[-empyre-] Intro and Siggraph 2005 Report

Hello list,

I'm joining in on the discussion, with a report from Siggraph 2005, which I've just recently finished participating in.

Siggraph is primarily a computer graphics conference, but this year included two events related to wearables. First was the Cyberfashion show, which is in its 3rd year running, and a Special Session on Extreme Fashion.

My post will be in two parts. First, the Extreme Fashion special session: http://www.siggraph.org/s2005/main.php?f=conference&p=special&s=extreme

I was a panelist (www.kakirine.com) on the Extreme Fashion session with Dr. Maggie Orth (www.ifmachines.com) as moderator and Elise Co (www.mintymonkey.com), Dr. Jenny Tillotsen (www.jennytillotsen.com), and Dr. Thad Starner (http://www.cc.gatech.edu/fac/Thad.Starner/) as other participants. The session focused on the practical challenges facing practitioners in the field and the obstacles which stand in the way between the integration of fashion and technology.

Dr. Maggie Orth, founder of International Fashion Machines (IFM) presented an overview of fashion and technology, showing her own work developed as a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab and various projects which represent current trends in towards incorporating technology into garments. Her vision of a "true" fashion/technology hybrid was presented as a garment which contained input, processing, and output. Previous projects developed at the MIT Media Lab include the Firefly Dress, Musical Jacket, Embroidered Musical Instruments, and Electronic Tablecloths. At IFM Maggie invented Electronic Plaid with IFM co-founder Joey Berzowska. The non-emissive color-change textile uses silkscreened thermochromic inks over woven conductive yarns to create an addressable multi-pixel textile display. Another IFM product is a fuzzy pom-pom light switch dimmer which will be available on the market in September. Dr. Orth is considered a visionary in the field of electronic textiles, and has influenced a whole generation of up and coming interaction designers who are working with technology, fashion, and textiles.

Dr. Thad Starner, professor at Georgia Tech University and seminal researcher in the field of wearable computing presented recent work on low attention user interfaces. Having worn his wearable computer continuously since 1993, Dr. Starner provides an invaluable view from somebody who not only develops technology, but also actively lives and wears it on his body. Some exciting new research Dr. Starner presented included the wearable phone device that Heidi mentioned in her previous post - where input and control of the system is controlled by the number of fingers waved past the device, and also new work by colleagues centering on direct brain interfaces.

Dr. Jenny Tillotsen is affiliated with Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, her research into "scentsory design" looks at how clothing and accessories can emit scents to further well-being. Dr.Tillotsen's long-term vision includes incorporating micro-fluids into textiles using nano-technology which could disperse scent based on affective data. Tillotsen showed her recent creations including the Smart Second Skin Dress, and the Scent Whisper brooches. The Smart Second Skin Dress takes the central nervous system as its inspiration and emits scent based on the control of the wearer and affective data. The Scent Whisper brooches are a wirelessly connected pair. The transmitter triggers the release of a scent bubble in the receiver.

Elise Co is an independent designer. Having originally been drawn to the subject of fashion and technology through her graduate research at the MIT Media Lab, Co's recent direction has taken a sharp turn from highly conceptual work to very simple, yet practical ways of integrating technology into fashionable garments and accessories. In her presentation Elise showed the gritty details involved in constructing her Puddlejumper jacket - a garment which illuminates hand-silkscreened EL panels when a water sensor (two concentric rings of conductive ink) is triggered. Co also discussed her other more recent projects, Lumiloop, a reconfigurable LED bracelet, and UFOs, a modified set of sneakers with embedded accelerometer, in collaboration with Nikita Pashenkov.

As the final presenter in the session I discussed my work with Social Fashioning, or looking at clothing and accessories as the active conduit through which people create networked relationships in public space. I discussed fashion and technology within the context of urban flows and intersections, preferring to place my work between the frictions of the everyday and positing my projects as material artefacts which comment on contemporary life. I presented Urban Chameleon, a set of three skirts which visualize environmental data on the body (air quality, noise pollution, and physical touch) using everyday conditions a commuter might find themselves exposed to as inspiration. I also discussed my project Inside/Outside, which took the same environmental sensing capabilities (air quality and noise pollution) and put them into a network of handbags which could collect environmental data and both represent that information as an ambient display on the surface of the bag as well as connect that information with other bags in a distributed peer-to-peer network. The last project I discussed was Umbrella.net - a collaboration with Jonah Brucker-Cohen which turns the ordinary umbrella into a mobile ad-hoc network when multiple umbrellas are deployed in the same place.

The panel was extremely interesting and engaging. Each participant represented some combination of interdisciplinary practice, yet each presenter's approach and interests were very different. The intent was to showcase these divergent views and to provide a snapshot of where how the field might evolve. Admittedly the area is quite nascent, with huge technical (washability, durability, power requirements, and soft display technologies) and conceptual hurdles (how to go beyond things that merely "light up") however, with greater communication among researchers and practitioners (which we have already begun to see) there seems to be great excitement too. In my own observations I have seen the number of fashion and technology related projects explode in the last few years, from a mere trickle of projects to a whole sub-genre of art/tech/design with too many related artists and researchers to name here.

Hope this triggers questions or comments from readers out there. My next post to the list will include information and observations of the Cyberfashion show.


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