Smart togs tell us where to shop

March 10, 2000

Technology researchers in Finland are working on a project that will allow people to be connected to global information networks via their clothing.

The Institute of Electronics at Tampere University of Technology is looking at the potential for wearable electronics, including "smart clothes".

Jukka Vanhala, head of the personal electronics research group, said that its research indicated that the "slip-on" computer could be useful in a potentially hostile working environment.

"We have a project to build 'smart clothing' for professional skidoo drivers in the police, coast-guards and military, working in Arctic conditions. The clothing will measure vital signs and if, for example, a driver has an accident and is unable to call for help, the clothing would send an alarm and position signal to a central office," he said.

Professor Vanhala's team is also researching the application of smart clothing for children that details their whereabouts and reports whether they are cold and a body device that, when programmed with shopping details, picks up appropriate offers from nearby shops.

The rapid development of broadband wireless data communications and electronic packaging technology offers the potential for building devices that are smaller, cheaper and more user-friendly.

The team is also developing other forms of wearable electronics, easy to use for people on the move. The research team has built a 6 x 13 cm keyboard that can be connected to clothing. An electronic notebook has also been developed where physical distance is linked to an event, as well as time. When an event entered in the diary is sufficiently close in a physical sense, the system announces the fact. For example, when the wearer is near a railway station it could remind the user of an imminent journey.

Professor Vanhala believes that as the technology develops it will become possible to make these devices as discreet as a watch. The project is part of ETX (Electronics for the Information Society Technology Programme) funded by Tekes, the National Technology Agency of Finland.

Several other user interface devices have been developed for users on the move. The "finger mouse" is a short, bent strip of metal with a small track ball at the tip that can be moved with the thumb, and the hand-held "rotary keyboard" is an LCD screen, two large rotateable buttons and four small switches.

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