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Technology is The New Black

July 27, 2016

If it hasn’t been said already, technology is fashion. With the incredibly rapid development of mobile technology in recent years, it was inevitable that fashion would be the next frontier—and it’s safe to say we’ve arrived at the threshold of a new era in the digital revolution.

With wearable products ranging from smart optics like Google Glass to health-monitoring devices such as FitBits, technology is becoming ever-more integrated into our wardrobes. To be sure, the wearable technology market is estimated to be worth $8.36 billion by 2018, according to a Forbes.com article, and nearly 77 percent of consumers expect wearables to make work more productive.

A new exhibit at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), “On You: Wearing Technology,” examines the development of wearable computers and the challenges encountered along the way by those who design them. Modeled after a paper that co-curator Thad Starner wrote titled, “The Challenges of Wearable Computing,” the exhibit features many of the computers Starner has worn during the past 20 years that were collecting dust in his closet (see next page for artifacts from the exhibit).

From Smart Fashion to Intelligent Interiors

Clint Zeagler, co-curator of “On You” and a research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), said the implications of wearable technology for interiors are significant, and recently guided interiors+sources through the intersections between fashion, technology, and interiors.

“A couple of things that we showcase in the exhibit are textiles that are made with conductive materials, so that when you touch the embroidery on the textile, it acts as a control for an electronic device where it can send a signal,” Zeagler explained. “We have interest in, and have worked on projects where those same textiles are not made into clothing or garments, but instead are made into upholstery or could perhaps be used in automobile interiors. Those textiles that you can touch and interact with that can sense a human interaction, I think will have profound effects on interiors as well.”

While the “On You” exhibit focuses solely on wearable technology, Zeagler said the connection between fashion, technology, and interiors is a natural one to make. “To get to a place where you can put something on the body also means that you can start to put these things in furniture or in the environment in a way that they’re not obtrusive anymore.”

In a class he teaches at GIT called, “Mobile and Ubiquitous Computing,” Zeagler said students are encouraged to answer questions about how wearable technology impacts the interior environment, such as: How do my clothes interact with the sofa that I’m sitting on? Do they know that they’re close to each other, and do they both change color, for instance, to match each other, or to highlight the fact that I’m sitting on the sofa?

Among the projects to emerge from Zeagler’s classes was a dress that changed color through the use of LEDs. Beyond just showcasing a color-changing fabric, however, the class also created interactive furniture that acted as a social experiment. To facilitate discussion and create networking icebreakers, the furniture changed colors that encouraged people to congregate around the pieces that matched the clothing they were wearing.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) enabling more smart devices to communicate with greater efficiency and accuracy, Zeagler envisions a near future where clothing will become predictive as it interacts with buildings. For instance, cell phones can already calculate how long it will take a person to commute from their home to the office—an analytical measurement based on a regular activity.

“As interiors and buildings start to understand those kinds of things, the elevator might be open and waiting for me when I get to the building,” Zeagler explained. “My office door might unlock as I walk up to it because the building is listening to my clothing, it’s understanding where my car is, and I think all of those things are going to start to tie together.”

As computer scientists increasingly collaborate with fashion or interior designers, Zeagler said the hurdles will be learning each other’s languages and how to work together more effectively.

“How do you have a computer scientist work on the same team as a fashion designer? They are two different types of people. They speak different languages. When they say the same word, they mean completely different things,” he explained.

Nevertheless, the industries are coming together, and as they merge, technology will become even more ubiquitous.

“The clothing industry makes some ungodly amount of money as compared to the tech industry, even though people think everybody has an Apple iPhone. Well, everybody has five pairs of pants,” Zeagler noted. “When you start to see wearables encroaching into that, the collaborations are going to become more important.”

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