This essay focuses on key aspects of technology within design, both for practical and fashionable purposes. It questions the need for constant development in the application of protection and defence in the military, raising issues such as ‘Is this method of protection cost effective, is it an absolute necessity, will these wearable computers cope with changing environments and constant use? For the average consumer, are these technological advantages ultimately damaging to human nature, or is the progression enhancing our lives for the better? For the designer, shaping the future for fashion conscious individuals; Are they setting a good example, conscious about their carbon footprint? Are their talents put to good use in the field of design or simply used as an ostentatious display of unnecessary frivolity?
Chapter One summaries the progress of smart textiles and fibres, from their early stages in the 20th Century, to the current materials available now and projects still undergoing extensive research and development. The key sources used in this chapter are primarily contemporary books and journals from 2005 onwards. Other sources such as websites and short documentaries were used to keep up to date with the current technology. It outlines the basic concepts of smart textiles and fibres, briefly explaining the science behind the innovations and the proposed area of practice (e.g. medical science, average consumer).
The second chapter introduces the use of smart textiles in the field of defence, protection and communication, primarily focusing on the use of traditional camouflage versus non-traditional methods involving advanced technology. As the application of smart textiles in the military is a very restricted and sensitive area of research, some fairly old and relatively new information was sourced from public files, journals and websites, with some referenced non-military resources. For example, the development of the ‘HyperStealth’ uniform which is currently top secret, seems to be a similar concept to which Susumu Tachi has been researching since 2003 and has released some evidence of actual use in video form online.
The third chapter provides a further analysis of smart textiles, both in the field of defence and for fashion and consumer purposes only. The argument of ‘who will benefit the most from the use of technology, the super user or the average consumer?’ is explored and cross-examined in depth. Issues regarding consumerism, the impact on the environment and the need to continuously augment reality are raised and investigated.
Chapter One: Introduction to smart materials and possibilities in woven, knitted and printed smart textiles.
‘Smart Textiles’ have seen a massive increase in research, development and application in the 21st Century. Since the introduction of synthetic fibres, nylon (1930s) and Polyester (1950s), the search for new synthetic fibres and the investigation of mimicking nature have begun. Scientists and textile engineers have come a long way since polyester became commercially available in the 50s, Polyester has a 50% increase of strength compared to cotton whereas DuPont’s Kevlar boasts an impressive 300% increase in strength and a 1,000% increase in stretch resistance compared to cotton.
Kevlar is an aramid fibre that is produced by spinning a solid fibre from a liquid chemical blend. DuPont patented this fibre as Kevlar in 1965 and it has been an on going development ever since, it is put to use in many different applications, from Ballistic helmets, military body armour and vehicle armour to Fibre Optics and personal electronics.
The rapid improvements of such fibres and fabrics have seen a ‘second textile revolution’ after the first industrial revolution. Many factors need to be taken into consideration when developing and testing new fibres. If the fibres are intended for Military use for example, factors that need to be considered are; is this fibre strong enough to withstand constant movement and stretching, will it be strong enough to resist bullets, is it waterproof or flame retardant? Can the fabric itself be communicative and act as a personal computer?
In the last 85 years most of these seemingly impossible fabrics have become a reality, which can only be an indication of things to come. This field of textiles is not only dominated by science and chemistry, it is also very much inspired by nature. For example, the invention of Velcro was inspired by the hooks of burdock burrs (IMAGE). Also, Wilhelm Bathlott discovered the self-cleaning properties of a nasturtium leaf, which he then developed and patented under the name ‘lotus leaf effect’ in the late 90s. A very recent invention is Spidrex, a mimetic biomaterial based on the strength and elasticity of spider silk.
Spiders’ silk is incredibly strong, it is more difficult to break than rubber and more elastic than nylon, it is also stronger than steel. Of course, trying to use this silk in its natural form would be highly impractical. Spiders have a cannibalistic nature therefore harvesting their silk would be costly, unethical and quite impossible. As a solution, scientists have carefully studied the properties of spider silk, resulting in a synthetic copy. It is intended for use in medical science, to treat patients in need of cartilage and bone reconstruction.
The field of medical science is a vast and important area for research and development. There will always be funding and a medical need for progression in the application of textiles in medical science. Similarly, the need for technological advances in the application of defence is also a highly researched and required area. The availability of super strength fibres has led to a thirst for more development, observation and collaboration between scientists, engineers and textile designers alike.
With regards to using materials for fashion purposes, the collaboration between fashion, textile designers and scientists is a necessity.
