Nally on “Wearable Solar”

Brooke Nally comments in Solar Today on this year’s trend toward adding solar (i.e., photovoltaic) to fashionable wearables. [1]

Designers surely see the advantages for technology in wearables which, by design, need to be tetherless (and generally aren’t).

Nally notes European “smart fashion” designer Pauline Van Dongen, who created a “solar shirt”, a tee shirt with approximately 1W of PV cells capable of recharging a phone in a few hours. The shirt doesn’t have any “smart” function, but it is a net energy plus to balance your other power sucking wearable stuff.

They are working on more formal clothing with similar power generation.

Austrian fashion deign company Swarovski has combined forces with California’s Misfit wearables to create a line of smart watch/personal trackers which are not only blingy but also PV recharging.

 

These are still  (and sleep) trackers, but they look cooler and don’t need to be tethered to recharge. So that’s better.

As Nally comments, these technologies are just beginning to happen. Clearly, PV and various smart fabrics and flexible electronics are finally realistic enough to use, at least a little. But making tetherless wearables is hardly a solved engineering problem.

It is also true that fashion designers are only beginning to explore how to use create attractive and desirable fashions with these technologies embedded. 90% of “wearables” to date are some form of smart watch cum personal trackers. Leaving aside my own indifference to this use case, these devices are ugly, and suffer from short battery life and too much tethering.

The Misfit’s products at least look a little better, and have better battery life. They are still a solution to a non-problem, so there is plenty of room for better ideas.

As far as the recharging facilities in Pauline Van Dongen’s garments: this fits into other trends which are looking to add PV and other generation to everything, including paint. Why shouldn’t every garment (and awning, and backpack, and so on) catch light and trickle out some useful voltage?

Of course, I think the best thing about these ‘fashion’ projects is that they make solar powered wearables look sexy and desirable. It is impossible to over estimate how valuable that can be to motivate designers and developers to make stuff even better.


  1. Brooke Nally, , Solar Wearables, Solar Today, Summer 2016, p.40. http://solartoday.org/2016/07/solar-wearables/

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