_NEWS Wearable Technology

_Smart Garments

Form follows function: The promise of 'wearable technology'

_Genevieve Dion

Dion is an associate professor and design scientist in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and director of the Center for Functional Fabrics.

Genevieve Dion, an Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design assistant professor, says she envisions a fashion landscape that will one day be just as functional as it is beautiful.

“Fashionable technology could be developed to send warnings on the battlefield, detecting chemical warfare, or you might want to be have your garment transform colors in the most beautiful way on the runway,” Dion says.

The concept of “smart garments” has been a topic of research for Dion for the past three years. Now, with a groundbreaking $1 million agreement with Shima Seiki USA—a world leader in 3-D computerized knitting technology—Dion plans to further advance the field of wearable technology with a new state-of-the-art laboratory in the URBN Center building, which is currently under construction.

The last few years have been laying a foundation. Now with the lab, we will have a way to design, make and analyze these technologies.

“The field of fashionable technology is vast and can go as far as the imagination can take you,” Dion says. “It’s at the intersection of art, technology and design. It seems obvious that the field has great potential at Drexel.”

Smart garments are clothing made of fabric embedded with technology, with the potential to give written or spoken messages, or even monitor and communicate physiological parameters such as breathing and vital signs.

“The uses can range from being purely aesthetic to purely protective,” Dion says, adding that one goal technology is to create textiles without the added weight of electronics. “The whole point is to reduce the bulk and make technology soft and wearable.”

Flexible circuitry, flexible antennas and adequate power sources are embedded technologies that are key components to making wearable technology a reliable and successful operation.

“There are many questions about the field that have not been solved,” Dion says. “Right now, we’re looking at, if we have all these advancements, why don’t we see any products [in the market?] The last few years have been laying a foundation. Now with the lab, we will have a way to design, make and analyze these technologies.”

As part of the laboratory’s partnership agreement, Shima Seiki has donated 16 SDS-ONE APEX 3 workstations, three state-of-the art knitting machines and research and development support.

The SDS-ONE APEX 3 workstations are systems designed by Shima Seiki to accurately simulate fabric construction and provide researchers and designers the opportunity to create garment prototypes, import CAD specifications of their final products and produce made-to-measure pieces on knitting machines.

“Currently, we’re pushing development in the medical and safety fields,” Dion says. “My goal is to help advance and develop solutions that can be meaningful for the field, and ultimately create textiles that fashion designers can use to develop their work.”

Dion will serve as the founding director, facilitating lab research while promoting a collaborative environment between Westphal and the College of Engineering, the iSchool at Drexel, College of Medicine, College of Nursing and Health Professions and the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems.

“What I think makes Drexel unique is we’ve been able to combine a top tier fashion design program with engineers, medicine and science,” Dion says. “We have people who understand the comfort factor but also the technology, so we’re bringing a unique approach to solving the problem.”