Imagine clothing that could monitor a heart patient’s condition, give athletes data about their performance, or change color or shape based on your mood. It may sound like science fiction, but assistant professor Lucy Dunne believes the emergent field of wearable technology design (or “smart clothing”) is full of possibilities.
Dunne is particularly interested in body sensing—where the wearer’s physical, emotional, and situational state can be measured for a wide variety of applications. Most sensing technologies, like heart monitors, have emerged from engineering. While they’re electronically reliable, they don’t account for the geometric, dynamic, cognitive, and emotional unpredictability of the human body. Dunne’s work aims to move sensing technology out of the uncomfortable medical standard and redesign it to function in normal clothing.
“One of the central themes in my work is the importance of designing truly wearable technology—defining the elements that influence wearability and overcoming the technical challenges of gathering data in a comfortable and unobtrusive manner,” Dunne explains.
For example, Dunne’s “Wearable Posture Monitoring Vest” uses a fiber-optic sensor to detect the curvature of the wearer’s spine. Posture data is then sent to the user’s computer via a Bluetooth connection and provides feedback and reminders when they lapse into unhealthy postures—a friendly reminder for all of us who spend a few too many hours at the computer each day.