Smart Fabrics + Wearable Technology 2015 recently held from May 11-13 in the booming start-up town of San Francisco featured some of the most exciting and cutting edge research and innovation in fabrics and wearables tech. Smart Fabrics + Wearable Technology is a leading industry conference that blends business with the science of smart textiles and features speakers as diverse as engineers, business developers, and fashion and technology experts.
Given that 2015 has so far been a landmark year for wearables in the tech industry, the tone of the conference was decided tuned to business, emerging markets and productions modes as well as the touchy issues of intellectual property and legal frameworks around building a new business in tech. That said, a lot more internal questioning on the purpose and the design vision of wearables was considered in this edition of Smart Fabrics + Wearable Technology. Having attend this conference on a number of occasions in the past, I can attest to the focus having evolved from an insider group to a full fledged startup culture that is ripe to not only change the tech market, but our relationships to objects, data, and engineering as it becomes increasingly intertwined with personal issues of the body. The conference can best be summarized by an overview of a few of the highlight presentations.
Monday May 11, 2015
The fist day was focused on industry:
Denise Gershbein from FROG DESIGN started the conference by highlighting the role of good design in wearables. She focused on the inter-related nature of wearables and how “a wearable is just one touchpoint in a system of people, objects, data and processes.” Her argument was that now that we are at the tipping point of putting chips in anything and looking at ways of being cyborgs (google glass) or flying (jet packs) what do we really need from design? Ultimately for Gershbein, the potential positive impact of our wearable technologies is through social inclusiveness and progress.
Maggie Orth from INTERNATIONAL FASHION MACHINES is a pioneer in the world of smart and dynamic textiles. Her talk also had a very social and environmental message for the future of wearables. As a cautionary tale, she questioned the drive to make textiles smart, and that simpler and more holistic materials and manufacturing practices will in the long run make more financial, social and sustainable sense. One of the avenues she proposes is to make devices more physically long-lasting, and focusing on the software upgrades instead of the destructive drive for more consumer electronic products, and hence e-waste.
Andy Behar of VIVOMETRICS used the case study of his LifeShirt developed in the early history of wearables and body sensing technologies. The LifeShirt was an important catalyst for the the whole industry of wearable technologies impacting on the future of monitoring for health, safety, and well-being. An interesting outcome of LifeShirt’s successful ability to monitor up to 30+ physiological signs has resulted in weighty questions around the ownership and disclosure of data and metrics and its potential complications for health-monitoring devices.
Scott Miller from DRAGON INNOVATION focused on his company’s experience with scaling up a status production. He argued that the manufacturing is much more and far too little considered in the development of a product and business plan. He proposed that startups only launch their products once they have ironed out the production chain and can successfully deliver to the scale of demand.
Michelle Mancino Marsh, a fashion lawyer at KENYON & KENYON LLP with an eye for tech deconstructed from a legal standpoint the various patentable and IP protected elements of wearable technologies. Her goal was to sensitize the emerging independent researchers and designers to be better aware of the importance of protecting their technological and design IP. She cited a number of current patent cases involving fitness trackers, tech gloves (gloves with conductive tips), and smart shirts as both successful and complicated legal disputes.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
The second day was focused on design:
Kristine Upesleja from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising looked at the fashion angle of wearable tech from a diverse research angle. Spanning wearable devices to bio fabrication, she looked at how current innovation is going beyond tech gadgets and devices. She cited mood monitoring devices and display; bio printing and organic tech; as well as 3D printing as areas to look at in emergent wearables and smart fabrics research.
Koen van Os from the PHILIPS GROUP INNOVATION presented current Phillips research in light textiles and fashion applications. Phillips has a long history is merging excellence in design with light featuring products such as “HUE” the colour changing light and the large luminous surfaces for architectural settings. Featured was “Philips BlueTouch” a phototherapy textile products worn on the skin for the relief of pain, eczema, and psoriasis, as well as Pauline Van Dongen’s “Lumi League” illuminated sports garments.
