Wednesday, February 23, 2011

what is wearable technology?

The therm "Wearable technology" embrace various other concepts like: fashionable technology, smart materials, wearable computing, e-textile and fashion.

What a piece should have to be considered something wearable and technological? What does it mean after all? Is there the use of electricity that makes a pice be placed into wearable technology field? Why this is relevant?

Suzanne Lee describe wearable computing as a genre of cloth that functions at the electronic level. Capable of processing information on the moving body (Lee, 2005). Sabine Seymour (Seymour, 2007) in 2000 coined the term ‘fashionable technologies’ that refers to the electrical engineering physical computing, and wireless communication networks that make a fashionable functional. Through technology the function of clothing is enhanced and new ones are defined.

From those definition we can conclude that it is about electronics and function. Clothes might have to be expanded and have new functionalities added in order to be considered wearable technology.

Technology in clothes has been used by several fields like medical and military. However, the function can be only aesthetic like in the very common use of light in clothes, specially in stage performance clothes.

Now I am wondering if electricity is a condition sine qua non to a piece to be considered wearable technology… I have seen many works that are very ingenious but do not use electrical components but enhance the body in a way. A nice example is the work from Trond Kasper and Bart Hess Can they be considered wearable technology?


LEE, Suzanne. “Fashioning the future. Tomorrow wardrobe”. Thames and Hudson, London. 2005.

SEYMOUR, S. “Fashionable technology: The intersection of design, fashion, science and technology”. Wien. Springer Wien /New York, 2007.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview with Elena Corchero

Founder of Lost Values, Elena Corchero, envisions a future where technology helps us become more human and less machinelike. She focuses in lifestyle products that embrace craft and tradition as well as new technologies and innovative materials.

Elena studied Fine Arts in Spain and Germany, and the Textile Futures Masters at CSM in London. Interested in the power of fashion to reach people, she decided to explore wearable technology as a research associate at MIT Media Lab Europe. Determined to make sustainability one of the major driving forces in her work and after various international exhibitions, publications and awards; Elena joined Distance Lab as a Senior researcher and in 2008 Lost Values was formed with their support.

POPKABLOG: What is your educational background?

Elena Corchero: I consider studies and experience at a similar level. For me it all started from a very early age learning from my mother in her Spanish Tailoring Studio. I decided to study Art after a difficult decision to not follow my father's footsteps as a lawyer ... in any case it is my law background what also makes me being so keen for social issues and Design Activism. My final year of Art took place in Germany where I specialized on multimedia and new technologies. I worked then in Haute Couture and later on MIT Media Lab Europe. After it's closure in 2005 I joined the MA Textile Futures from Central Saint Martins in London.

POPKABLOG: How did you start to work with wearables?

E C: My love for craft and Haute Couture and my admiration for new technologies lead me to apply at MIT Media Lab Europe where I had the chance for the first time to share space with a multidisciplinary team and learn much more about technology and electronics. That is where it all started. I was very inspired by an article in National Geographic called "Dream Weavers" where I started also being fascinated by Biomimicry materials.

POPKABLOG: What is your inspiration for the project?

E C: Each project is different; I believe there are only 2 general approaches. 1 An idea that you believe in, and despite not knowing how to make it come true, you want to pursue and finally somehow it does become a reality, as I learned at Media Lab, 'in a world were everything is possible ... what is it that truly matters?' if we question this we can truly achieve relevant work. The 2nd approach is to be fascinated by a technology or material, and try to find a meaningful and innovative use for it. For the work I develop at Lost Values, my initial ground is to ensure qualities for every project, to be sustainable and emotional yet smart and playful.

POPKABLOG: Why do u think is important to make intelligent clothes?

E C: Because in the world we live today we must acknowledge the intelligent consumer out there. People are more and more demanding, curios, agile with technologies, active and also nomadic. Clothing and other accessories is what follows us wherever we go and stays close to our body. By this I don't mean that everything we wear must contain technology though, some ancient materials such as the use of wool, are much more intelligent than anything man has created in a laboratory ... yet. I like to believe that materials we wear can provide us with the qualities that nature did not give us, but perhaps did give to other animals, and this can mean anything from healing properties to weather resistant, to communication, glowing, morphing, energy production, invisibility? What intrigues me the most is to believe that intelligent clothing might actually be just a field of experimentation until human skills, technology and tabus lead us to actually integrate all of this possibilities into our own bodies... that is a whole new discussion though.

