The next major trend in consumer wearables may be smart fashion. For years, high fashion designers and celebrities have been incorporating smart technology into their clothing for visual effects. For example, one designer at the 2016 Met Gala showcased a dress with embedded LED lights that changed colors based on reactions from Twitter followers. The Gala’s exhibition, “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” also highlighted fashion designers’ growing appreciation for the benefits of fusing technology and art. Now, many brands dedicated to consumer devices and athletic apparel are building on the fashion industry’s efforts to incorporate technology by adding practical uses, such as cyclist jackets with LEDs.
One such “practical” smart fashion use incorporates near-field communication (NFC) into clothing. The contactless communication method between devices was made famous by Japanese consumers who tap their phones against payment readers in places where cash is required. NFC can also be built into clothing and accessories to eliminate the need to take out your smartphone. Applying this idea, a South Korean company introduced a suit last year where the jacket’s cuff has NFC capabilities. Imagine being able to use your clothing to open the door to your apartment, board public transportation, or pay for snacks without needing a key card or a credit card.
While examples such as these exist, we have yet to see widespread impact of smart fashion on society, despite its numerous potential societal benefits. But what if smart fitness fashion – say a pair of socks – becomes smart enough to identify the wearer’s combination of diet and exercise? Such a semiconductor device could potentially measure and proactively offer advice on a customized exercise and diet program of similar quality to that of a personal trainer. For people who can’t afford a personal trainer – but could buy a device for USD $300 – this capability could provide access to helpful new health applications.
So how will smart fashion evolve beyond the domains of the fashion runway, the fitness enthusiast, and the gadget fan to break into the mainstream? The formula is simple – it needs to be aesthetically appealing and comfortable as well as give the consumer a compelling price-to-value ratio. In addition, designs offering practical applications – like NFC, LEDs, and health-related sensors – will help fuel momentum.
Research is fundamental to developing the “formula” for transforming more of these cool ideas into practical reality. For use in fashion, especially clothing, new chip designs will need to be smaller and more adaptable than ever before to provide the comfort and appeal users expect. Such devices will likewise require a range of sophisticated capabilities, like sensing and compiling complex health and motion data, all within a small and flexible package.
Semiconductors can also help ensure that the data coming from smart fashion devices is processed accurately and securely. While many smart devices store information in the cloud, smart fashion can place data directly on the product itself. This means that user information such as health symptoms remains private. Device-side storage may also enable a wide range of artificial intelligence applications.
At Lam, we look forward to our continued role in supporting the creation of these fascinating new products as they are developed. In addition to inspiring a new area of wearable art, smart fashion’s blend of visual appeal and technology is expected to enhance our everyday lives in a variety of ways.