Gihan Amarasiriwardena of MINISTRY OF SUPPLY featured a future in apparel design that would deliver custom design clothing with reactive smart features such as odour repelling and phase changing textiles.
Dr. Daniel Gloesener from SOLVAY SA presented research in thin flexible batteries innovation arrived at through chemical research. The company is already developing products for a number of industries including automotive, building, agriculture, and electronics as well as the recent solar-powered plane! They proposed that their Li-battery research could provide much needed solutions for thin/flexible batteries adapted to wearable products.
Amanda Boxtel of BRIDGING BIONICS FOUNDATION and Scott Summit from 3D SYSTEMS CORPORATION looked at how 3D printing could enhance functional robotics. Specifically they demonstrated the impressive and touching case of a full body robotics garment designed for Amanda Boxtel, who has since an accident in her twenties been unable to walk. In the live demonstration they showed how the robotics device worked, and Amanda was able to walk on and around stage with a customized and robotized 3D-printed exoskeleton. Scott also presented custom 3D printed casts that permitted more comfort, mobility, cost-effectiveness and various use and design aesthetics.
Jessica Floeh from HANKY PANCREAS also looked at the improvement of design and aesthetics for wearable diabetic medical devices. Her perspective stemmed from her person need for a diabetic monitor, and a desire to transform the self and collective perception of the illness through better design.
Dr. Tom Martin from VIRGINIA TECH and Lucy Dunne of UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA looked at the role of teaching and education in the advancement of smart fabrics and wearable technologies. As a case study, they described their students participation in the development of wearable technology prototypes for the NASA Johnson Space Center. Some of the impressive prototypes that their students designed included: liquid-cooling garments; moisture management gloves; wearable audio communicators; haptic navigation belts and a noise cancelling vest!
Todd Harple from INTEL did a quick overview of the promises, privacy and perceptions of wearable devices. He traced how mobile wearable technologies—from the smart phone, key and bracelet—are increasingly becoming more transparent, intimate, invisible, and of course, smart!
Dr. Vasileios Exadaktylos from M3-BIORES, KU LEUVEN walked us through the development of a real-time monitoring smart watch for the evaluation of stress levels for sports, work and other real-life contexts.
Dr. Christian Holz of YAHOO LABS made a case for a future of biometric wearables and implanted devices. He demonstrated how everyday gestures and haptics could become input and output computational interfaces embedded into the body. He then presented an interface prototype (concealed in prosthetic artificial skin) which was tested in live contexts to evaluate usability, and the reaction from an uninitiated public. The conclusion was that many of the input (tapping; gesture) and output (sound vibrating) features were difficult to grasp in the wild, but that public acceptance seemed possible.
Dr. Edgar Rodriguez from VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON presented his research on how smart 3D printed fabrics could tap into gaming-like controls for a higher adoption rate of physical rehabilitation activity.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The third day was focused on the future of wearable tech:
Jeremy Wall of LUMENUS argued that “when a product shifts from useful to desirable, it has reached a tipping point” and this is what we are currently experiencing with wearable tech. He pointed out how many of tech’s recent success stories (which have been subsequently bought by Apple) such as Beats By Dre; and the Nest wall thermometer; have demonstrate a need for technology’s design to be aligned with lifestyle in order to be successful.
Andy Goodman from FJORD US asks the very valid question: “Who will truly ‘own’ the data which is generated by our bodies?” In a future where zero user interfaces will collect data and respond to programmed inputs, what role or agency will the human play? In a near speculative post-humanist future of 2020 where payments will be made through facial recognition; video displays will be embedded into eye retinas; and eating habits & diabetes could be enhanced through user interfaces: the future of wearable devices is wide open!
Montreal, July 8, 2015
Conference Presenter List:
Monday, May 11, 2015
– Denise Gershbein, Executive Creative Director, FROG DESIGN
“Expanding World Views for Wearable Design”
- Maggie Orth, Artist, Writer, and Technologist; Founder, INTERNATIONAL FASHION MACHINES
“Can Wearables Become Sustainables?”
