Global Observer

Welcome to the third wave of wearable technology

Welcome to the third wave of wearable technology

Posting in Technology

NEW YORK -- What happens when you combine Silicon Alley with New York's storied fashion industry?

NEW YORK -- When Dr. Sabine Seymour launched the Computational Fashion program at the art and technology institute Eyebeam in December 2012, her timing was on the money.

The New York-based designer and writer pinpoints January 2013 as the watershed moment in which we entered the third wave of fashion technology, with the launches of Google Glasses, Nike's FuelBand and Pebble, and the rumored release of an Apple iWatch. At that point, wearable technology became less of a novelty and more of a reality.

"Before, we couldn't grasp the concept ... it was a computer geek trying to put something on the body ... fashion designers weren't able to communicate what they wanted. We were at a kindergarten stage, now we've graduated from high school and we need to get serious," Seymour said.

Seymour, who runs her own technology consultancy Moondial, claims artist Maggie Orth's seminal Firefly dress in 1995 started the first wave of true wearables, which led to the second wave -- a time in which well-executed concepts were explored but confined to a niche market. According to Seymour, who is also a professor of fashionable technology at New York's Parsons design school, the third wave is the most amped and productive period to date.

In ten years' time, Seymour sees herself working on the go, being able to download files while she takes a walk around Central Park -- and wearing a garment that can cool her down when it gets too hot, and that can even change color and style to suit her mood.

When asked where wearable technology was headed, she replies, "It's all about creating the superhuman."

According to the self-confessed technology disruptor, the key to fast-forwarding to this future lies in the collaborations between technologists and artists and designers working in the fashion industry, as global technology companies look to New York's Silicon Alley for answers on how the fashion industry ticks.

Recently Trransparency Market Research, a global market intelligence company, reported that the wearable technology market was worth more than $2.5 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to over $8 billion by 2018.

The Eyebeam program, which offers grants to artist/designer and scientist/technologist teams to explore the "what if," is primed to take advantage of this potentially lucrative trend.

The first two fellows to be accepted into the program were artists Kaho Abe and Carrie Mae Rose. Abe, who is currently working with Dr. Katherine Isbister, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, is creating a game costume which offers a far richer, more immersive game experience. Titled "costumes as game controllers," this project is still in the development stage.image

Wearable_technology_Carrie_Mae_Rose.png

In ten years' time, Seymour sees herself working on the go, being able to download files while she takes a walk around Central Park -- and wearing a garment that can cool her down when it gets too hot, and that can even change color and style to suit her mood.

When asked where wearable technology was headed, she replies, "It's all about creating the superhuman."

According to the self-confessed technology disruptor, the key to fast-forwarding to this future lies in the collaborations between technologists and artists and designers working in the fashion industry, as global technology companies look to New York's Silicon Alley for answers on how the fashion industry ticks.

Recently Trransparency Market Research, a global market intelligence company, reported that the wearable technology market was worth more than $2.5 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to over $8 billion by 2018.

The Eyebeam program, which offers grants to artist/designer and scientist/technologist teams to explore the "what if," is primed to take advantage of this potentially lucrative trend.

dr_sabine_seymour.jpeg
Dr. Sabine Seymour
The first two fellows to be accepted into the program were artists Kaho Abe and Carrie Mae Rose. Abe, who is currently working with Dr. Katherine Isbister, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, is creating a game costume which offers a far richer, more immersive game experience. Titled "costumes as game controllers," this project is still in the development stage.

Carrie Mae Rose's project "Bodycrowns," a collaboration with Dr. Dan Steingart of Princeton University, explores poetic models of future garments built for space emigration.

Based on  concept by the scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the garment is designed to assist the human transition from a terrestrial to a solar species that futurists have predicted will occur between 2028 and 2045.

On a near-future level, the project also responds to the opportunities in the nascent space transportation market.

"My bodycrowns are conceptually inspired to be models for space emigrants in the not-too-distant future," Rose said, speaking from her studio at Eyebeam in Chelsea, New York.

"I am hoping these models can help scientists and future space travelers to survive and thrive in space ... to help them with the physiological changes," she said.

In science-speak, Rose has created light-illuminated structures that go around the body, using the battery paper and spandex that was developed by Dr. Steingart, an expert on highly flexible, printed alkaline batteries.

The artist and scientist are attempting to take standard battery materials and embed them into various fabrics so they can provide power while being able to flex and stretch, as well as fold. This means the garment can visually demonstrate the movement of subtle electric circulations around the physical body and how they interact with the wearer's pulse, breath and speech.

"We're trying to make batteries that take advantage of the full area available for the clothing item, while still feeling like the clothing item," Steingart explained.

The Princeton professor said should they succeed, they would target the haute couture market, medical businesses and the fitness industry.

Seymour said that the 2013 Eyebeam projects, which will be announced next month, will see even stronger collaborations between technology and art, with a greater focus on interactive garments. For these new visionaries, the future will very much be "now," with New York leading the way.

Images: A design by Carrie Mae Rose (main); Dr. Seymour Sabine (photo by Daniel Scott); Kaho Abe's wearable controller; and Carrie Mae Rose's "bodycrowns."

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Lieu Thi Pham

Correspondent (Melbourne)

Lieu Thi Pham is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has contributed to The Age, Associated Newspapers, Melbourne University Magazine, the Big Issue, Dazed and Confused, Indesign Group, Time Out, SOMA and Niche Media. She holds degrees from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure