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The cyborg cometh - And she ain't half cute


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The cyborg cometh - And she ain't half cute

Diana and I spent part of Friday evening watching a fashion show at Victoria University's Design School. The show featured garments designed and programmed by students on Victoria University's Wearable Technology course. I hoped to learn something about the millennial generation's attitude toward cybernetic technology. I wasn't disappointed.

Most of the garments used a combination of sensors and output devices to do something useful. We saw clothes that light up when the wearer moves and garments that light up when the wearer speaks. A dress than lights up when it detects the presence of another person was designed to enhance the beauty of the young woman wearing it. The same technology could readily be adapted for military applications.

Watching the show, I could see two complementary commercialisation routes for this type of technology.

In the fashion business interactive clothing looks like a significant growth area. In the near future, components such as wearable sensors and displays will become normal haberdashery items, like zip fasteners and bra wires. Wearable technology will add a new dimension to the way people adorn themselves. On top of that, it should usher in a range of useful new commodity products. Shopping malls in the 2020s might have signal-sensitive tablet bags. LED-illuminated gloves, like Bachelor of Design Innovation student Hannah Faesenkloet's TacitLanguage, might become popular with folks who use sign language, or with cyclists looking for technologically-enhanced turn signals.

There are at least two broad strategies for driving wearable technology into niche markets. Some niche garment manufacturers such as space-suit makers could incorporate commodity garment technology into their products. Others might develop wearable sensors aimed at specific market niches: For example, special sensors for super-deep sea divers.

The bra that stares back at youIt seems to me that wearable technology is an important stepping stone toward true cybernetic implants. Less than twenty years ago the idea of cybernetic implants seemed alien, even when they came attached to Annika Hansen. Last Friday's show got me thinking about the marketing hurdles facing true cybernetics. Will wearable technology help break down those barriers? Will people eventually accept, say, an implant that detects and destroys cancerous cells? Or is Borg-ophobia the visible face of some deepseated part of our DNA?

I had the impression students on the Wearable Technology course are happy to make themselves part of a technological system. In principle, what they are doing is like driving a car: You attach yourself to various gadgets. The car becomes an extension of your body.

On Friday we saw young people trying to take the human-technology interface a step further. Many of their gadgets interface with computers. Some people think computers might one day become sentient. Whether or not that ever happens, humans are gradually immersing themselves more deeply in technology. When Seven of Nine first appeared on Star Trek back in 1997, cybernetic implants were scary. Now we have prosthetics controlled by direct neural implants. We need to get used to the idea of immersing ourselves in technology because it's happening whether we like it or not.

Last Friday we saw lots of young people having fun immersing themselves in technology.

We thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was an inspiring way to finish to our working week. I want to thank Senior Lecturer Anne Niemetz for promoting the show on the university website. Now, I'm looking forward to hearing about niche-market manufacturers in the Wellington region exporting cool new wearable tech products.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a}

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