POPKABLOG: Do u intent to commercialize your work?

E C: I commercialise my work since 2008 through commissions, retail and an online boutique at Retail includes the London Design Museum.

POPKABLOG: How do u predict the future of wearable technology?

E C: Nothing is predictable, but one can only believe to have a good eye/intuition and social/human understanding as well as feeding the precious with constant observation to both the simple things that happen in your everyday and keeping up with the big advances and discoveries in science and technology. But as previously said it is not just what is possible that matters but what it is truly meaningful is what will prevail ... it has not been so for the long years of mass consumption, but with people's awareness and new manufacture methods such as rapid prototyping tools, people can be more individual, trust their own criteria and choices as well as be more proactive and involved in processes customizing to their needs and even simply diving into DIY... Designing intelligent clothing is important, but definitely even more it is designing intelligent ways for people to customize these to their own needs.

POPKABLOG: Do you see yourself as an artist or a designer?

E C: Art and Design are merging and it would be a whole new discussion to try and draw their boundaries, even harder now that sciences have been added to the equation. So I might say like John Maeda, I believe to be an 'Ideas' person, the outcome of these ideas varies and their impact and reach as well. I like my work to communicate and inspire as well as have a function and be the answer to some issue I consider relevant for today’s world.

update: we were discussing what should be the best term to describe Elena's work and after some time she found a nice term: Technology Artisan. I found this very interesting once it put together the traditional with the novelty, technology with kraft. Very appropriate indeed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Soomie Park

Soomie Park got my attention with the project LED Eyelashes with which She won a prize in Ars Electronica. Follow bellow a conversation we had via e-mail.

POPKABLOG: What is your educational background?

SOOMI PARK: I majored in visual communication design in college: specifically multimedia, such as graphic, animation and motion pictures. I studied digital media design in graduate school, International Design school for Advanced Studies (IDAS).

POPKABLOG: How did you start to work with wearables?

S P: I became fascinated by how technology can be used for artistic purposes when I took the “Interaction Design” class at IDAS, my graduate school. Adding to that excitement was learning that I could create something fashionable using technology as well because the first project for the class was to make something wearable as well as technological. I discovered that my personal interest in fashion could become my artistic inspiration and has definitely guided my work since. Wearable media became a new area of focus for me from the beginning of my study at IDAS.

POPKABLOG: What is your inspiration for the project?

S P: For the LED eyelash specifically, I was inspired by cosmetic commercials, which came through mail. I don’t know if this applies to other countries, but here in South Korea, cosmetic companies often promote their new products by keeping a mailing list of clients who have bought their products. One day I was flipping through my mails, and found a promotional postcard that had a picture of an eye with long eyelashes. This company described how their new product is able to make the eyes look bigger. I was looking for ideas for the first project of the Interactive Design class at the time, and I thought to myself, “Don’t people wear eyelashes?” It came to me at that moment: eyelashes are wearable too, so I can make something about eyelashes using technology.

Once I started to research more with a focus on the eyes, it was like a domino. Having bigger eyes was such an issue in our society. So many people go through plastic surgery to make their eyes look bigger, they wear fake eyelashes, and they put on make-ups. I was thrilled about my project to be focused on the eyes because, first, it was closely related to everyday aesthetics – what is being considered as beautiful by social standards – and what people do to look good. You go as far as surgically cutting and sewing your face to look pretty; alternatively, you wear cosmetics. I thought, “Hey, why not wearing art on your face? Isn’t art for beauty, after all?” Second, I could address social issues using my project, which was great, since dealing with social issues via artistic processes intrinsically meets my drive to communicate with others.

POPKABLOG: I lived in Japan for a while and I figure out this obsession about big eyes. This is also very noticeable from the "mangas" and "animes" where the characters have extremely big eyes. Maybe that is an Asian issue. What do you think?

S P: I also read many articles about plastic surgery to open the eyes a bit. Also in women magazines there are several make up techniques to enlarge the eyes. All of this I found in Japan. Also the LED eyelashes are very "kawai" (cute). I totally can imagine the cosplay wearing your work in Shibuya. How was the reaction of the Japanese audience to your work?

Thanks for your comment, the LED eyelash being “kawai.” Arigato.

This project has theoretical, practical and social bases not on the Japanese society, but on the Korean society. Many people asked me about how the LED eyelashes apply to or address Korean’s obsession with plastic surgery, which was my artistic intention as well.

