Wearable electronics are at the forefront of technology and fashion. A wearable technology is
"always attached to a person and is comfortable and easy to keep and use." (1)
A book that beleives that electronics are the way forward is Xiang Tao's 'Wearable electronics and photonics', this book is a combination of may experts in the feild of integrated electronics. The many articals which are within the book show what kind of technology can be used and how they are integrated into the fabric. The evidence in this book is potentialy life changing as it could improve the lives of many people around the world.
There are three types of wearable technoligy. The first and most common at this time is block based, which is a detachable unit. An example of this is a removable mp3 player. The garment would hold a pocket where the mp3 player would be stored which would conect to speakers in the hood. The second is embedded technology which can not be removed, an example of this is an integrated key pad into the sleeve of a jacket. The third is fiber based which is woven into the garment. There is a book by Koninklijke Philips NV which shows how these garments may look.
To have an integerated system X.Tao talks about several things that are needed, if the system was in a jacket for instance an interface would be needed. You would also need communication, an energy supply, data managment and integrated circuts. X.Tao also talks about the many institutions that would welcome the use of integrated technology in clothing. The militray would be very interested as commnication and protection would be greatly inproved.
"In combat soilders must use their hands at all times to control weapons and machinery. Wearable devices to assist them would be very useful." (2)
An onboard computer could assist soilders over difficult terrain, through forests and even at night. This kind of device could also help locate the enemy and fallen comrades. This technology could also be used in other disciplines as another artical illistrates. Mahoud El-Sherif says
"Uniforms for fire fighters, security guards and special mission personel will provide all the information required for their safty and security, as well as transmit remotely information an their health and enviromental conditions to a centersl facility." (3)
Another group mentioned that would benifit would be the medical professinons. A paitent and doctor could be separated by houndreds of mile and the doctor would know exactaly what was wrong through the use of a computer and scanner built into a garment that the paitient would wear. This technology would be able to monitor blood presure, the internal organs and even brain activity. Another main group would be hill walkers and mountain rescue as this technology is light weight and compact. An onboard computer could be used as a tracking device to help find missing people in rescue situations.
Although in this artical X.Tao has show the uses for wearable electronics there are some draw backs that need to be taken in to consideration. The garment that the electronic is built into need to be washable and flexable but not breakable. It should also be waterproof especially in soilders uniforms and the rescue serveses. If a garment faild on any one of these points then it would be unlikely to succeed on the market.
There are a few garments on the market at the moment. One is a bluetooth headset built into the hood of a jacket another is a mobile phone snow jacket that contains a key pad in the arm and a mouth piece in the coller. As this is new technology there are few truly integrated items on the market. There are however jackets that contain a pocket for mp3 player and mobile phones that connect to speakers in the hood or coller.
The purpose of this artical by Xiang Tao is to highlight the growing popularity of wearable electronics and how in this day and age a computer jacket is not the stuff of science fiction films it is the next step in our growing society.
'Integration of fibreoptic sensors and sensing networks into textiles structures' by Mahoud El-Sherif also shows the way integrated electronics is at the fore front of our technological discoveries. El-Sherif explains that
"In the twenty first century the development of electronics and photonic textiles will form communication systems and personal computers to biomedical engieneering and heath monitoring equipment." (4)
This El-Sherif beleves to be the future, he is predicting the use of flexible TV screens that can be foilded so small they could fit in a pocket. This artical also talk about how these fabrics are made and how its not just a simple case of weaving or sewing the fiber together their is a specific way. The original way to weaving and knitting bends the optical fibers. This means that the electronic fiber can't function properly as the signal is destorted. However there is a way to get around this problem. The use of a serpentine shape, although still slightly bent reduces the destortion and enables the fibers to work. Another way is to use the twill weave. This has less bending curviture than the others so there for performes the highest.
Scientists performed an experiment useing integrated fibers. The experiment was carried out to measure static and dynamic strains in the textile structures. The experiment was called the Parachute.
"Strand of optical fibers were stretched into small pieces of a canopy nylon fabrics and tested."
The experiment was a success in the field tests. Although the parachute was developed to test the strain on the fabric it could also be used to measure enviromental conditions. El-Serif goes on to say,
"The methods developed to manufacture smart parachutes and smart uniforms can be applied to many other textile structures. Also, the methodology that has been developed presentes excellent possibilities for design of wireless fiber optic systems for health monitoring." (5)
Another use for wearable electronics is in art. A magazine artical that likens these garment to "superhero costumes" is Betty-Ann Jordan's artical in Azure magazine.
"Whether reacting to the users mood, generating electricity or morphing into protective shields the latest smart wear has leaped from fiction to reality."(6)
Jordan's like the others articals comments on the use of this technology in the medical professions. She talks about a breast screening smart bra that would ues the same principales as the body scanners previously mentioned. Another break through that Jordon talks about is a range of hats, gloves and other garments that harden on impact. The fabric moves like any other but when a hard knock occurs the fabric hardens to protect the body. I find this technology fascinating as the implications for our safty in combat or in an accident would be lessened, a serious injury could be prevented.
Both these articals show that the new technology being worked on at the moment is at the forefront of design , industry and defence. Both articals show how usful integrated technology can be although it has its drawbacks the plus points out weight the negitives. I origionaly began to research handbag security but quickly relised that there is far more to wearable electronics than I first thought. Ofcourse I realised the defence opportunities but never imagined there could ever be wearable computers that could monitor peoples bodies or fabric that hardens on impact. These articals have tought me a great deal about what wearable electronics and photonis has to offer and it has made me think about how I could encorporate this technology into my own work. I feel the next step is to research new designers and what they could bring to the technology and to possibly contact a electronic textile maker to see how the fabric is made.
El-Sherif. M (2005), Wood Publishing in Textiles ltd, Cambridge England
Jordan. B (2008), web http://www.azuremagazine.com/magazine/backissues/features.php?id=1654&c=2
Tao. X ,(2005) ,Wood Publishing in Textiles ltd, Cambridge England
1: page 1 Xaing Tao
2: page 10 Xaing Tao
3: page 105 Mahoud El-Sherif
4: page 105 Mahoud El-Sherif
5: page 133 Mahoud El-Sherif
6: web artical Betty-Ann Jordan
(sorry if there are spelling mistakes I tried to spell check but it wouldnt let me)