“Hats off” to Smart Fabrics, But Are They Really Revolutionary?

Of all the new terms that have entered the lexicon as part of the tech avalanche that is the Internet of Things (IoT), ‘wearables’ is perhaps the easiest for consumers to wrap their heads around. They are, simply put, devices to be worn.

But, while most of us know wearables as fitness trackers (how many steps have YOU done today?), the next generation of the technology could be hanging in our closet. Companies are working on clothes that have the ability to collect and share data with each other, giving wearers feedback on things like their heartrate, or even just calendar alerts. Even though the idea of ‘smart clothes’ is relatively nascent in the tech world, developers are already expanding the definition beyond what could have been imagined just a few years ago.

Take, for instance, the recently opened Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, scientists are looking to develop the world’s first “communicating fabric,” made from high-tech fibers that meld traditional textile manufacturing techniques with the latest fiber technologies.

One of the first products the AFFOA is testing is, of all things, a trucker hat. This headgear has the ability to act as a conduit for streaming audio to a wearer’s earbuds by interacting with overhead LED lights. In essence, a stream of information not terribly dissimilar to a spectrum wave is beamed out from the light and received by the fibers in the hat. The hat then converts the data to audio, which it then streams to the wearer’s earbuds. Proximity to the LED light dictates the volume and quality of sound, allowing for the audio message to change as a wearer travels below different lighting fixtures.

Some initial use cases experts predict include helping people navigate complicated areas, such as hospitals or office buildings. LED light fixtures can communicate directions to a wearer, or even go a step further by prompting sales or specials for specific stores when a smart-hat-wearing shopper is traveling through a mall, for instance, and comes under the light of a nearby retailer.

While this technology may seem revolutionary, and light years away, the concept of streaming anything, anywhere, to anyone, is one that we’ve been working on today. In fact, LINK leverages similar streaming power but without the limitations on proximity that comes with many of the prototypes for smart fabric. Along with the capabilities for 2 TB of storage – a feature not currently envisioned for the connected trucker hats of tomorrow – LINK already has this streaming technology beat in almost every scenario.

Down the line, LINK and connected fabrics are sure to complement each other, allowing users to share and connect using a combination of both technologies. But LINK is already the all-in-one storage and connectivity solution consumers need that’s small enough to fit in their back pocket – not something they need to wear on their head.


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