When we think of the Internet of Things, we tend to think of our microwave talking to our mobile phone or our car chatting with our home air conditioning system. Seldom do we think of ourselves as nodes in this highly networked environment. If we do consider ourselves literally plugged into the matrix, we imagine it as tiny sensors embedded just beneath our skin. Of course, such a scenario raises all kinds of fears of Big Brother tracking and watching us. Yet we tend to be more forgiving of sensors attached to our watches, shoes, or our second skin: our clothes. Enter smart clothes, a whole generation of clothing designed specifically to connect you to a global pulsating network of information bits and bytes.
The example that comes to mind is the popular Nike running shoe that is attached to a sensor which tracks how much you run and automatically sends it to your profile on Nike.com, and will even tweet it and post it to your Facebook status. Actually, as the Do-It-Youself site Instructables shows, the sensor can be easily inserted in any shoe, so don’t let your loyalty to brands other than Nike stop you from partaking in this fun exercise. But the Nike shoe has been around for several years. The latest in this trend is clothing in which carbon nanofibers are directly embedded in the fabric. Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego has developed a technique which allowed him to directly print biosensors onto men’s underwear. Wang hopes one day that these sensors could be used to communicate different biomedical indicators such as your stress level at any given time to anyone who might be interested in that information, like your doctor or your mom.
These are just two examples of a trend called wearable computing, i.e. computers which are worn on the body. Expect to see it more and more in the news and in your favorite clothing store. One man already thinking about it: Steve Jobs. He recently hired Richard DeVaul, whose prime expertise is wearable computing, as Apple’s Senior Prototype Engineer.
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.