September 11th, 2015

by Marsha Lewis, Inside Science

When the first electric lightbulb lit up a room 136 years ago, people were entranced by the glow from the technology. Now, computer engineers and artists are teaming up to use lights to illuminate our wardrobes.

“We design electronic fashion,” said Ray Krajci, a computer engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. But these dresses are more than that.

The dresses are specially designed to react to all sorts of stimuli, from the movement of the wearer’s body to the Earth’s magnetic field. Watch the video and learn more below.www.

youtube.com/watch?v=uddSmxfV_nM

By adding sophisticated electronics, what was once a fashion statement can now be “a motion-reactive, technology-oriented dress,” said Ben Horvat, CEO of Diffractive Design and an artist himself.

For instance, Diffractive Design’s white “Luminance” dress appears to glow from the inside out.  “Our goal for the white dress, was to kind of create something that looked uplifting, or kinda created this aura of light,“ said Horvat.

Horvat and his team have also crafted a black dress—called the “Pulse”—coated in lights that seem to move up and down the wearer’s body.

“As the person moves…based on body motion,  [the technology] sends undulating waves of light up and down the body,” he said.

But how do you get the dresses to do this, you may ask?

It starts with the design.

“I’m the one who works on all the insides of the dresses. I’m not very concerned with [what] the outsides look like, except where the lights are and how they perform,” said Krajci.

“We start building rough models, we start sewing things together real quick. A lot of coding and a lot of testing,” noted Horvat.

“It’s a balancing act of using delicate electronics in a high-stress environment in order to create some sort of effect,” said Krajci.

“Then we have the sensors and we say, ‘OK, we want to sense footsteps, let’s use an accelerometer.’ Then we can sense the movement of the hip. Or a temperature sensor or a compass,” Krajci said.

Red, green and blue LED lights are carefully placed throughout their creations.

“RGB are the three primary colors of light, so by mixing and matching various levels of those colors, we can make any color we want,” said Krajci.

The LEDs’ shifting light turns an ordinary outfit into a work of illuminated art—one that you could find in your closet in a few years’ time.

“I feel like it’s the next step, and we are in with that trend,” said Horvat.

Their next project?

“I’m kind of excited about a proximity-based design, where you have multiple dresses that respond to the proximity to one another. So if two dresses get close together, their colors maybe meld or blend, or if you get them all together, they are all very bright, or if you get them far away from each other they are all dim,” said Krajci.

Top gif: “Pulse,” a flowing garment that combines chic elegance with motion sensor light technology created by Ben Horvat et al. Gif created from Youtube video courtesy of Inside Science.