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Clothes Encounters

Clothing embedded with nanotechnology taps into our growing desire to turn everyday things into electronic gadgets

smithsonian.com

The M-dress, courtesy of Cutecircuit

I had a talk with my shirt today. It wasn’t pretty.

Usually I get along fine with my clothes, but lately I’ve been feeling that they’re coasting, that they could be doing so much more for me. In fairness, these are new feelings. I used to be perfectly happy if things matched. But since I started reading about wearable tech, I’ve come to expect my shirt to give me directions and my pants to make all the lights turn green.

Nanotechnology, which has the potential to transform lives (and save them, with miniaturized medical diagnostics labs), has also made it possible for clothing to serve us in new ways. And while that’s still largely a novelty, it is tapping into our growing desire to infuse everyday things with multiple functions—particularly ones that travel with us. Here are a few things clothing can now do. Try not to think about all your stuff in the closet, just hanging there.

  • Let me make you comfortable: It was only a few years ago that Japanese company made headlines by introducing a jacket with built-in fans. But that’s so 2007. Recently Columbia Sportswear announced it had invented a fabric that uses a chemical compound to cool the wearer. The U.S. Army is so big on the concept that it just asked for proposals to create what it calls “environmentally responsive” clothing for soldiers that constantly adjusts to outside conditions.
  • Need a charge?: Yes, it’s true, there’s a solar bikini that can charge your phone or iPod. If you think that’s trying a little too hard, there’s also a solar jacket and a necklace with dangling solar panels. Engineers have also developed wearable tools to harvest energy from our bodies.
  • Clear the air: A new invention called Catalytic Clothing gets rid of air pollution as you walk along. No, really. 
  • Freshen up: Someday you may no longer worry about that personal unpleasantness known as body odor. A Taiwanese company has created yarn from coffee grounds that can be spun into a workout gear that eats odors and shields you from UV rays. 
  • “I’ll get it”: It’s been almost a year since it was introduced by CuteCircuit, but the M-dress (Mobile Phone Dress) is still out there on the cutting edge. With an antenna in the hem and a slot to hold your SIM card, it becomes a phone. That’s right, you’re wearing a phone. Thanks to motion sensor software built into the fabric, you can make a call or receive one simply by lifting your arm to your face.

And to think I still have pants that can’t hold a crease. So what would be the killer app in wearable clothing?  What would you love to see your clothes be able to do?

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