch-maker Swatch each has developed a wristwatch equipped with a phone; and telecom manufacturer Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson will launch this autumn a clip-on wireless headset for mobile phones.
Not everyone is as enthusiastic about wearable electronics as Philips and Levi Strauss. Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz AB has turned down at least one request from a Swedish university to develop wearables. The company thinks such garments would, for now, be too expensive for its consumers, while there are also questions about safety. But Philips and others aren't scared off.  So how do wearables work? Philips’ and Levi Strauss’ ICD+ jackets are equipped with a personal area network, or PAN: an electronic circuit woven into the jacket that serves as the backbone for various devices. Just like local area networks that connect computers to each other at offices, PAN allows the transport of data, power, and control signals within the garment. Several devices can be clipped on to a PAN, and they can be centrally controlled by a remote control with a small display that alerts users to every incoming phone call, e-mail, or the title of a song playing on an MP3 player.
Philips and Levi Strauss began working on the project 18 months ago with a team of fashion designers, technicians, and interactive media specialists with the goal to create a fashion-conscious outdoors jacket with integrated electronic equipment. The target market is young people who are outdoors a lot and carry a lot of equipment around just for their jobs - movie producers and roadies, for example - as well as teenagers and early adapters who want tomorrow's trendy thing today. 
The current ICD+ line had to be designed in such a way that the user wouldn't feel the weight of the electronics or more than four feet of wires. The total weight of the equipment is five ounces (the phone and battery are three ounces, the MP3 audio player weighs just 1.5 ounces), and the phone can be operated simply by speaking commands directly into the collar. If you want to read electronic short messages directed to your mobile phone, say "Read short messages." If you want your calendar on a display, say "Calendar."
Moreover, the garment - minus the hardware, which can be clipped on and off at will - has to be able to survive cycles in a washer and dryer. ICD+ features four different jackets with PANs, named the Producer Jacket, the Beetle Jacket, Gilet, and the Mooring Jacket. They range in color from blue and black to green and sand.
British Telecom is working with the military forces of several countries to develop clothes which can change their thickness and therefore thermal properties according to the outside temperature. Another design splashes medicines onto a wound when a soldier is hit by a bullet. They are also seeing the use of optical fiber woven into the clothes. When a soldier is injured, the fibers are broken and information about the wound location can be relayed to field medics, who can use the information to prioritize casualties. Other sensors could be used to monitor blood loss, pulse, etc., and these data can also be relayed.
Millions of micro?capsules can also be built into clothing and allow camouflage to adapt dynamically to the surroundings, changing the colors and patterns of the clothes. Such effects can be achieved in a variety of ways, by flattening or stretching capsules to change their color characteristics, or by using electrical charge or physical pressure. And today’s high-tech camouflage technology will eventually become street fashion, with kaleidoscopic clothing.
Imagine a T?shirt which has a video display panel where the logo is now. Instead of static prints, you could walk around showing video clips, perhaps from a TV tuner on your belt, or you could be showing accompanying video?clips while dancing to music at a night club. Smaller panels could be built into sleeves or legs. You could have a wristwatch in your shirt sleeve. Communications between the various devices could use fibers built into clothes, with their data coverage increased to as much as 35 feet using the new Bluetooth technologies. Another technique uses the body itself to transmit signals at surprisingly high data rates, megabits per second.
I guess that Hilo Hattie and Reyn Spooner will have to figure out a way to integrate hibiscus patterns with solar-energy panels - real photosynthesis?!
See you next month.