Fashion forward takes on a new meaning in “On You 2,” a peek at the future of wearable technology, on exhibit at the Museum of Design Atlanta.
Consider the garments that float in the center of the gallery. Those elegant knife-edged pleats running down the trouser legs are more than designer detail. They’re touch-sensitive devices to operate your cell phone, iPod or whatever mobile computing device happens to be in your pocket. Ditto the decorative pattern embroidered on the sleeve of a jacket.
The sequel to MODA’s 2008 “On You,” the exhibit highlights research conducted by Georgia Tech professors Thad Starner, director of the Contextual Computing Group, and Clint Zeagler, an industrial design instructor. Aided by able graduate students, they are exploring the potential of conductive thread and fabric manipulation as conduits to our portable gadgets.
While high-tech clothing might be a cool novelty, safety and convenience are the motivating goals. The perils of multitasking are already obvious and, given the inevitable growth of mobile computing, will only increase. It would take less time and distraction, for instance, to touch your sleeve when the phone in your pocket rings than to pull it out and read it. Zippers that vibrate or pulse if not fully zipped would warn a worker in a hazmat suit that his equipment isn’t fully operational.
The exhibit is most interesting as a window on the kind of problem-solving that goes into research. Grad student Seungyon Claire Lee designed and conducted tests to see what kind of touch stimuli — vibration, pulses, etc. — would be easiest for users to identify when their eyes need to be, say, on the road.
Grad student Scott Gilliland developed a universal circuit board, so that researchers could easily hook up each test swatch to the computer. He also devised a three-ring folder with a slot for the circuit board and an adapter inside to create an electronic swatch book, which makes for a professional presentation for potential clients, such as manufacturers and designers.
This little show accomplishes a lot. It showcases the work of home-town thinkers, expands our definition of design and takes us behind the scenes into the lab, so to speak. And it’s a niche that MODA has wisely opted to own.
(This is an abridged version of a review that ran in the AJC print edition on July 2.)