MedCity Influencers

Rise of the Fashionable Machines

“Intimate Computing.” It was a phrase buried deep in a predictive piece on the role Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts will likely take as the future head of Apple’s retail and online businesses. Though I had never heard of or read it before, it certainly piqued my interest. Was it the softer side of wearable tech? […]

“Intimate Computing.” It was a phrase buried deep in a predictive piece on the role Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts will likely take as the future head of Apple’s retail and online businesses. Though I had never heard of or read it before, it certainly piqued my interest. Was it the softer side of wearable tech? A buzzword struggling to go viral with quantified selfers? Lingerie we never got to see in Terminator 3?

Pop culture references aside, the phrase – at least in the context of healthcare, Apple and luxury brand Burberry – according to  author Om Malik, references “devices on our bodies that will be held together wirelessly by a smartphone, thus creating a computing fabric.” Adoption of these devices and fabrics will reach critical mass only when they become more aesthetically pleasing. Google Glass and smart watches – today’s building blocks of intimate computing – are prime examples of wearable technology poised to make a big, positive impact on consumer health. But they first have to overcome being unfashionable. If Google Glass took a cue from Ray-Ban, or the Pebble Smart Watch stole an idea or two from Tag Heuer, than you might see intimate computing take off. (Admittedly, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch is pretty pleasing to the eye, but the many Vera Bradley lovers out there might want something a bit more their style.)

      

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How long before the accessory on the left incorporates technology on the right?

Vogue magazine did feature Google Glass in its September issue, but I’m not quite convinced this will equate to what happens when a more traditional accessory or piece of clothing is given the limelight: Mad rush by financially flush readers to buy the latest and greatest item, copy cats rush to create knockoffs, prices come down all around, and that previously coveted item becomes mainstream, flooding every big box retailer around.

Time will tell, of course. Thankfully for us patients, doctors at the bedside (or in the OR) don’t care what these high-tech specs look like, only that they work well and help to improve outcomes. Perhaps the Christmas retail season will give us a taste of the fashionable intimate computing that awaits us.

In the meantime, here are a few pieces of fashionable, wearable technology with implications for healthcare, crowdsourced via my friends on Twitter. What’s missing? What will the next season of intimate computing look like when it comes to the runway? Share you ideas via the comments below.

        

The InflataCorset (left) is an auto-inflating vest, triggered by an internal heart rate sensor, that inflates when the heart reaches an excited state. Inflation causes the corset to “hug” the wearer and calm the nervous system. The Flutter dress (right) aims to aid individuals with hearing impairments via vibrotactile feedback in the direction of a loud sound or alarm to help those with hearing loss respond more intuitively to their external environment.

     

This dress from Dahea Sun (left) contains natural dyes that respond to subtle changes in the environment, which will change the color of the dress. The LilyPad Arduino (right) is a microcontroller board designed for wearables and e-textiles. It can be sewn to fabric and similarly mounted power supplies, sensors and actuators with conductive thread.