Armed with our initial vision of a base garment that could essentially play videos or images on its surface, let’s explore some of the challenges that need to be addressed before this could become reality.
Last time we looked at some of the considerations for circuitry for such a garment, e.g., the links for power and for the actual data. This time, let’s look at how a video playback garment might be powered.
Perhaps the largest challenge for any sort of wearable computing is providing the device with enough juice to make it work. Short of plugging it into the wall, how would a garment such as we propose be powered? We would have to say that at this point in the development of portable power supply, there is no good or easy solution. What we have seen coming up, may eventually provide enough power to enable such a garment, but at the moment, the technology is not yet well enough developed to make a video playback garment functional.
The most obvious portable power source is a battery of some sort, but as any owner of a cell phone or lap top will tell you, the battery is disproportionately heavy in comparison to its size. Plugging in enough batteries to power a full garment would require a backpack worth of today’s batteries, and that’s just not very stylish.
There are some interesting developments in creating battery textiles that generate power through the interaction of the body within the textile – some generate power as a result of the static (electricity) that develops from the body’s friction against the garment while others generate power from the body’s movements manipulating and folding the garment to generate power. (Static electricity develops when two unlike materials rub against one another.)
These textiles are very interesting, since it would seem that you could have a base textile that not only had the ability to play back imagery, but it could also generate its own power supply.
Other things we have thought about for possible power supplies is converting the power of the garment wearer’s foot strike into an energy source. A woman wearing a high heel carries her full weight concentrated onto a tiny surface area. When walking, that force is concentrated by her momentum and other physical forces. It would be entirely possible to convert her entire high heel into a small power manufactory, but that power would need to be moved from the shoe heel to her garment. Perhaps seamed hosiery would become popular, as you could run an electrical line up the back of the hosiery in the seam, and connect the garment to the hosiery with a small conductive snap.
And what a great project for the physicists, electronic engineers, and material scientists out there to work on!
The issue of power supply is a big hurdle to get past, but luckily with the increased use of mobile devices, there’s increased focus in developing lighter weight, longer life-span battery supplies. Eventually this question will be answered in a way that enables wearable computing, or even wearable information storage devices, to become more fashionably useful.
Next time: how to get it there, and why we should care about avatars in the wearable computing mix!