Smart textiles designed to evoke memories of absent people
By Ben Coxworth
June 4, 2010
You’ve had a hard day at the office, your spouse is currently over 2,000 miles away, and now your boss says he wants you to work late. It’s all you can do to contain your anger until you get into the bathroom, whereupon you let loose with a string of red-faced, high-cardio profanity. At that point, your spouse talks to you via your shirt. “Take it easy, it’s all right,” they coo from your collar, as they play your favorite song, and photos of them scroll across your chest. Hey, it could happen. No, really, it could happen, thanks to the Wearable Absence project. Researchers involved in the program are working on developing intelligent textiles, that comfort the wearer by evoking memories of absent loved ones.
Wearable Absence is part of the 2010 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. It involves two teams of researchers, led by Professor Barbara Layne of Concordia University in Montreal, and Professor Janis Jefferies of the University of London.
They have developed garments that are embedded with wireless sensors and bio-sensing devices that measure the wearer’s body temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response and rate of respiration. The data is sent to an Internet database, which in turn sends back previously-recorded messages from an absent person. Those messages could include audio files played through speakers sewn into the clothing, or text, photographs or video displayed via a scrolling LED array woven into the fabric.
Layne and Jeffries believe that the technology could have applications in fields such as health care - if a patient’s clothes detected that the person was upset, for instance, they could deliver comforting messages from family members.
If Wearable Absence technology did make it into everyday clothing, however, it could make for some interesting scenarios. Imagine, for instance, if that hypothetical boss of yours was reading you the riot act, when his mom suddenly appeared on his shirt and told him to calm down.
Definitely a brilliant way to defuse a tense situation.