Though not as mainstream as devices like smartphones and fitness trackers, more companies are now experimenting with the concept of connected garments. Among the pioneers is London-based CuteCircuit, which has been creating fashionable smart clothing since 2004. The company's latest innovation is the "Sound Shirt," which allows deaf people to "feel" live music by transforming the tunes into touch sensations in real time.
The fashionable jacket achieves the incredible feat using software that converts the music into data and wirelessly sends it to the 16-micro actuators embedded inside the clothing's fabric. The devices vibrate in sync to the intensity of the music being played, allowing the wearer to feel each instrument individually. For example, violins can be felt on the arms, while the deeper, heavier bass notes can be felt close to the stomach. “We mapped intuitively how we thought the music would map to the body,” says CuteCircuit CEO Ryan Genz. The series of touch-like sensations across the wearer's torso enables them to feel the entire composition, resulting in a fully immersive musical experience.
To ensure the shirt is comfortable, the designers opted to leave out wires and instead wove conductive textiles into the garment's fabric. Francesca Rosella, co-founder, and chief creative officer of CuteCircuit, explains, “There are no wires inside, so we’re only using smart fabrics - we have a combination of microelectronics [and] very thin and flexible, and conductive fabrics. All these little electronic motors are connected with these conductive fabrics so that the garment is soft and stretchable.”
CuteCircuit, which has been testing the Sound Shirt for three years, expects to make it available to the general public shortly. Priced at $3,673 (3,000 pounds), the smart jacket will not be cheap. However, twin sisters Hermon and Heroda Berhane, who lost their hearing at a young age, believe the hi-tech garment is a worthwhile investment, especially for deaf people with a passion for dancing. “It’s almost like feeling the depth of the music,” says Hermon. “It just feels as though we can move along with it." Heroda concurs, adding, “I think it could definitely change our lives."
This is not CuteCircuit's first groundbreaking smart garment. Over the years, the company has unveiled hundreds of stunning connected outfits. Among them is an interactive concert dress for American musical artist Nicole Scherzinger that displayed tweets from her fans. Also fun is the HugShirt which enables people to send hugs to loved ones who are not physically in the same area.
Resources: cutecircuit.com, reuters.com