A team of researchers at the University of Illinois have created what they describe as a sensory suit, New Scientist reports, and it just might be a peek into the future of everyday clothing-with that extra high-tech touch.
The team, led by Victor Mateevitsi, presented their suit to an audience at Human ’13, the 4th International Conference in Stuttgart, Germany and have even posted a paper detailing not only how the suit functions, but how it performed in tests with volunteers. The idea they say, is to combine the sense of touch with that of situational awareness. They note that such a suit would most obviously benefit the blind but insist that it would work for everybody else as well.
The suit is essentially a cloth coating fitting with actuators. When the suit is worn, the actuators press against the skin. It also has sensors and a computer. What is does is look around in every direction as a person moves about normally in the world. As the person does so, the computer notes objects that come into the vicinity. If one or more comes close enough, the computer sends a signal to the actuator that is has the closet angle to the object, causing it to constrict slightly. That alerts the person to the object, allowing them to respond if they so desire.
Imagine walking down the street, Mateevitsi suggests, listening to music or talking on the phone with someone-in such a state, most people become far less aware of their surroundings, which more and more often leads to accidents. People get run over by cars, bicycles or even other people walking. If the suit could warn them, then they would suddenly “wake up” to what was going on and take action to avoid having such collisions. Or, imagine clothes that could warn of sunburn or stroke, or of distant objects posing a threat, such as the hilt of a gun protruding from a belt. Or a suit that could change colors, thickness or texture automatically in response to changes in light or temperature. That’s what the idea of an intelligent suit is all about he says-creating clothes that incorporate existing technology to make our lives more comfortable and safe.
Such clothes are possible right now, today, Mateevitsi says, he’s been testing suits on the UoI campus for over a year and says that one such test showed that a person wearing such a suit could actually detect a person that was about to mug someone, over 95 percent of the time. It’s time to start putting such technology to work for us he adds.