“When technology drives the product, progress is slow; when design and need lead, progress moves more quickly,” Dr. Raymond Oliver 20
LED and computing technology within garments has become a thing of the past, a novelty that was short lived and became fast fashion, waste for the landfill. A truly innovative design would be one that will last for years to come, and can be versatile and up cycled if the original use is no longer applicable.
‘The meaning is what the product is used for and ultimately where it ends up. If ultimately the product ends up in a landfill its use is no longer meaningful, it is meaningless.’ – Elena Corchero
The most recent trend of smart materials is 3D printed materials, initially patented by Chuck Hall in the late 1980s, he coined the phrase ‘stereo lithography’ and claimed that 3D printing was not only limited to liquid materials, it is capable of printing materials that are able to solidify or alter their physical state. This technology is used in a vast array of applications; medically it can be used to construct custom implants for patients with injuries or diseased related problems. Using this advanced method can take a reasonably skilled doctor 2-3 hours to custom print a part for a patient, whereas the previous method would take up to 3 days. This would save time for both patients and doctors.
Many of the initial problematic areas involving stereo lithography have been corrected. Initially when the concept started in 1983 with Charles ‘Chuck’ Hull and the researchers at 3D systems, there were unavoidable problems related to the intense use of energy consumed using a 3D printer. The problem resided in the imaging technology – substantial power supplies and water cooling towers were required to support the lasers, over time this issue was resolved as solid state lasers became an option. This allowed the research team and Hull to develop the concept further and no longer be restricted by considerable cost and energy issues.
Of course the technology will not stop there, soon enough surgeons will be able to 3D print organs and be able to perform transplants on patients accordingly. With the support of other smart materials in this application the possibilities will stretch as far as the mind can contemplate. 3D printed systems are also being used to print functional, end-use aerospace and defense parts for the military, with the ability to produce replacement parts on demand in a cost effective way.
It can be questioned that with this rapid advance in technology and materials, traditional methods of textile and fashion design may be forgotten and lost in the process. Today, it is possible to buy a 3D printer for home use retailing at around £1,050 to print small inanimate objects such as toy figures or tableware. It is possible for designers to 3D print garments and shoes for the catwalk. (mention 3D printed chocolate, pills etc?) Michael Schmidt designed the first iconic 3D printed dress for Dita Von Teese (IMAGE), based loosely on the theory of the golden ratio, historically said to quantify ideal proportions of beauty.
The dress was designed and ‘translated’ into a digital code with the assistance of the architect Francis Bitonti, the printer works by printing in length, width and also in depth. It prints layer upon layer of a fine powdered material such as nylon, which is then solidified using a laser. This particular 3D printed dress is flexible; there are 3,000 integrated joints in the fabric. The most challenging aspect of 3D printing a garment is wearability, Schmidt and his team of designers were able to dye, lacquer and join together the seventeen 3D pieces, hand embellishing the garment with over 12,000 Swarovski crystals.
Another example of collaboration between an architect and fashion designer is the 3D printed dress (IMAGE) designed for the 2013 Paris fashion week haute couture collection. Iris van Herpen worked with Neri Oxman to create a seamless three-dimensional textured dress. This collaboration is key for producing great designs; the fashion designer has knowledge of the shape of the body and how to work with colour, pattern and structure. The architect will have mathematical skill and will know how to construct a piece using complex software, and work with parameters such as environmental factors like air, light and humidity
Chapter Two: Smart Materials in the Application of Defence, Protection and Communication
Smart materials for the military are arguably one the most important and widely researched of all, however there are many concept ideas that are currently being developed, but progress is slow due to constant on-going research. Soldiers are amongst the super users, they need protective clothing that will withstand substantial heat, but have cooling properties, resist bullets, yet remain comfortable and breathable. They must also be camouflage, able to mimic surroundings effectively.
The camouflage khaki pattern is now a thing of the past, it is still widely used but there will be a superior option in the future. For example, ADS Inc. and Guy Cramer are developing a top-secret ‘HyperStealth’ fabric. This is a retro reflective material that is said to mean the difference between a soldier being shot dead or going home alive. The HyperStealth fabric is said to be a 3D layering process, which creates depth and shadows where none exist, using ‘quantum stealth’ technology. This technology could be part of the Future Force Warrior programme, an initiative set up to stir the imagination and combine technological advances.
This Future Force Warrior concept is a projection of the possibilities that can be achieved using technology and textiles. However it is not the first, there was ‘Land Warrior’ which was terminated in 2007 due to a lack of funding. Mainly comprising of the Georgia Tech Motherboard, a wearable computer, the wearer would attach sensors to their body, and pull the shirt over, connecting the sensors to the shirt. It is capable of detecting bullet wounds using optical fibres and monitor vital signs during combat, the disadvantages of this wearable motherboard are that the initial cost is high, battery life is not satisfactory and repairing and maintenance is time consuming and expensive.
