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Smarty Pants: Sensor-Laden Fabrics Shape Future Apparel

07/07/2014 04:03 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2014

Smart fabrics are coming en masse, using the human body as a canvas for creativity and technological ingenuity.

For many, our first memories of smart clothing was the Hypercolor t-shirt, the 1991's one-hit wonder made from thermochromatic pigments that enabled the fabric to magically change from light to dark colors with the placement of a warm hand. Hypercolor was a Back to the Future preview of the products available to consumers today.

While smart textiles for the consumer are still nascent, the decreasing cost and size of sensors, along with the DIY proliferation, will undoubtedly yield more utility from our everyday garb. We've highlighted three sensor technologies with current applications, for wearers to get more out of their apparel - from fun to functional.

Velocity sensors: Drum Pants
Now you can validate that absent-minded thigh drumming you've been doing all your life with the crowd-pleasing Drum Pants. Drum Pants are not exactly a pair of pants, but a set of six velocity sensors that can turn our bodies into programmable surfaces for impacts of various strengths. Let loose like a rock drummer or program the sensors to trigger anything, including something as mundane as a PowerPoint presentation. A high-hat sound in lieu of a mouse click will surely keep that investor's attention.
Dream fundraising platform: Shark Tank

Filaflex: 3D "Pumped Up Kicks"
Hello, Sneakerbot II. These highly fun and functional shoes, designed by Recrueus, defy the brittle stereotype of 3D-printed objects; they're made with a special printer filament called Filaflex 1.75mm, the most elastic currently on the market. As for the style, the creators say they were inspired by 80's movies like Back To The Future, Star Wars, and Circuit. The 3D model templates are available to download free of charge, along with instructions on how to be the coolest maker in town using the most cutting-edge, flexible material for DIY 3D printed kicks that can be folded up to pocket-sized.
Dream application: foldable women's shoes: heels-to-flats

Fiber Optics: the "Happiness Blanket"
Reminiscent of the mood ring is the Happiness Blanket, currently in "test flight" mode by British Airways. The blanket is woven with fiber optics and connected to brainwave sensors on passengers' headsets to detect neuro-fluctuations and mood levels. When passengers are more relaxed, the LED-laden sensor blanket turns blue. Stressed at 30,000 feet? The blanket turns red. If we could wear our feeling, literally, on our sleeves, perhaps this objective measurement would change consumer service. The blanket is currently in test-mode to monitor the level of consumer satisfaction - on variables from in-flight movies to mealtimes to cabin lighting. Glowing red is surely more impactful than the attendant call button.
Dream partnership: Happiness Slanket