Happy Textiles organized together with Aalto University, Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) and Finnish Textile and Fashion an open workshop regarding future wearable technology concepts for ladies over 50 years.
In the near future, wearable technology will be part of our every-day life clothing and life environment. As the developing of smart textiles is mainly technology driven, there is a need to explore the user context of women and compose new research projects on user experiences.
User experience describes how a person feels using a product, service or system, and the experience can be divided into three parts: utility, usability and pleasure. Experiences are hard to explore and impossible to control, explained Virpi Roto, Professor of Practice in Experience Design at Aalto University.
Nowadays companies generally focus on usability and forget the user experience. Product planning and designing is made more or less with gut feeling and experience objectives are recognized only in few companies. The future trend will be a gradual change from problem driven to experience driven design.
Interactive textiles and smart clothes are already here
Electronics can be integrated seamlessly into woven structures, and interactive textiles can be used as extensions of modified future bodies. The meaning of skin and touch is essential for our wellbeing and for the development of the identity. User interfaces based on touch are being developed to make interaction more comfortable and to help people with disabilities. Keyboards covered with textile, woven clocks that change color when temperature changes, tactile picture books for blind children and solar cells inside woven textiles are examples of new commercialized interactive textile innovations, presented Emmi Pouta, Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University.
Photo by Lifescience Industry
Smart clothing applications in the market has increased as well. For example, Myontec is producing seamless Mbody packages which consist of intelligent shorts, cell recorders and live applications to monitor bio-signals while exercising. Siren is producing temperature measuring socks for diabetics. Tommy Hilfiger has developed a jacket with solar panels to charge the mobile phone battery. Spinali design has created dresses and other clothes with sensors that enable communicating with other people via application available on IOS and on Android.
Challenges to overcome
In order to have a long life-cycle, the smart textile product needs to maintain an adequate service level and support.
The service can consist of gathering and storing data, data analysis and reporting of the analysis to the customer, explained Satu-Marja Mäkelä Senior Researcher at Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT).
Creating a functional service requires interdisciplinary expertise and partners.
There are still many challenges in commercializing smart textiles. The aspect of how to combine design and comfort with technology is essential when discussing smart clothing. In sports wear people are willing to be in close contact with electronics, but does this apply to other clothes like underwear, nightwear and leisure wear?
The prices of smart textiles are still at a relatively high level. The prices should come down in order to reach more users and the products to become more popular. The lifetime of the batteries is also a critical factor for the usage of smart textiles, but this challenge will be gradually solved when the electronic components are decreasing in size. Mechanical strain, washing, usage, sweat and sunlight all shorten the useful life of smart textiles, summarizes Satu-Marja Mäkelä.
One aspect is the problematics in the sensitive data that is gathered. Who owns the data and is responsible for storing it? This sets also restrictions to the recycling of smart textiles. The questions of personal data privacy need to be solved in order to get the trust of the consumers.
Human perspective versus technology
What do women over 50 think about smart textiles? This information is very valuable as women over 50 are a powerful consumer segment that makes major decisions on-a-daily basis for themselves and for their family members. In the first place, smart textiles need to bring additional value to the product when compared with traditional textiles. Additional value can be related to temperature, either heating or cooling effect, enabling communication, easing recovery, bringing safety, anything that helps women in their everyday life.
Wearable technology and smart clothes are much more than measuring. They can be fun and help people to communicate with each other.
As quite many people dislike or are afraid of technical solutions, the product planning of wearable technology should focus more on the human perspective. The technology should be hidden and seamlessly integrated, almost invisible.