Ever since Star Trek transponders, it seems that life and its scientists and inventors are scrambling to imitate art. Surely more than one young Trekkie grew up to be an engineer who delivered smart-phone technology to the world.
Now it looks like UK-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is helping researchers take a page from cinema by funding the creation of smart trousers a la the classic animated movie “The Wrong Trousers” featuring Wallace and Gromit. The 1993 film uses “Techno Trousers” as the vehicle to pull off a diamond heist while unsuspecting Wallace is donning the evil pants. Thanks to a story from The Guardian for A.) reminding me that I adore Wallace and Gromit and B.) alerting me to this super cool technology that’s on the horizon.
According to an EPSRC press release, intelligent clothing or ‘second skin’ will use artificial ‘muscles’ made from smart materials and reactive polymers which are capable of exerting great forces. This will be developed using the latest wearable soft robotic, nanoscience, 3-D fabrication, functional electrical stimulation and full-body monitoring technologies. They will include control systems that monitor the wearer and adapt to give the most suitable assistance, working with the body’s own muscles.
This technology is one of three research projects awarded £5.3 million (US$8 million) by EPSRC. Specifically, the smart trouser research will pool talents from University of Bristol, University of the West of England, University of Nottingham, University of Leeds, University of Strathclyde, University of Southampton and Loughborough University. The project has been awarded £2 million.
The uses for this technology are endless. Folks with mobility issues might find new freedom – let’s just hope that hackers won’t be able to tap into the control system and use the knickers for nefarious acts.
Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor and a huge Wallace and Gromit fan. She also knows that some day she may need the assistance of smart trousers. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.