Otherlabs adaptive fabric

We’ve all imagined garments that automatically adjust to the climate, puffing up when we need to be warmer. Over the years there have been many tries, but, as we all know, we don’t have it yet. This is the flying car of textiles.

Some of the ideas have involved control systems, including sensors, effectors, and wearable computers. Others have involved exotic materials, such as plastic mesh.

The cheerful wizards over at OtherLabs have developed a prototype that poof up like we want, but is made from a clever use of “common fibers already in use in the apparel industry-nylon, polyester, and polyolefin”.

The demo is impressive, though I have to wonder how it really works.

First of all, its not really clear how it senses the heat. For example, wouldn’t my body heat cause it to flatten, even if the air temperature is cold? I could also imagine the magic poofiness would be affected by wearing an outer shell or thermal underwear.  There are obvious work arounds, but I’m wondering.  ( Also, the fabric might also be used as building insulation or other non-wearable uses.)

Anything to do with apparel has to deal with tough real life issues. Just do you make seams, openings, and pockets with this material? How do you tailor it so it fits equally well at any thickness? What happens when it gets wet? What are the washing and drying regimes? How well does it wear, and how is it affected by exposure to open heat, sun, grease, solvents, blood, sand–every darn thing?

The OtherLabs folks are really clever, so I’m sure they are aware of these and other challenges, as are their ARPA sponsors. As they carry forward this research toward real products, they have an interesting year ahead.

We shall see what they come up with.

  1. Evan Ackerman, This Self-Poofing Fabric Transforms From T-Shirt to Parka, IEEE Spectrum, March 10, 2017. http://spectrum.ieee.org/video/semiconductors/materials/this-self-poofing-fabric-transforms-from-t-shirt-to-parka
  2. OtherLabs. Othermaterials -Otherlab has developed textiles that do something delightfully different. 2017, http://materialcomforts.com/.

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