Wearable Tech Demo/Panel @ Eyebeam

**This post is from Kate’s blog – http://blog.sicchio.com/?p=321**

Last night was the Wearable Tech Panel and Demo night at Eyebeam. It’s part of their computational fashion initiative. While I enjoyed some of the demos very much and thought they connected to the Hacking the Body project, the panel was very different and reminded me about why hacking is an important aspect of how I think about this work.

The Demos

There were a small group of people showing their work as ‘demos’ (although in the call for this I noticed Eyebeam seemed to not want proof of concepts but prototypes ready to be pitched to investors and I think this greatly limited who participated). Projects really ranged from Heisel, a fashion line using interesting textiles to create clothing, to the Mind Rider Helmet, which tracks EEGs while cycling.

Becky Stern was there from Adafruit with a lot of clothing covered in LEDs. I was wearing my accelerometer necklace and had a total fan girl moment when Becky wanted a picture. I was also able to ask her about when the bluetooth module for Flora would be coming – apparently it is still a few months down the line but Adafruit is about to release its first bluetooth module in general.

The two projects that interested me the most were The Laser Girls and their 3D printed nails (want) and the Hanky Pancreas by Jessica Floeh. The Hanky Pancreas probably relates most to Hacking the Body as it fashion designed to work with wearable diabetes devices. The scarves and wraps conceal already existing technologies that monitor blood glucose levels. I spoke to her briefly about stretch and breath sensors and she told me about a student project she did called exChange: networked breathing devices. The idea was that one person’s breath would be sent to another and inflate a device they were wearing.

The Panel

The panel literally seemed like it was a different world from the demos. It was trying very hard to be Fashion with a capitol F. The moderator was Sabine Seymour, who asked many good questions and also threw out the questions to the audience. But the panelists were fashion designers and curators and their use of technology was not as apparent as in the demo projects. They also dressed the part with Karen Oxman wearing sunglasses inside to go with her red lipstick and Titania Inglis wearing all black leather. They seemed to speak a lot about commercial fashion and high fashion branding. They considered technology to be more about manufacturing and development of textiles, rather than functionality, like what was presented in the demos. One point they made about tech was that it is geeky and geek had only become chic recently.

However, when the question of what is fashion for and what functionality in clothing would people buy, the audience responded with GPS navigation, well being, biofeedback, temperature regulation, and defence. The audience wanted function.

Some of the more interesting comments they made were about materials. For technology to be integrated into fashion the materials need to be softer and more flexible. The integration for them needed to be aesthetically pleasing in order to be acceptable. They said aesthetics first, technology second as a selling point. They believed this is one of the reasons for Google glass not being very popular. On this point they also said that tech companies rarely integrate with fashion houses in a way that could create a meaningful and long collaboration that would produce something that is beautiful and functional.

Hacking and the Panel

The panel and their approach to Fashion made me really glad that we chose to use the term ‘hacking’ within our project. Hacks are DIY and low level technologies, so we did not have to think about the mass consumer or high fashion aesthetics. It made a lot of sense that our approach is hacking, rather than Fashion and tech. Out goal is not to make a new product but to make art. And this is another reason why hacking is such an interesting methodology for arts research. The outcomes are about knowledge and culture and not money.