The Smart Shirt, which was originally developed by Georgia Institute of Technology (GATECH) and funded by The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is now being marketed for other uses. Sensatex, a company focused on developing smart textile systems, have designed and patented a wireless shirt that collects data from the wearer and analyses heart rate, respiration and body temperature. This is useful in many different applications and similar technologies are available for the average consumer from many different companies.
For military use, the wearable motherboard is not quite up to standard; there are issues with Bluetooth technology and privacy concerns. A Gatech Wearable Motherboard fitted with a microphone or GPS may compromise a soldier’s location or reveal sensitive information. Unauthorised persons could access the information; also the Bluetooth capabilities are limited, with a short range of 30-300 metres. The ‘Land Warrior’ initiative failed because technology was on the cusp of becoming a reality, yet too far ahead to achieve the appropriate funding and maintain the necessary focus and attention on the project.
The Future Force Warrior Programme (IMAGE) must succeed where Land Warrior has fallen behind. With Nano technology developing at a rapid rate, the vision cannot be far off. Components can now be miniaturized and embedded into fabrics, soon enough this technology will be affordable and marketable. The military will be the first to see the advantages; other super users will benefit, gradually trickling down to the average consumer.
Arguably the most important issue regarding the safety and protection of soldiers is camouflage, the ability to blend into any environment. The British Army were using camouflage uniforms before the US Military, Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) was widely used from mid 1960s until 2010, now replaced by Multi Terrain Pattern (MTP) which is a subtle yet sophisticated upgrade. The US Military have upgraded their uniforms several times in the last quarter century, from the perfectly adequate Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) to the inadequate Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), which they are currently phasing out.
The Universal Camouflage Pattern has engendered controversy regarding the issue of government expenditure within the military, despite testing and comparing other uniforms, UCP was chosen, $5 billion was spent and now $4 billion more is needed to replace the short lived uniform by 2018. MultiCam is the unofficial yet preferred uniform of the United States and other countries. The HyperStealth camouflage uniform could be a candidate for the future, but only still mock up images are available to the public demonstrating this technology at the moment, therefore there is wide speculation that this uniform is not as well developed as Cramer has claimed it to be.
“I caused a bit of a panic with the U.S. military when I showed the video of SmartCamo uniform changing colour to match two different camouflage patterns in the background at a camouflage symposium in Brussels in 2010,” he says. “A representative from the U.S. Army asked me not to show that video again, as I had solved a problem the U.S. military had not yet overcome. I was unaware that SmartCamo was that advanced, but I already had something better coming down the pipe.”
Perhaps Guy Cramer is developing the retro reflective technology that researchers in Japan were developing years ago, if so it should not be a secret, as Cramer’s motto is ‘Making the best, better’. The researcher’s team at University of Tokyo’s Tachi Lab, led by Dr. Susumu Tachi commenced research in 2003, and have since released a video demonstrating their progress in action. Since 2003 materials and computing equipment have reduced in price, making it possible for smaller companies to invest in this technology and use it for different applications. Tachi thoroughly explains the science behind the ‘Cloak of invisibility’.
Tiny glass beads that measure only 50 microns wide are used to make up the ‘metamaterial’ in the fabric of this retro-reflective projection technology (RRPT). A metamaterial is a synthetic, engineered material that comprises of microscopic conventional materials such as glass, metal, plastic etc. It is not the structure of the material itself that creates such a smart material; it is the precise detail and arrangement of exact geometrics that transform the simple material into an engineered super smart fabric. Dr. Susumu Tachi has many plans for this software, to aid pilots or drivers with the use of superficial vision, creating an exact copy of the outside environment, within the interior wall of the car or plane. This will eliminate blind spots and should significantly reduce accidents on the road and in the air.
This invisibility cloak can also be emulated using LED technology, as demonstrated by Mercedes Benz in their ad campaign for the F-CELL hydrogen fuel cell technology zero emissions car. In this publicity stunt, they covered the car in roll mats of LEDs on one side of the car, with a camera attached to the other side. This gave the illusion of the car being invisible. In reality the car was not ‘invisible’, it was merely an illusion that was quite entertaining – for the general public in Germany and tech savvy’s alike. It was not new technology at the time and not to be taken seriously. However, those who had not seen anything like this before were enamoured with the idea and consequently the advert became a big hit in 2012.
