The mainstream wearable tech scene has been focused on gadgets, strapping smartwatches and fitness bands to your wrist, or, to a lesser extent, slipping a pair of enhanced glasses over your ears. Innovators in the burgeoning field, however, are incorporating hard science with soft goods, often to create a wholly new wearing experience. Madison Maxey, a creative technologist with a degree from Parsons School of Design and a 2013 Thiel Fellow, co-founded The CRATED to experiment with enhanced apparel and wearable technology. The CRATED has created everything from remote-controlled garments that adapt to the wearer to surrealist events exploring the potential of wearable batteries. Maxey spoke with Wearables about the apparel experiments The CRATED has worked on and her thoughts on the future of wearable technology.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about The CRATED?
Madison Maxey: The CRATED is a collaborative product design studio that works with fashion and technology companies to bring enhanced apparel and wearables to market. To put it in typical startup terms, we're a bit like a record label for wearable technology. We launch products with other companies in the wearable tech and enhanced apparel space and bring them to market. Our most recent product is called Liquid Assets, a hydrophobic menswear apparel company.
Q: What is the Zygomatic, and why did you develop it?
MM: We think it's essential to experiment and learn as we go along with our business. With this in mind, Zygomatic is an experiment we created during a residency at the School of Visual Arts. It's looking into the concept of modularity using Nitinol, a biphasic wire. The tessellating shirt is controlled and adjusted with a computer – quite similar to what's happening at the Man Vehicle Lab at MIT.
Q: Another product you have is called Sync – how does it work?
MM: Sync is an audio-responsive shirt. Essentially, you play it music and it responds visually. While audio-responsive garments don't seem like an important part of wearable tech, we wanted to display what the technology from a company called BotFactory could create. Their machine, Squink, allows you to make printed circuit boards (PCBs) at home on flexible photo paper, which is perfect for integration into clothing. If the electronics behind Sync were better housed, it seems the garment could make an engaging promotional item.
Q: What else is The CRATED exploring in the wearable tech space?
MM: At the moment, we're diving a bit more into enabling technologies. Things like textile PCBs, for example, are tricky to produce. We're very interested in creating technologies that can help take the wearables space into the productive future.
Q: Where do you see the future of the wearables market going?
MM: As Niels Bohr once said, "It's hard to predict, especially the future." With that in mind, I'm not sure where it's going to go, but I do think we're on the verge of an exciting and emerging industry, and I certainly hope to contribute to its future.
Q: Do you expect wearable technology eventually to replace smartphones and other external devices?
MM: I think backlit screens will be phased out in 10 years or so. Just a hypothesis, of course, but I think digital and physical will soon merge in a seamless manner, and the function of smartphones will be ambient.
Q: What is the most exciting thing about the wearables market right now?
MM: The possibility of using additive manufacturing – the industrial version of 3-D printing – for customized clothing. I think it is incredibly productive and falls out of the scope of wearable technology and fashion tech that is usually acknowledged.