Technology and fashion have moved a little closer together with the launch of a responsive LED jacket with an integrated soft, stretchable electronic system.
Dubbed Sporty Supaheroe, the jacket has been developed by Austrian wearable tech startup Utope.
Described by the company as a “high-tech jacket for the urban nomad”, Sporty Supaheroe features a soft panel of electronics that contain LEDs, sensors and microcontrollers, as well as a rechargeable battery and the typical on/off switch.
The jacket’s electronics are based on something pretty revolutionary for wearable tech: a stretchable circuit board.
Ordinarily tech is based on printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are rigid and lumpy, resulting in large hard lumps in the wearable that have to be hidden with pockets or clever tailoring.
But Utope – in collaboration with microelectronic heavyweight Fraunhofer IZM – has designed it so that only individual electronic components in the system are hard: the connections between them are soft and flexible. And even the components have been reduced in size, with an ultrathin switch, tiny but bright LED lights and a controller board the size of a €2 coin (or a US quarter).
Developed with white LEDs along the front of the jacket and red LEDs along the back, Sporty Supaheroe is designed to increase your visibility at night, and is particularly useful for cyclists, runners and pedestrians.
The jacket even comes with sensors to enable it to react to body movement and direction changes. But unlike other visibility wear employed by late-night travellers, Sporty Supaheroe wouldn’t look out of place in a bar or nightclub.
Not only is the jacket designed to boost your safety by making you more visible to traffic at night, but Utope has spent a lot of time ensuring that it is safe in itself. Short circuits and overheating are prevented through the use of a smart fuse and reverse polarity protection, and all electronics are embedded into a flame-resistant non-woven material.
This also means that the electronics are protected from moisture – normally a potential problem for wearable tech- and the system has built-in resistance to electrostatic charges from the textiles.
Utope is looking to take the jacket into mass production, and has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $69,000 needed for an initial manufacturing run.
But with an eyewatering retail price of €1,500 ($2,000), this is hardly wearable tech for the masses. The company says that the high price is largely down to the stretchable circuit board, which is why Utope started with premium sportswear to get its product out there.
Given time, we could be seeing this sort of tech in high street fashion, as Utope believes that with demand rising production costs could fall considerably.