Whether wearable tech is the wave of the future or a passing fad, tech-laden clothing keeps coming down the runway. Although it can be tough to separate gimmick from game-changer, this fashion show has a high-tech core that’s actually functional.
Pauline van Dongen
"When you wear solar cells on your body you can be an energy source," Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen said in describing the inspiration for a prototype coat and dress she made in collaboration with project leader Christiaan Holland, solar panel specialist Gertjan Jongerden and students at the University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen. Wool and leather garments contain enough solar cells to help charge a cellphone.
Primitive London / Adam Harvey
New York-based artist Adam Harvey created a provocative line of clothing intended to foil ubiquitous surveillance. His anti-drone scarf, along with an anti-drone hoodie, was made from specialized materials the designer indicated could thwart thermal imaging used widely by unmanned aerial vehicles.
Toronto-based suit maker Garrison Bespoke went the extra mile to keep its jet-setting clients safe in dangerous places. The company incorporated patented lightweight and flexible armor material right into the suit jacket. During tests, the carbon nanotube fabric stopped 9 mm bullets and a hunting knife.
Wallflowers take note: Canadian fashion designer Ying Gao incorporated an eye-tracking system into two of her dresses so they transform when a fixed gaze is detected. Tiny motors in the dress activate lights inside and the fabric begins moving around.
Engineer Moritz Waldemeyer may be more well known for helping fashion designers put lasers on jackets and video displays on bikinis, but his collaboration with Cypriot fashion designer Hussein Chalayan produced robotic dresses. Servo-driven motors, pulleys and wires fed through hollow tubes sewn into the dresses allowed them to automatically change styles completely in minutes.
Design lab Sensoree's GER Mood Sweater works like a mood ring, only better -- and with more coverage. Sensors pick up "excitement levels" that change the colored LEDs inside accordingly. Different colors correspond with certain types of emotions although blue means tranquil, not necessarily down.
When consulting a smartphone for directions feels too gauche, there's the Navigate Jacket from New York-based tech company Wearable Experiments. The jacket contains connects to a smartphone app and subtly nudges the wearer to his or her destination through haptic feedback and lights in the sleeve that indicate how far until the next turn.
Mark Vorreuter / Cornell University
A team from Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University created workout clothes with fabric that loses color as the wearer's temperature rises. This thermochromic pigment-based approach to activewear could prevent athletes from over-heating.
EBbra, Flickr Creative Commons
Some bras already have wires so it's easy to see why designers would add on, allowing them to do things like send a tweet when one comes off or send out shocks to deter would-be rapists. Elena Bodnar went another direction, creating an Emergency Bra that contains a radiation sensor and can transform quickly into two face masks.
For years, people have relied on pepper spray to defend against a potential attacker, but fortunately, there’s now a more elegant-looking alternative.
Athena ($100), by Philadelphia-based startup Roar for Good, is a coin-sized personal safety alarm. It dangles like a pendant from a chain or can be discreetly clipped onto clothes or accessories, like a belt or purse -- all while helping to protect the person wearing it.
When Athena is pressed, it sounds off an alarm “louder than a freight train,” according to the company, and sends the user’s location as a text message to a list of emergency contacts chosen by the wearer.
The user can also opt for the device not to blast sound but simply notify contacts of their location if the gadget is pressed for three seconds or longer.
Co-founder Yasmine Mustafa brainstormed the concept after spending six months traveling alone throughout South America, where she heard countless stories about assault. She thought a personal alarm could “use the element of surprise against someone else,” according to Fortune.
A portion of the proceeds for every Athena sold goes to educational programs that have proven to increase empathy and decrease violence.
In its impressive run on Indiegogo, the company raised more than $164,000 toward funding the Athena, which is over 400 percent of its initial goal of $40,000.
Roar for Good hopes to begin shipping devices in the spring of 2016.
The company also plans to further develop Athena in the future, both by updating the mobile app with added features and exploring other ways in which the technology could be embedded into items such as clothing, footwear and phone cases.