Wearable technology is not a new idea. eVest has been producing wired jackets for years, but we have yet to see technology integrated inside the fabric that makes up the jacket—until now.
Eleksen, a small UK-based firm is introducing electronic fabric, essentially carbon-embedded nylon sandwiched between layers of nylon mesh that, when a milliamps charge is passed through it, can recognize touch (and it’s location), pressure and even the direction and path of a stroke. This thin, flexible, durable and washable fabric connects to a small 8-bit processor, which then can be connected to a standard electronic device like an iPod. The iPod, or whatever device you’re using, delivers power to processor and fabric.
This is not just a technology demonstration; Eleksen has already integrated the electronic fabric with commercial products including ski-jackets from Spyder and Kenpo. The latter is available in CompUSA and Macy’s for around $250. In the jackets, the fiber is embedded in the jacket arm and an electronic fabric tether runs up the sleeve into a breast pocket where the iPod is stored. The iPod is plugged into the microcontroller, which takes the touch information on the jacket arm and interprets it for the iPod. In this incarnation, the controller is programmed to read and mimic iPod control signals, but Eleksen does have an API manufacturers can use to create other device controllers. So smart phone and blue-tooth-based devices are already on the horizon.
Perhaps the most intriguing product we saw was the fabric keyboard that’s designed to work with blue-tooth enabled smart phones and PDAs. About as thick as a quarter and attached to a Bluetooth transmitter, the full-size QWERTY keyboard offers printed keys and can be rolled up or squished into a ball and, Eleksen promises, holds up to the 10-million-key-press-test. It’s being introduced at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and should list for around $100.
Eleksen company executives said the washable fabric (the controller needs to be detached first) can also withstand extreme pressure; they’ve rolled a car over it without any ill effects. What’s next? Device controls on handbags, briefcases, backpacks and maybe, if the technology is coupled with a flexible display, the first rollable laptop. Stay tuned.