MIT researchers unveil “Social Textile” technology to take social messaging to a new level.
Current technologies are good at connecting people at a distance, but less so at connecting them within the same environment, according to student researchers at MIT. “Social Textile,” a joint project of the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces and Tangible Media research groups, was designed to provide icebreaking interactions through wearable social messaging by dynamically and visually reflecting the wearer’s interests with people nearby and enabling a way to gain access to communities of people in the physical world.
The white T-shirts have integrated electronics that power thermochromatic letters that “turn on” as a visual signal, and the network notifies the wearer with a haptic signal.
It uses a series of technologies that communicate with users’ smartphones to detect proximity and human capacitance, deliver haptic feedback and activate thermochromic dyes on the shirt. The user feels a light tap on the shoulder, indicating the presence of someone wearing Social Textiles nearby, and communication has already begun.
According to the group’s report, “We map the metaphor of haptic feedback based on relationship level: acquaintances and friends may ask for attention with a squeeze on the shoulder while unacquainted individuals enact with a soft tap. This brings about an embodied peripheral awareness upon unacquainted users.
“When users of the same shirt interact through a social greeting with one another via skin contact through a handshake or a high five, wearers of Social Textiles gain new ‘features’ or social information of the interacted parties. This incentivizes and provides social affordances for users to interact with one another, as they are able to see what they have in common, see additional artwork on the shirt design, or discover underlying social information with collocated members.”
The student researchers, Viirj Kan, Judith Amores, Katsuya Fujii, Chang Long Zhu Jin, Pattie Maes and Hiroshi Ishii, say that Social Textiles can serve to connect community members with niche interests, philosophical beliefs, personalities, emotional statuses and ethical views. It has the potential to enable members to bypass superficial or generic interests through “filtering” individuals, to tune social experiences towards more compatible ones.
Photos and video: MIT Media Lab
“Social Textiles: Social Affordances and Icebreaking Interactions Through Wearable Social Messaging” by Tangible Media Group.