France Telecom Plans Wireless Wonderwear

PARIS -- Fashion Central -- Do you sometimes wonder what your pants would say if they could talk? What a tale they’d have to tell, eh? Well, fear not, that day may be soon at hand (or leg). France Telecom SA says it has cooked up technology that will eventually make for “intelligent, communicating garments.”

The European carrier’s R&D labs have created a flexible screen of woven optical fibers, capable of downloading and displaying static or animated graphics (such as logos, texts, patterns, and scanned images) directly onto clothes.

The carrier reckons that -- through the wonder of third-generation networks -- people will eventually be able to refresh the images on their clothes wirelessly. It says that combining the wearable screen and speech recognition (which FT has already prototyped in the lab) with wireless download capabilities will “enable users to deploy a screen to read IP text messages or view pre-selected film, modify the colors of their clothes at will, or surf on their favorite musical sites.”

It seems this optiwear will be all the rage by the end of the decade. We know this is true because Gartner/Dataquest tells us so. The research group reckons that 60 percent of the population in developed countries is likely to own a communicating garment by 2010 (particularly long lunch when you came up with that figure was it, boys and girls?).

At the moment, the application of the technology is pretty simplistic. You can download graphics from the Internet or create your own, via a laptop connected to the cloth. A remote control allows the user to switch through a series of images. So the wearer of this wonder material can become a walking bumper sticker.

But the fashion mavens at France Telecom have much bigger plans for the monitor material. With wireless capabilities, new information could be pumped at the clothes all day and night. So rather than a mere bumper sticker on legs, the wearer would become the walking embodiment of Times Square: graphics flashing, tunes blaring, touching themselves discreetly when they needed to “reply to messages.”

And there's more: “This unique achievement... can also apply to other spaces and types of media," says the press release, including "public safety (firemen fighting large fires), advertising [ed. note: no kidding!], the automotive industry, interior decoration (furniture and wall fitting applications), fashion (development of fiber optic fabrics), leisure activities (personalized signing on roller blades at night), and more.”

The other possible applications are almost too obvious to bear mention. Who hasn’t wished her chaise longue could pick up Oprah? Who hasn’t yearned for an interactive “I’m With Stupid” tee shirt? And firemen attacking fires while simultaneously playing “Resident Evil” on their hoses… Well, talk about an idea whose time has come!

The style council here at Light Reading is divided on the concept of wireless multimedia clothes. The suave Manhattanites in the office feel their black turtlenecks and berets make all the fashion statement they need. The rest of us think that it might actually be helpful if your underwear can remind you when it needs changing: "You've got lice!"

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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