– Andy Behar, Founder, VIVOMETRICS “Can Wearables Fulfill Their Potential to Radically Improve Health-Care Outcomes?”
– Paul Gough, Strategic Marketing Manager, U-BLOX
“Where From and To…”
- Sundaresan Jayaraman, Kolon Professor, Scheller College of Business and the School of Material Science and Engineering, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
“Today’s Wearables Revolution: Bridging the Origins of the Future”
- Scott Miller, CEO and Co-Founder, DRAGON INNOVATION
“The Hardware Challenge: Going from Prototype to High Volume Manufacturing”
– Michelle Mancino Marsh, Partner and Head of Fashion Practice Group, KENYON & KENYON LLP
“Navigating the IP Minefield in Wearable Tech”
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
- Kristine Upesleja, Manager, Textiles & Materials, FIDM/ Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
“Engineering Fashion – INVENTIONS”
– Koen van Os, Intelligent Textiles, Device Integration Technologies, Research, PHILIPS GROUP INNOVATION and Pauline Van Dongen, Designer
“Wearable Light in Fashion”
- Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Co-Founder & CEO, MINISTRY OF SUPPLY
“Engineering the Apparel Design Process”
– Dr. Daniel Gloesener, Program Manager – Battery Technologies, SOLVAY SA – Corporate Research and Innovation
“Innovative Solutions for Thin Flexible Batteries”
- Amanda Boxtel, Executive Director, BRIDGING BIONICS FOUNDATION and Scott Summit, Senior Director, Functional Design, 3D SYSTEMS CORPORATION
“Walking in Style – How Can 3D Printing Design Enhance Functional Robotics?”
- Jessica Floeh, Designer & Founder, HANKY PANCREAS
“A Social Model of Design for Wearable Medical Devices”
– Dr. Tom Martin, Professor Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, VIRGINIA TECH and Lucy Dunne, Associate Professor and Director, Apparel Design Program; Director, Wearable Technology Lab, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
“One Part Neil Armstrong, One Part Miuccia Prada: One small step toward the future of wearable technology”
– Todd Harple, Pathfinding and Innovation Lead, Experience Strategist, New Devices Group, INTEL
“Promises, Privacy and Perception: Perspectives on Technology On and Of the Human Body”
– Dr. Vasileios Exadaktylos, Division M3-BIORES, KU LEUVEN
“Real-Time Monitoring by a Smart Watch”
- Dr. Christian Holz, Research Scientist, Future Technologies & Interactive Devices, YAHOO LABS
“Biometric Wearables and Implanted Devices”
– Dr. Christine C. Ho, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, IMPRINT ENERGY, INC
“Wearable Electronics: New Opportunities for Energy Storage Design”
- Anush Elangovan, Founder & CEO, NOD LABS
“Nod: Achieving Pixel Accurate Gesture Control”
- Matan Berkowitz, Co-Founder, SHIFT INNOVATION
“Wearables and the Future of Music”
– Dr. Edgar Rodriguez, Programme Director Industrial Design VUW. Co-Director Smart Interactions, VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON
“Smart 3D Printed Fabrics as Game Controllers for Physical Rehabilitation”
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
– Marco Della Torre, Co-Founder of BASIS SCIENCE and Business Development at INTEL
“Marrying Tech and Fashion to Deliver True Wearable Innovation”
– Jeremy Wall, Founder, LUMENUS
“Wearable Acceptance: Reaching the Tipping Point”
– Devarshi Shah, CEO, IMBUE “Style, Size and Substance: How to Approach Connected Fashion”
- Caroline Loss, PhD Candidate in Textile Engineering, UNIVERSITY OF BEIRA INTERIOR PORTUGAL
“Textile Antenna Embedded in Clothing for Energy Harvesting”
- Andy Goodman, President, FJORD US
“The Design Challenges Which Will Arise from the Convergence of Technology and Biology: Who will truly ‘own’ the data which is generated by our bodies?
- Dan Ledger, Principal, ENDEAVOUR PARTNERS
“The Rocky Path Towards Insightful Wearables”