The wearable tech market is relatively new but already poised to take over our bodies. How many of these gadgets, though, do you actually want to wear? Finding a balance of fashion and function is key in designing a device that will be adopted by the masses. The rising trend in tech companies teaming up with fashion designers proves that corporations are catching on to this need for equilibrium of style and utility. Still, many of the devices surfacing in the growing wearable tech market are falling short of mainstream appeal, appearing more cyborg chic than street savvy. That's why the latest from Wearable Experiments (the masterminds behind Fundawear) is so refreshing. The socially driven wearable tech company is breaking the mold of smart clothing design with its innovative Navigate Jacket.
The Navigate Jacket is a high-tech garment for the modish urban wayfarer. It uses integrated LED lighting and haptic feedback to help users find their destination. The companion app stores locations and uploads the directions to the jacket with a built in GPS. The directions are then visualized via lights on the sleeves (indicating distance to the next turn and current stage of the journey) as well as through vibrations tailored into the fabric that alert users when to turn and in which direction.
The Navigate Jacket was sparked by the company's motto to "bring life away from the screen." Wearable Experiments' director and designer Billie Whitehouse talked to iDigitalTimes on how the Navigate Jacket is a socially driven solution to integrating fashion and tech to draw people back into the tangible world.
"How do we make our lives more simplified with technology? Statistics of pedestrian injuries revealed that about 98% of these injuries are caused by mobile use. A lot of that is from navigation through maps. The statistics are mad. We thought, let's redesign this. Let's give people their eyes back. Let's give people the city back," Whitehouse said.
Imagine, rather than a sea of faces engrossed in their smartphone screens, people are actually looking up and experiencing their surroundings. What a concept. The Navigate Jacket brings this notion to life by expertly merging hardware, software and style. Whitehouse's longtime interest and background in design is unmistakable in the stylish aesthetic of this smart jacket. The design takes a subtle approach, ditching what Whitehouse describes as "LED madness that feels like an epileptic fit" and instead being mindful of the basic principles of design - color, line, shape, proportion, tone, silhouette and texture.
"What we're becoming experts in at the moment is the integration of fashion and function. It is still wearable tech, but it's really focused on design. We just want to make sure that comfort and elegance are still involved with what we're doing with technology because a lot of that is getting passed by," Whitehouse said.
The Navigate Jacket is currently in its prototype stage. Whitehouse says that the Wearable Experiments team plans to continue to improve and evolve the jacket until it's ready to appeal to the masses. These tweaks include making the LED lights in the sleeves even subtler, redeveloping the companion app from scratch and potentially incorporating voice-activated commands. For example, users may be able to tell the Navigate Jacket, "I'm going to the MoMA, can you direct me?"
Down the line, Whitehouse hopes that Wearable Experiments will collaborate with fashion brands so that the Navigate Jacket can offer up travelers customized tours of varying cities. Using an open platform on the app, companies can program key cultural destinations in their cities so that users can embark on their own guided tours via the Navigate Jacket.
"It's the Burberry guided tour of New York, or the Luis Vuitton tour of New York, or maybe the Diesel tour of Milan." Whitehouse said. Concerning the jackets themselves, she added, "I want to make them perfect. I want to make them really user friendly. I want to get feedback. What do people actually need from technology that is going to be worthwhile? That's what excites me."
The next step for Wearable Experiments is to get the Navigate Jacket to the public market. Whitehouse says that they will be launching a Kickstarter project around April of this year for a men's version of the Navigate Jacket in order to get proper orders and mass produce the smart jackets. The company also has another mystery project on the horizon that will be making its debut in early February. Stay tuned, this company still has a few tricks left up its smart sleeves.
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