There are many other prototypes and concepts that have received coverage from social media and news feeds, however not all are memorable and have staying power. The headlines tend to capture the attention of tech savvy’s, such as ‘Real-life Iron man’, the Tactical Assault Light Operator suit (TALOS). In reality this suit does not resemble that of the fictional character Iron Man, it cannot enable the wearer to fly, or shoot fire or missiles from the palms. What it can do however is offer more protection towards the soldiers, enabling the wearer to have such tactical advantages as night vision, increased protection from gunfire and enhanced strength.
Chapter Three: Super Users Versus the Average Consumer
Fashion and textile designers lead the way for incorporating smart materials into wearable designs. One of the main designers responsible for conceptual art forms within fashion is Hussein Chalayan. He has been pushing design boundaries and technological limits from early on in his career. His 2000 Autumn/Winter Collection featured models removing armchair covers and fashioning them around their bodies, as they transform into wearable fashion. For the finale, a model stepped into a coffee table and pulled the spiralling tubular table over her lower body, wearing it as a skirt.
As technology progressed Chalayan experimented more with his designs and was keen on using all resources available. For the 2008 Spring/Summer collection he designed Swarovski encrusted dresses fitted with movable lasers. The crystals reflected the lasers and produced glowing ‘lava’ effects, spraying scattered beams of red light everywhere. The inspiration behind this was celebrity sun worshippers, as usual; Hussein Chalayan avoided this in the literal sense, and designed stunning masterpieces for the show.
With the help of the engineering mastermind, Moritz Waldemeyer, Chalayan designed beautiful airborne video dresses which consist of 15,000 LED lights embedded into the fabric, using off the shelf components and standard manufacturing techniques. The idea behind this dress is that ‘maybe one day in the future, we will all be wearing our favourite videos on our clothes!’ (Waldemeyer, 2009). Waldemeyer is a fantastic internationally renowned designer based in London, he has collaborated the likes of Future Systems, Hussein Chalayan, Philip Treacy, Ellie Goulding, Will.i.am and Rihanna. He has also recently designed for the 2012 Olympics handover ceremony, in honour of the Brazilian culture. The LED costumes he designed were able to light up to the Brazilian beat spectacularly.
Other designers who use LED technology are Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, who founded the fashion house CuteCircuit in 2004. They redesigned the iconic Little black dress (LBD) as worn by Nicole Scherzinger for her performance at the Battersea Power station in London. The dress is a simplistic design that features thousands of LEDs into layers of ‘techno tulle’ (a soft, fine silk, cotton, or nylon material). The dress transforms into a stunning visual display of scattered colours and pattern whilst being worn.
Cutecircuit also were behind ‘The galaxy dress’ that is the largest wearable display in the world; embroidered with 24000 full colour pixels and hand embellished with 4000 Swarovski crystals. Interestingly, the heaviest part of the dress is not the technology; it is the layers of chiffon in the dress. One of their earlier designs, featured in Time Magazine 2006 was ‘The Hug Shirt’ this is a clever wearable computer fitted with actuators (a motor that moves and controls a system) and sensors. The recipient will be wearing the Hug Shirt, which receives the hug from a Bluetooth device, it is as simple as sending an SMS to someone. The idea is to recreate the sensation of warmth, touch and emotion to a distant loved one (CuteCircuit, 2006)
Many designers’ play and experiment with light, colour and sensors within garments, they especially tend to use Swarovski crystals for added visual appeal and sparkle. Another way to produce smart designs is through the use of synthetic yarns, which are knitted or woven into the fabric. Textile designers such as Elena Corchero and Diana Eng incorporate these smart fibres into their work. Elena Corchero founded the company ‘Lost Values’, she designs bespoke up cycled and innovative designs for the consumer, based on technological and individual needs.
Her brands include ‘lflect’ the reflective fashion brand available for the average consumer; her designs are practical and affordable; targeted at cyclists and pedestrians – commuters that must face long journeys home in the dark. Corchero uses high quality lambs wool that is locally sourced, with a blend of commercially unattainable retro reflective yarns. This collection isn’t the average kind of high reflective wear, it cleverly incorporates the reflective yarns in a way that cannot be seen unless under bright lights. That means the designs are fashionable for daywear and nightwear (Lost Values, 2010).
Diana Eng also knits with smart fibres; her thermochromatic ‘Jack Frost’ scarf has a snowflake pattern that can only be visible when the temperature drops below 18˚C. In warmer conditions the scarf is a plain colour due to the leuco dyes being inactive at higher temperatures. Her collection for 2010 at the Eyebeam Atelier in Chelsea features an array of transforming dresses (not the robotic kind), colour changing garments and inflatable dresses with LED balloons. The collection was named ‘Fairy tale Collection’; it brought to life many fictional characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, brought to life with a modern twist. Diana Eng believes in education, she is keen on teaching young children the importance of science and technology, and the creativity it can inspire amongst individuals of all ages (Diana Eng, 2010).
