Wearable digital technologies

Wearable digital technologies are no longer the exclusive domain of IT firms and device makers. They are now also spreading into the worlds of fashion, sports and performing arts, where innovative ideas are helping to push the boundaries of computerized clothing.

At Shibuya 109, a popular fashion building in central Tokyo, fashion brand 3rd by Vanquish employs a unique marketing gimmick to grab customers’ attention. When a customer picks out a clothing item, liquid crystal displays on the shop walls show a video of fashion models wearing that very item.

This interactive device, called the teamLab Hanger, was co-developed by teamLab Inc., a Tokyo-based IT and digital signage firm, and robot company Yukai Engineering Inc. The hangers come with built-in sensors and wireless communication modules. When a customer chooses an article of clothing on one of these high-tech hangers, data about the items is transmitted to the shop’s computer system, triggering a video to play.

“Customers can have a better picture of how they will look. This makes shopping more fun,” said Yukai Engineering representative Shunsuke Aoki. Vanquish and other fashion brands, including earth music & ecology, have used these interactive hangers at 30 locations in department stores across Japan.

Currently, sensors and wireless communication modules are embedded in the hangers, but it is possible to weave them into clothes. If teamLab markets Internet-accessible mirrors, people could, in theory, be able to relay data from their purchased clothes to the shop computer system to check from home how fashion models wear those items.

Wearable digital technology is also making inroads into the field of sports. For example, professional soccer players, including Japan national team player Shinji Kagawa and Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona, wear cleats equipped with a device that tracks performance data, such as playing time, running distance, speed and the number of sprints. Players can check their personal performance by transmitting the data to their smartphone or PC.

These shoes, developed by sporting goods maker Adidas, contain a microchip that automatically sends data wirelessly when the shoes are placed near a special adapter. Such equipment used to cost more than 10 million yen, but now the prices have come down to less than 10,000 yen. A pair of Adidas high-tech soccer shoes sells for around 7,000 yen.

This month, the company also rolled out sports shoes that can connect wirelessly with iPhones. The new products allow users to share their data with friends through social networking sites. These shoes are geared not just toward soccer but also tennis, basketball and American football. Adidas has created data management websites optimized for each type of sports.

Meanwhile, artists are increasingly embracing wearable technology too. One dancer costume, for example, has 200 light-emitting diode chips with a built-in microcomputer. A program stored on these microcomputers determines when and where the LED chips light up and in what colors.

This technology, called the “lighting choreographer,” was developed by Tokyo University of Technology.

They have developed a software program that allows users to create their own patterns of LED lighting in tune with songs.

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