Saturday, May 10, 2008

Grafting Technology Into Clothing

For a long time, people have thought about how “cool” it would be to have our electronics embedded right into the things we wear. Why carry your cell phone in your pocket when you can have it woven into your shirt? The realistic incarnation of this and other similar ideas have many flaws that prevent it from becoming a mainstream process. There are, however, many places where technology imbued clothing becomes highly sought after and extremely advantageous.

One of the first places I encountered this principal of high-tech clothing was actually through the book “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. In the story, there are agents that walk around with their computers strapped to their bodies and are always plugged into the “Metaverse” (Snow Crash’s successor to the internet). In the book these people are called “Gargoyles” and are talked about with a negative connotation. The book goes out of its way however to make the things strapped to them as an extremely outlandish display of poorly grafted technology.

There is one particular area where integration of technology into clothing highly interests me and is being actively persued. Future Force Warrior is a US military initiative that is part of the Future Combat Systems Project. As our military heads into the 21st century, they are trying to develop more effective techniques to make our ground combatant more effective. One interesting aspect of the future force warrior is a new dichotomy between a network of both autonomous and remote controlled vehicles being controlled from anywhere in the world.

There are a lot of buzzwords that the military uses when describing what a soldier might look like by 2032. They want clothing and personal gear that uses anything from nanotechnology, artificially powered exoskeletons, to magnetorheological fluid, which is a science fiction holy grail of bullet proof armor. The one thing that the military does not particularly care about is whether or not the general public wants to wear these pieces of technology. For the military, the social stigmas that occlude technological garb in the standard civilian world do not exist.

The military uniform situation is another place where it is relatively easy to justify the existence of all of this technology embedded within the clothing. The military is notorious for going to extreme financial measures for incremental improvement in their fighting capabilities. If it can help a soldier be slightly more effective at his or her job without being detrimental itself, then it is a justified component to have included.

Throughout the past few hundred years, the uniform of an armed service man has changed only in material and look. Modern uniforms use sophisticated techniques to conceal and camouflage, while colonial troops displayed bright colors to distinguish friend from foe. I think that the future, however, is going to see an extremely large change in the concept of military uniform. If the military gets everything that they want within the next few decades, soldiers will have to “boot up” their uniforms and will be encased in a suit grafted with a mesh of sophisticated technological enhancements.

34 comments:

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