What’s New In The World Of Fashion Tech?
That question was amply answered at the Kent State 2017 Fashion Tech Hackathon1 held this last weekend.This annual event gathers students, professionals, and many cutting-edge experts from across America, in an attempt to innovate fast and dirty practical applications of fashion and technology. The goal is to step beyond the traditional ideas of wearable tech and invent something that does more than simply blink. The idea is to get fashion tech inventors to delve into what it means to really live and function in the world as they work.
- What about the garment’s appearance rises above the basic, superficial level?
- What does it do?
- What new way do we have of looking at accouterments differently than what exists already?
- Equally important, how can we use what already exists in a completely new and more connected way?
Supported this year by Major League Hacking, various tech experts and professionals worked with inventors as mentors to guide groups to discover broader, deeper potential in the available technology and materials. Biomimicry made its introduction into the Fashion Tech Hackathon venue thanks to a PechaKucha presented by Great Lakes Biomimicry (GLBio)2 and here-all-weekend consults offered by GLBio and myself, as University of Akron education fellow. “…Biomimicry blows the inspiration-set wide open,” declared Stephanie Diane Pierce, GLBio’s Director of Creativity, Tools and Process (and incidentally, my wife, aka, Steph). It was a statement many of the groups came to understand during the one-on-one consultations throughout the event, and several of the projects developed for presentation Sunday showed that the inventors had taken the sentiments to heart.
Naser Madi’s Hermês paragliding helmet, with its active reading, reporting, and display of mental fatigue3, GPS location, current weather patterns, altitude, and speakers took several awards. Madi added bat ears to the helmet following his biomimicry discussion, to display his discoveries about bat & owl ear apertures and his hope of refining the altitude, air-stream sensing and landing support with further research and application of biomimetic properties.
In the 36-hours allotted, Abeona group, who also took a first prize, developed a (Re)-Connect themed hiking jacket from concept to prototype, whose purpose was “…to allow total immersion into nature so technology supports it and doesn’t detract,” according to the group spokeswoman. The breathable jacket boasted an altitude sensor, pedometer, heart rate monitor, and compass located on a small-screen sleeve display. The compass also had a haptic function as a vibration in the upper arm, which occurred if the individual steered away from a determined course and which continued until the proper direction was found. The jacket’s shoulders contained flexible solar panels that charged the phone (which was then kept in a pocket, since the idea was to experience nature and not the tech). The unique business plan for these jackets was to have individuals rent the garment so that as time went on they could be updated and old materials could be stripped and re-used in closer to a closed-loop cycle4 – “We plan to recycle not only the fibers, but the technological nutrients.”
Moon Flower group created a bracelet which charts a woman’s monthly cycle. The connected app allows the wearer to track the menstrual and ovulation cycles, sexual activity, symptoms and emotions, to help cultivate supportive relationships and better the wearer’s well-being.5
Cat Call group created a concept shirt for those who suffer from extreme social anxiety or panic attacks. The intent of the shirt is to measure heart rate and stress, to notify friends and family on a preset list. The final prototype will contain haptic responses of increased weight on shoulders during time of stress and the team shared an intent to explore inclusion of an octave vibration of between 25 and 1506 to comfort the wearer, following their consultation.
Three groups from various high-schools demoed products they had created. GLBio and the University of Akron Bath Field Station have partnered with Buchtel Community Learning Centers on a series of Ohio Environmental Fund-supported biomimicry field trips to the Bath Nature Preserve and Panzner Wetland. The Martha Holden Jennings Family Foundation awarded a grant to support GLBio and Buchtel High School learners from the BRAIN program, Biostatistics Research and Awareness Network, Inc., founded by Lillian Prince7, to further some work branching from those efforts: To strengthen a community of practice working to gamify the Biomimicry Habits of Thought© and to introduce high school and college students to biomimicry at two upcoming hackathons in the process.
As practice for the first hackathon in the spring, two Buchtel High School BRAIN program learners, Nasieur and Naudia Harris, volunteered to venture into KSU’s as their first hackathon! After 36 exhausting hours, nearing completion on the last day, these Buchtel CLC learners presented on a concept centered in MUSIC, with wearable volume control via smart phone and bluetooth device, called Fashion On Mars.
From on-site mentors the young women learned how to run an AEIOU design framework, found that their own logo could be digitized and embroidered via computer, were introduced to Thingiverse to print a selected and re-sized 3D component, began to learn to solder, discovered a bit about how and where to find and adapt code to run their Arduino board, were introduced to the words ‘slap-happy’ (in the wee hours of day one, when the phrase seemed truly hysterical), worked to engineer their soft-membrane, slide potentiometer into the product, and discovered, of course, what biomimicry can bring to a hack. “This has been the most wonderful experience of my life,” Nasieur told her sister, in the early morning on day three, when both ladies were somehow still going strong.
A remarkably enjoyable hackathon! The numerous ideas carried out to comprehensive prototype was slightly staggering. Many products created this weekend seem likely to be carried to the next stage.
2The Biomimicry PechaKucha begins at minute 19 https://boxcast.tv/view/fashion-tech-hackathon-opening-ceremony-248843, followed by brilliant presentations regarding potential fashion technology in (dis)Ability support and material science.
3Madi explained, the leading cause of paragliding accidents occur where the mind becomes tired while the body remains largely rested so that awareness and reaction time are drastically slowed. Since the body still has energy the brain generally doesn’t recognize that mental fatigue is critical.
4Natural Principles: Evolve to Survive, Recycle All Components and Be Resource Efficient (Material and Energy). https://biomimicry.net/the-buzz/resources/designlens-lifes-principles/
5The operating conditions and natural patterns or principles of design recognized by many include cyclic processes and cultivating relationships of support.
6The same octave of a cat’s purr, which has been shown to increase relaxation and healing rates.