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Merging Fashion and Technology.

Have you ever thought about having a jacket with speakers built into the hood, a microphone integrated into the collar, and a keyboard consolidated into the sleeve, with all the connections between them concealed within the jacket's fabric? Marcy Koontz, assistant professor of clothing, textiles, and design, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, indicates we should expect to hear more about electronic garments as they make their way into the media spotlight during 2001 and, eventually, into our closets.

She points out that "People's lifestyles have changed considerably over the past few years, and the result is that they are increasingly on the move, yet they still need and want instant access to information and communications. Just like the carriage clock of 300 years ago that subsequently became a pocket watch and then a wristwatch, personal electronic devices will evolve into items that can be worn as clothing, jewelry, and accessories."

Koontz notes that the technology has already been developed. "Phillips Electronics has teamed with Levi-Strauss and created the ICD+ jackets which are equipped with a `Personal Area Network,' or PAN, which provides a backbone for wearable electronics. It allows data, power, and control signals to be transported within the user's personal space. Modular devices with functions shared by different applications can be hooked up to it--such as a single display panel or voice activator--and intelligent software ensures that the devices cooperate in a natural way.

"Textiles that are electrically conductive at the same time as being soft and warm to the touch mean that audio, data, and power can now be moved around the garment. Conductive fibers can be integrated into knitwear and woven materials, and conductive inks allow electrically active patterns to be printed directly onto fabrics."

Researchers still have one hurdle to overcome, though--the washing machine. "Although mobile devices are capable of working in the rain, it doesn't compare to the hostile environment of a washing machine. So even though the valuable components of today's wearable electronics, such as the mobile phone, will be unplugged, a substantial part of the integrated wiring, peripherals, and connectors must still be able to withstand washing or other forms of garment care," Koontz warns.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:clothing incorporating electronic gadgets
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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