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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 08:34 GMT
Clothes that do the thinking
Wearable computers are bulky at the moment
By Julian Siddle of BBC Science

Scientists in Belgium are working on what they think will be the definitive clothes of the future.

The clothes, known as "i-Wear" for Intelligent Wear, will perform many of the current functions of mobile phones, computers and even hospital monitoring equipment.

Starlab, a research institute based in Brussels and specialising in the field of artificial intelligence, is trying to make clothes that seem to think.

The company says the range of tasks that the clothes will be able to perform is vast, from taking phone calls to keeping a check on the health of the wearer.

Environmental sensors

"The layer which is closest to your body will be the layer that is monitoring your body functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, temperature," says Katrien van Gerven.

The thinking shirt is finished in a nice check pattern
The thinking shirt is finished in a nice check pattern
"Other layers include sensors, and these sensors can measure what is happening in the environment. They can measure the light so they know when it's dark. They can also measure sounds to determine whether you're in a loud environment.

"These kinds of data can be processed through other technology that is in your clothing, like mobiles for instance. So, if you are in a very loud environment, this will mean that your mobile should ring louder and if you're in a meeting, the mobile shouldn't ring at all," she says.

Commercial production of such clothes is some way off, but a shirt with a simple memory function has already been developed.

Memory shirt

This smart garment could help you remember your keys or wallet. Microchips in the shirt are linked to other microchips in objects such as wallets and keys, so the shirt will know whether or not a key is in its pocket and can warn the wearer if the key is missing.

Katrien van Gerven
Katrien van Gerven: Layers monitor body functions
In the far future, the company predict they will be developing clothes with the ability to assess the wearer's mood. Clothes could even remember where you've been on holiday, creating a snapshot of atmosphere, sounds and even smells.

But fashion has not been a major consideration in the design of the prototype clothes, it seems. The thinking shirt, although finished in a nice check pattern, has a small antenna protruding from one shoulder.

Perhaps i-Wear will not be appearing on the catwalks just yet.

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09 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Wear the parts on your sleeve
04 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Computers as clothes
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