Material changes

A few items have caught my attention lately and the easiest way to categorize them is with the term, ‘materials’.  First, a June 7, 2012 article by Jane Wakefield about fashion and technology on the BBC News website that features a designer, Suzanne Lee, who grows clothing. I’m glad to see Lee is still active (I first mentioned her work with bacteria and green tea in a July 13, 2010 posting). From Wakefield’s 2012 article,

“I had a conversation with a biologist who raised the idea of growing a garment in a laboratory,” she [Biocouture designer, Suzanne Lee] told the BBC.

In her workshop in London, she is doing just that.

Using a recipe of green tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast she is able to ‘grow’ a material which she describes as a kind of “vegetable leather”.

The material takes about two weeks to grow and can then be folded around a mould – she has made a dress from a traditional tailor’s model but handbags and furniture are also possibilities.

Bio-biker image courtesy of Bio Couture (

Designer Suzanne Lee’s website is

Wakefield’s article goes on to discuss technologies being integrated into design,

While computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) is not a new technology, it has rarely been used in the fashion world before but French fashion designer Julien Fournié wants to change that.

Mr Fournié began working in fashion industry under Jean-Paul Gaultier but these days he is more likely to be found hanging out with engineers than with fashionistas.

He has teamed up with engineers at Dassault Systèmes, a French software company which more usually creates 3D designs for the car and aerospace industries.

Recently Mr Fournié has been experimenting with making clothes from neoprene, a type of rubber.

It is a difficult material to work with and Mr Fournié’s seamstresses suggested that the only way to stitch it would be to use glue.

“To my mind a glued dress wasn’t very sexy,” he said.

So he handed the problem over to the engineers.

“They found the right pressure for the needle so it didn’t break the material,” he said.

Wakefield discusses more of Fournié’s work as well as a ‘magic mirror’ being developed by the FashionLab at Dassault Systèmes,

“A store may have a magic mirror with a personal avatar that can use your exact body measurements to show you how new clothes would look on you,” explained Jerome Bergeret, director of FashionLab.

There is more in the Wakefield including the ‘future of fashion shopping’.

Still on the material theme but in a completely different category, flat screens that are tactile. From the June 6, 2012 news item by Nancy Owano on the website,

Why settle for flat? That is the question highlighted on the home page of Tactus Technology, which does not want device users to settle for any of today’s tactile limitations on flatscreen devices. The Fremont, California-based company has figured out how to put physical buttons on a display when we want them and no buttons when we don’t. Tactus has announced its tactile user interface for touchscreen devices that are real, physical buttons that can rise up from the touchscreen surface on demand.

The customizable buttons can appear in a range of shapes and configurations. Buttons may run across the display, or in another collection of round buttons to represent a gamepad for playing games. “We are a user interface technology where people can take our technology and create whatever kind of interface they want,” said Nate Saaal, VP business development. He said it could be any shape or construct on the surface.

Lakshmi Sandhana also wrote about Tactus and its new keyboard in a June 6, 2012 article for Fast Company,

The idea of a deformable touchscreen surface came to Craig Ciesla, CEO of Tactus, way back in 2007, when he found himself using his BlackBerry instead of the newly released iPhone because of its keyboard. …

“I realized that this question could be answered by using microfluidics,” Ciesla says. Their design calls for a thin transparent cover layer with some very special properties to be laid on top of a touchscreen display. Made of glass or plastic, the 1mm-thick slightly elastic layer has numerous micro-channels filled with a non-toxic fluid. Increasing fluid pressure with the aid of a small internal controller causes transparent physical buttons to grow out of the surface of the layer in less than a second. Once formed, you can feel the buttons, rest your fingers or type on them, just like a mechanical keyboard. “When you don’t want the buttons, you reduce the fluid pressure, draw the fluid out and the buttons recede back to their original flat state.” (No messy cleanup–the minimal amount of fluid is all contained within the device.) “You’re left with a surface where you don’t see anything,” Ciesla explains.

The company, Tactus Technology Inc.,  does have a product video,

It’s a little bit on the dramatic side, I think their professional voiceover actor could have a future career  as a Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) sound alike. Regardless, I do like the idea of a product than can function as a flat screen and as a screen with buttons.

My last item is about an emotion-recognition phone. Kit Eaton who writes for Fast Company on a pretty regular basis posted a June 7, 2012 article about systems that recognize your emotions (Note: I have removed links from the excerpt),

Nunance [sic], which makes PC voice recognition systems and the tech that powers Apple’s famous Siri digital PA, have revealed their next tech is voice recognition in cars and for TVs. But the firm also wants to add more than voice recognition in an attempt to build a real-life KITT–it wants to add emotion detection so its system can tell how you’re feeling while you gab away. …

Nuance’s chief of marketing Peter Mahoney spoke to the Boston Globe last week about the future of the company’s tech, and noted that in a driving environment emotion detection could be a vital tool. For example, if your car thinks you sound stressed, it may SMS your office to say you’re late or even automatically suggest another route that avoids traffic. (Or how about a voice-controlled Ford system that starts playing you, say, Enya to calm the nerves.) Soon enough, you may deviate from your existing “shortest route” algorithms, while being whisked to parts of the city you never otherwise visit. Along the way, you might discover a more pleasant route to the office, or a new place to buy coffee.

But Nuance says it has far bigger plans to make your emotional input valuable: It’s looking into ways to monetize its voice systems, including your emotional input, to directly recommend services and venues to you.

There are more details and a video demonstrating Nuance’s Dragon Drive product in Eaton’s article. As for me, I’m not excited about decreasing my personal agency in an attempt to sell me yet more products and services. But perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic.

Since my weekend is about to start and these items got me to thinking about materials, it seems only right that I end this posting with,

It takes about one minute before the singing starts but it’s worth the wait. Happy weekend!

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