I have never been to Sibuya, but I can understand why people may think that I might be Japanese, or the LED eyelash might be about the Japanese society. In fact, some people asked me if I was Japanese at Youtube, maybe because I used background music from a well-known Japanese animation’s original soundtrack, or because the Japanese culture is more known to the world. Or for other reasons that I may not know.

I have never exhibited my work in Japan or interacted with the Japanese society about my work. So, I am not aware of how the Japanese audience may respond to my artwork. I would be very excited if the LED eyelash could be worn by people who are into Cosplay and seen in Sibuya streets. It will be really interesting to see how the Japanese society may perceive my work and the message the LED eyelash delivers.

Answering your question if wanting big eyes could be an “Asian thing,” although I can understand why you noticed the obvious connection of my work to the Japanese culture, I think obsession with bigger eyes is more of a universal desire. I can’t say how much of plastic surgeries worldwide is to address people’s eyes, but I can say that generally people, especially women, spend a lot of their energy, time and money to make their eyes look prettier – that is, bigger. Just like Japanese Anime characters have exaggerated eyes, so do American Barbies and Disney princesses. Personally, I receive many inquires about commercializing the LED eyelash from people in Europe and the United State, but no one from Asia yet. In addition, the LED eyelash received many awards from Europe, and to tell you a personal story, I got similar, positive responses from both my European and Korean friends.

By universal, I also mean it transcends time. Look at the ancient Egyptian wall paintings, drawn thousands years ago, which show that people at that time wore thick, harsh make-ups to emphasize their eyes. I also have read about the Roman beauty standards also included long eyelashes and big eyes.

POPKABLOG: Why do u think is important to make intelligent clothes and how do you predict the future of wearable technology?

S P: People express themselves through fashion: what and how you wear clothes communicates your identity as a social class, a gender, a profession and so forth. Applying technology to what you wear is a smart way to articulate your uniqueness. Everyone wears clothes but with wearable technology you can communicate your emotions more easily.

I teach a class on Wearable Technology for college students. In the class, I don’t teach them how to use high – complicated and expensive – technology to create fashion. Really, what I preach is that the importance of assessing what people need emotionally, and finding a way to utilize technology in order to meet the needs of people more effectively. Technology is a complementary tool for us to complete the purpose of intelligent clothes.

I think that the future of wearable technology depends not primarily on how advanced technology can be, or how well high technology can be used on clothes. Rather, wearable technology will develop in a way that can complement the function of fashion (self-expression): specifically in a way that can address the emotional needs of people (communication).

POPKABLOG: Do u intent to commercialize your work?

S P: I do intend to make a limited number of the LED eyelash for a commercial purpose. I do not have any plan to manufacture this item in a large quantity.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Interview with Joanna Berzowska

For the last issue of Vague Terrain I had the opportunity to interview some people that work and research in the field of wearable technology. For the journal was not possible to publish the entire interview but now I am publishing the interviews in its totality.

The first one is from Joanna Berzowska, founder of XS labs.

Enjoy ;-)

POPKABLOG: what is your educational background?

JB: Joanna Berzowska is Associate Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University and a member of the Hexagram Research Institute in Montreal. She is the founder and research director of XS Labs, where her team develops innovative methods and applications in electronic textiles and responsive garments. Her art and design work has been shown in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in NYC, the V&A in London, the Millenium Museum in Beijing, various SIGGRAPH Art Galleries, ISEA, the Art Directors Club in NYC, the Australian Museum in Sydney, NTT ICC in Tokyo, and Ars Electronica Center in Linz among others. She lectures internationally about the field of electronic textiles and related social, cultural, aesthetic, and political issues. She was selected for the Maclean's 2006 Honour Roll as one of "thirty nine Canadians who make the world a better place to live in". She received her Masters of Science from MIT and worked with the Tangible Media Group of the MIT Media Lab before co-founding International Fashion Machines in Boston.

POPKABLOG: How did you start to work with wearables?

JB: I founded XS Labs in 2002, in my first year at Concordia University, and positioned it as a design research studio with a focus on innovation in electronic textiles and reactive garments. My interest in this field, however, did not originate from weaving, fashion design, or even fiber arts. It emerged from a concern with the lack of softness in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and the desire to explore a wider range of material properties in the development of physical interfaces.

