May 2012

Wearable Technology Presses Forward

To hear Genevieve Dion, it’s clear that Google Goggles are already old school. As an Assistant Professor and Fashion Design Program Director of Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Professor Dion sees the future of technology from a unique perspective. It’s built into your clothes.

She’s working with smart garments and textiles, more commonly known as wearable technology, in which the fabric is embedded with circuitry. In the last three years, she’s been working closely with other Drexel professors to merge function with form.

Although her early professional career included many award-winning designer fashions worn by celebrities like Tina Turner and Elvis Costello and in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Professor Dion is not looking to the rich and famous to show off her designs.

“Much like the Apple iPhone, we want to design wearable technology that will have the potential for mass production,” she says. “People like smartphones because they work well and they’re well designed. With smart garments, we’re knitting flexible circuitry and flexible antennae into the fabric. Think of apps one day knitted into your sleeve.”

Still in the development stages, wearable technology has many applications, from medical to military, in addition to everyday consumer uses. She expects the military and medical fields will see the biggest leaps forward in the next five years.

“The next generation of elderly may be among the first to see the benefits,” Professor Dion says. “Seniors who require medical monitoring around the clock could be comfortably in their own homes while their clothing reports health changes to doctors remotely.”

Smart garments have the potential to communicate vital signs such as respiration and heart rate. Emergency medical teams could slash response times and have critical information before even arriving to help. She also sees the technology could be invaluable to soldiers in the field by lightening their gear.

“Imagine if antenna equipment could be woven into the fabric of a soldier’s uniform. This would help a team stay in constant communication and respond quickly to real-time changes on the ground,” Professor Dion points out.

In February 2012, Drexel University received a $1 million donation from knitting systems company Shima Sheiki to establish the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory, a new laboratory to research smart textiles and garments. As founding director of the laboratory, Professor Dion’s research will promote a collaborative and creative environment.

‘I love the quest. It’s about finding the right balance between technology and design,” Professor Dion explains. “Science can inform design and design can inform science. But when both function well together, then the field can advance in leaps.”