A new platform for anyone from designers to the average consumer to use is Arduino, an open source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy to use hardware and software (Arduino, 2014). The Arduino can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors and other actuators, it has been used to control anything from drum kits – self drumming sequences, to light signalling jackets, purposefully made for bicycling (Leah Buechley, 2008) Buechley uses the Arduino LilyPad to control the signals using sensors on the sleeves of the jacket.
Giulia Tomasello used Arduino LilyPad to design an interactive corset, ‘RUAH’ demonstrating the ‘importance and the benefits of a deep diaphragmatic breath’ (Tomasello, 2013) the wearer interacts with the Arduino controlled corset by receiving visual feedback, which demonstrated the level of fitness and breathing stability, a slow controlled breath can only be achieved after a long workout. Tomasello designed other devices to help improve quality of life; she collaborated with Orange to design a printable device that launches unexpected calls, when the user tags an item they have emotional attachments to.
What is the future of wearable electronics for the future? Smart textiles have been able to aid and assist super humans in extreme conditions, or prolong life in the application of medial science, also to help those in need of bone and cartiliage reconstruction. However, the use in fashionable products for the average consumer is not so important, therefore there is a huge issue of waste and ecological concerns. These designs are primarily targeted at the youth market, many commercially available products are bought impulsively and are often rarely worn or even taken out of the box, they are a bi-product of fast fashion. Recently designers seem to be more aware of their carbon footprint, yet there is an urgent need to re address a wider audience, as the elderly are often neglected and may be the generation whom could benefit the most (Bryson, 2007).
What of the recent innovative technology, Google glass? This is the ultimate hands free computer; no textiles required just pure technology. The wearer is able to ask Google where nearby restaurants are, instruct the glass to take videos or photographs whilst on the move. It is able to translate a language based on the surroundings, using Google translate and Glass technology, claiming that getting lost in a foreign country will no longer be an issue. It will allow the wearer to instantly share and upload images, recipes, locations etc.
When asked if it seems weird that in order to enable ourselves to have more human interactions, we have reached a point where we have to augment ourselves with Glass. The response was ‘it is a paradox; we need to make the product and software better, faster and lighter. These are just baby steps.’ (Isabelle Olsson, 2013). The lead industrial designer of Google Glass is very confident about the products’ abilities, quickly avoiding any questions linked to privacy concerns or issues about taking technology a step too far.
In terms of reaching a wider audience with the Glass technology, Google are insistent that their software can be used by anyone, however it will be the tech savvy younger generation who will be the keenest to get on board initially. It is questionable that the product is really suitable for the younger generation, due to virus/privacy and vulnerability concerns. The elderly will most likely be left out initially, unless Google glass is able to aid visual impairment whilst being used as a technologic device. Whilst Google claim that their creation is at its most advantageous on the road, law enforcement authorities are not so keen to authorize this technology based on current developments.
Technology in this ever changing and adapting world can be a tool, a tool can be a great asset, however it can also be overused and abused. In a World that can so easily be destroyed by nature, the most important focus should be on smart materials for protection and defence, not for destruction. A great aspiration would be to achieve and agree to World Peace and harmony. In a World where nothing is impossible, as so clearly demonstrated in the Eastern World, where peace is the primal denomination. A country such as Japan, where every single move can be counteracted in a peaceful yet determined way. They will not accept abomination in the country and any act of defiance is treated with the upmost security, seclusion and defensive counter acts.
America however have a slightly different view on the aspect of achieving world peace. It can be believed that they have a very different approach to the aspect of protection in the military. It could be said that they focus more on the act of violence than the security of defense. For Japan every single act is focused, determined, re determined and counter acted, also treated with the upmost manner of secrecy, security and self-protection. The most important lessons to learn in life are the 4 rules of self defense, self protection, credibility and caring for others, then the 5th and 6th rules of counter acting and red terming for classification.
In this modern world of a clash between cultures of technology and traditional values, it is very important to remember those sacred acts of craft for good and care for protection, using bio mimicry to counter act defiance and outlaw violence. The prospect of World peace is very ambitious and diplomatic but I believe it can be achieved through the acts of kindness and friendship.
To conclude this essay, I believe that World peace can be achieved but it must be treated with the upmost care and attention to detail. Technology can be used for good but it is important to think of nature’s values when considering a suitable uniform for the military. Too much technology can fail when nature’s powers strike down. Therefore it is important to consider a careful balance of nature within textiles to complete a fully functioning uniform.