• A prototype dress demonstrates the color- and pattern-transforming possibilities of smart clothing.

    Credit: Ronald Borshan

    A prototype dress demonstrates the color- and pattern-transforming possibilities of smart clothing.

One of the primary challenges to the development of wearable computing concerns the relationship between electronic components and garment materials. Due to the many forces exerted upon one's apparel, such as anatomical movement, changing environmental conditions, wear-and-tear, and the need for occasional washing, the achievement of smart clothing has largely been stymied by the need for a more durable, flexible (and water-proof) electronic system.

Joanna Berzowska claims that the solution to this problem lies in the deep integration of the materials. Berzowska, who is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, has developed new interactive fabrics in which electronics are woven into the actual fibers of the material. Her new composite textiles are capable of a variety of functions, including the ability to transform color and shape in response to movement or various contextual phenomena.

“Our goal is to create garments that can transform in complex and surprising ways—far beyond reversible jackets, or shirts that change colour in response to heat," said Berzowska in a university press release.

Although this technology is not yet ready for commercialization, Berzowska's research represents a fundamental next step toward the achievement of smart apparel.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.