2014 has been a banner year for wearable technology. The trend of integrating robotics into clothing has found all sorts of unexpected outlets, from sports, to parenthood, to impulse control.
One of the most creative leaders of this merger of fashion and technology is Dutch engineer and designer Anouk Wipprecht, who specializes in electronic couture—wearables with a futurist twist. Earlier this year she debuted a Faraday’s Cage dress capable of withstanding millions of volts of electricity, and she’s also known for outfits that paint themselves, or that record and expose the wearer’s mood.
True to form, Wipprecht’s latest creation is a delightfully creepy riff on the defensive behavior of arachnids. The new “Spider Dress” is programmed to ward off threatening social behavior with its robotic limbs. It will premiere at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 6, but Wipprecht released a teaser trailer this week that captures the eerie verisimilitude of the dress.
“The dress provides an extension of the wearers intuition,” Wipprecht told me over email. “It uses proximity sensors as well as a respiration sensor to both define and protect the personal space of the wearer.”
“Approach the wearer too aggressively and the mechanical limbs move up to an attack position,” she continued. “Approach the system under calmer circumstance and the dress just might beckon you to come closer with smooth, suggestive gestures.”
The sleek bodice of the dress was 3D printed in a selective laser sintering technique, and is adorned with 20 embedded proximity sensors and wireless bio-signals connected to an Intel Edison platform. This allows the system to gage the behavior of people surrounding the wearer within a radius of about seven meters, and also to monitor the wearer’s internal stress level.
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The dress bodice in its defensive position. Image: Anouk Wipprecht
“It knows when you are focused or distracted,” said Wipprecht. “It knows when your heartbeat or stress level rises and it records with a camera when your brain activity is highest to provide a sort of mood or attention map of your day.”
In this way, the dress is intended to not only inspire ruminations on the mechanics of outward interaction, but also on the wearer’s internal reactions to social stimuli.
“This gives an interesting interplay between co-control and education of your own body and mind,” Wipprecht told me. “If you wear a design that you partly control and it partly extends your agency through its autonomous actions, you start to question where you end and my system begins.”
Built over a period of five months with input from Philip H. Wilck of Studio Palermo, the bodice is the latest manifestation of Wipprecht’s overarching philosophy of expressing our biology through technology, rather than trying to mute it. “The Spider Dress in particular has the perception of extending the wearer’s instinct by attacking when someone enters the personal space of the wearer uninvited,” she said.
So if you happen to be at the CES this year, check out this inventive addition to Wipprecht’s electronic couture portfolio. Just be sure to approach it with caution, because this is one dress that will be watching you every bit as closely as you watch it.