While a student at the MIT Media Lab in the mid 1990’s, I was drawn to electronic textiles for their ability to conform to the human body and their potential for bringing softness to physical interfaces. The work I was conducting in HCI focused on tangible interaction and involved the manipulation of physical objects with the human hand. I anticipated that electronic textiles would allow us to expand the realm of physical interaction into a wearable context and to explore the boundaries of what I call “beyond the wrist” interaction.

Our design philosophy at XS Labs focuses on the use of smart materials and technologies as fundamental design elements. The projects at XS Labs often demonstrate a preoccupation with — and a resistance to — task–based, utilitarian definitions of functionality in HCI. Our definition of function simultaneously looks at the materiality and the magic of computing technologies; it incorporates the concepts of beauty and pleasure. We are particularly concerned with the exploration of interactive forms that emphasize the natural expressive qualities of transitive materials. We focus on the aesthetics of interaction, which compels us to interrogate and to re–contextualize the materials themselves. The interaction narratives function as entry points to question some of the fundamental assumptions we make about the technologies and the materials that we deploy in our designs.

POPKABLOG: What is your inspiration for the project?

JB: With the proliferation of wearable and portable electronic devices in our everyday lives, our power consumption needs are constantly increasing. The development of alternative energy sources has not kept up with the needs of our markets and we find our spaces cluttered with an ever-expanding number of adaptors and chargers. A promising alternative involves the development of energy sources that are independent from our power grids and reside on the body, collocated with the electronic devices they power. Research in this area includes (1) alternate power sources such as flexible solar panels, photovoltaic cells, biobatteries, and dielectric elastomers among others; (2) eco-design and design for sustainability; and finally (3) parasitic power, which involves harnessing energy directly from the body or generating power by the user. Researchers such as Paradiso from the MIT Media Laboratory have studied methods to recover power (a) passively, from body heat, arm motion, typing, and walking, and (b) actively through user actions such as winding or pedaling. Many of these solutions compromise comfort in order to deliver functionality, which contributes to slow rates of acceptance both from designers and potential customers.

The dresses are the result of a development process that included a series of structured brainstorming and bodystorming exercises. Very early in the design process, it was decided that we would not attempt to conceal the generators and their operation. Previous work in body-generated power strives to seamlessly integrate generators into wearable artifacts so as not to make their presence “obvious or annoying”. Most often, this is accomplished by harnessing the energy from walking by embedding generators in the soles of shoes. We chose to pursue a different approach, one that is heavily influenced by the field of fashion design. While it is difficult to accept an uncomfortable running shoe or other fitness garment, it is easier to embed the discomfort and the inefficiency of current human-generated power solutions into the culture of fashion and costuming. Fashion designers throughout history have distinguished themselves by presenting new silhouettes and trends that constantly surprise and challenge the body. This has been exemplified by devices that include brassieres, bustles, crinoline hoops, and exaggerated shoulder pads as well as more extreme practices that involve deliberate physical deformation of the body. The field of fashion design often embraces discomfort and has been known to tolerate some amount of pain, which inspired us to explore the use of irritation and inconvenience as a means of power generation on the body. The Captain Electric garments focus on alternate definitions of functionality, such as pleasure, fun, and beauty, so as to allow playful and engaging design concepts, while leveraging the discomfort to influence the conceptual direction of the experience.

POPKABLOG: Why do you think is important to make intelligent clothes?

JB: Many of our electronic textile innovations are informed by the technical and the cultural history of how textiles have been made for generations (weaving, stitching, embroidery, knitting, beading, quilting) but use a range of materials with different electro-mechanical properties. This enables us to construct composite textiles with more complex properties. New developments in material sciences and the field of electronics have often been hard, solid, and unyielding. We want to make them soft, playful, and magical, so as to better service the curvilinear contours of the human body and the complexities of human desire. Working within the Fine Arts, we often infuse dark humor and romanticism into the materials and processes as a way to drive technical innovation.

POPKABLOG: Do you intent to commercialize your work?

JB: Yes, through my students. I inspire them to work in the field and they graduate and start commercial ventures.

POPKABLOG: How do you predict the future of wearable technology?

JB: I deeply believe that the killer application will not involve reading email on my sleeve, increasing my productivity by receiving vibrating reminders of my appointments in my jacket, or keeping track of my calorie intake through my necklace. Those are specialized applications. They are not fun or sexy. They sound too much like work. The future of “smart textiles” and wearable technologies is to have fun, to connect with friends, and to bring social networking information back onto the body.