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Fashion and function

February 7th, 2014 / By: / My Take

When Mercedes-Benz runs a commercial featuring a special suit that lights up to reflect the emotions of the driver, in real time, during his driving experience, we may think “silly” or “spectacular.” But the fact is, the technology that powers the suit is not substantially different from the technology that could power a warfighter’s gear on a mission in a remote area. British design firm CuteCircuit, pioneers in the marriage of wearable technology and fashion, has recently added the “Pilot Suit” to its impressive list of wearable technology projects.

Although the goal of designers like CuteCircuit’s Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, fashion designer and professor Ying Gao, and others may have as much to do with exploring a new aesthetic than solving practical concerns, they are doing interesting, experimental work in interactive technologies and textiles, and some of this work involves kinetic energy harvesting—of particular note, Michel Guglielmi and Hanne-Louise Johannesen with Diffus Design in Copenhagen. (See Guglielmi’s article “Experiencing textiles.”)

According to Virginia Tech’s Dr. Shashank Priya (See “The energy around us.”), “Kinetic energy harvesters mostly utilize the same principles on smaller or larger scales.” My question—a rhetorical one, yes—is this: Is there any intersect between the world of fashion and more industrial markets?

The military is doing quite a lot of research, trying to better and more comfortably equip soldiers in combat. There are medical applications possible, and a need for providing power in remote areas, or in the event of a natural disaster. If the technology is more or less the same, then there might be the possibility of more sharing of the research. Purpose and the required end result would dictate to what extent there’s any reason to talk to each other, I suppose, but I have to ask the question.

Is there a way to harvest enough energy, generated naturally by us and our environment, to make the technology contribute meaningfully to our power needs? That may require a complex answer, but it appears likely that fabrics and films will play a significant role. This offers a major challenge to the industry, but there is also the possibility of substantial growth potential.