Fashion Tech Goes Mainstream in Munich

Next week sees Fashion Tech take a step closer to the mainstream with the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’ showcase at the Munich Fabric Start trade show, in collaboration with FashNerd.

Top, Orange Fiber X Salvatore Ferragamo.  Above, Nadi X 

The showcase features a number of existing products, including the citrus waste recycler Orange Fiber’s collaboration with Salvatore Ferragamo, which proved the quality and appeal of their waste to cellulose textile.  Alongside this is Nadi X by Wearable X, the yoga legging that uses sensors and an App to guide your alignment during poses.

Flair Atelier’s mass customisation

Other brands in the showcase include Flair Atelier, which offers shoppers ‘base designs’ that they can customise within a set of design parameters on their website.  With mass customisation a key opportunity for product and brand differentiation, this business model looks to a changing consumer landscape, breaking the usual retail mould.  Their website states that they “create a unique digital pattern with your name on it and send it to our tailors in Italy”, suggesting the use of Gerber or Lectra digital pattern cutting software, which no doubt helps them achieve the 2 week order to delivery time.  It would be interesting to know if there is any other technology employed in the manufacturing process that would allow this business to scale and truly achieve mass customisation, or whether the remainder of the process is essentially manual, as per tradition. 

Thesis Couture heels

Thesis Couture have used technology, broadly speaking, for R&D to design a sole for high heels that redistribute weight more effectively than standard heels, thereby reducing pain under the ball of the foot and shifting some of the weight back to the heel.  Tackling the problem of foot pain by “using structural design and advanced materials” to replace the metal shank and cardboard in standard heels makes Thesis Couture’s development a smart leap in the engineering of a product that has barely changed for a hundred years. 

 

Top, Lorna & Bel.  Above, Emel + Aris 

Lorna & Bel will also feature in the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’, with their bags with built-in phone chargers.  London-based brand Emel + Aris, will also be presenting their heated coats. 

PerFlex 3D printed composite bra.

On the speculative side, the PerFlex project bra is a ‘proof of concept’ that harnesses the customisable sizing and 3D printing of plastics by PerFlex, in collaboration with Brigitte Koch of the Technical University of Eindhoven.

The PerFlex website provides consumers with the option to combine parametric patterns made by designers with their body data to get a personalised 3D printed product at the same unit cost as a mass produced item – truly achieving mass customisation.  This application of 3D printing combined with traditional textiles could be a game-changer. 

The significance of this fashion tech showcase is the placement of products that have arguably been viewed as ‘futuristic’ amongst mainstream textiles at a trade show, throwing them into the commercial spotlight.  

Target Open House Garage

Along with the recent launch of Target’s Open House Garage – a testing ground for new fashion tech products that are not yet ready for widespread industry roll-out – it seems like commercial retailers and the industry at large are showing increasing interest in fashion tech products and innovations and their potential to woo consumers.  

The Wardrobe of the Future runs from 4th-6th September 2018 at Munich Fabric Start’s KEYHOUSE.

Header Image: PerFlex

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Bottletop’s Flagship Store – A Symbiosis of Sustainability and Tech

I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before.  Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door.  Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls.  When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story.  Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.

Render of final store – Image:  Bottletop

The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines.  Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing.  Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.

So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year?  At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver.  “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected.  A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world.  The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic.  The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.

A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display

The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic.  This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament.  The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.

In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties;  And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament  – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance.  Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.

It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window.  Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration.  We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.

KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build

The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store.  Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort.  It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.

party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul.  Above, the Bottletop Store launch party

Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London.  The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store.  700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles.  I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.

Behind the scenes at AI Build

The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing  bag charms in the store window.

Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler

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Discussing the Tensions Between Fashion, Technology and Sustainability with Vanessa Friedman

Before meeting Vanessa Friedman, I considered the perspective she could lend on the tension between designers’ ability to create freely and the need to choose sustainable materials.  Is there a conflict?  Does working with sustainable fabrics limit designers?  What new technologies excite her?  What does she think of ‘wearables’?  I posed these questions and more to her, considering her answers in the context of the the wider fashion industry.

When discussing whether she perceives sustainability being at odds with unlimited creativity in fashion design, Vanessa told me “Fashion has always had that tension – sometimes it’s about pricing, sometimes its more practical restrictions, like the need for two armholes and a place for your head… that creates discipline for designers and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Sustainability is part of the challenge of design”.  She believes that when you are making something that is functional, which fashion is, you have to wrestle with the egregiousness of the product you are making.  Her standpoint is one of sustainable materials posing a challenge, rather than being a problem.

Vanessa cites the possibility that aesthetics may be shaped by the advance of new materials, smart textiles and new fibre composites – cellulosic and animal fibre blends, for example – as a huge opportunity.  If such advances could result in less seams required and ultra light materials, like those used by Moncler who are “making warm coats that can by smushed into a tiny ball for carry on”, then all these advances are exciting.  “Designers should embrace these challenges and opportunities as a chance for them to think differently – It should be something they look forward to”.

I am curious to know whether (and when) Vanessa sees a future where the discussion on sustainability becomes a part of the high profile seasonal fashion discourse during fashion month, taking place in New York, Paris, London and Milan, where she sits front row in her capacity as the Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of The New York Times.  “In my dream world, you don’t need a Copenhagen Fashion Summit that’s all about sustainability – this is not a discourse that is combined with a mainstream event because it is a mainstream event and it is part of best practice – period”.  Her take on the sustainability message is “we can talk about it or not talk about it.  You don’t want to be an eco brand, you just want to be a brand that happens to be sustainable.  It shouldn’t be the thing that sets you apart, it should be the thing that makes you part of the general conversation”. 

It’s Vanessa’s opinion that using sustainability as a sales tool and part of the brand message, has an upside and a downside.  The upside is the point of differentiation which can attract consumers, while the downside is that it puts the brand in a different niche for other consumers.  She reflects on Vogue’s former “eco or green design section of the magazine where they would feature a different designer every month… You don’t want to be there – you want to be with Gucci, you want to be with Vuitton”.  Reflecting on her comment, it seems to me that sustainability shouldn’t be a consolation or an optional brand choice – it should be quietly integrated into all fashion brands. 

Moving onto the subject of textiles and manufacturing, I asked Vanessa if she has seen any ‘game-changing’ developments emerging.  She highlights 3D printing and manufacturing to order, thereby eliminating stock and production processes (that have long and complicated supply chains) as the most exciting.  “If you can produce a garment in a very short amount of time to order for someone, you will change everything”.  Vanessa is thinking of the likes of 3D printed shoes and advances in digital knitting.  It is her opinion that the biggest change for fashion as a result of advances in technology is going to be in the production process, rather than “the accessory that tests your heart rate… To me, the really exciting opportunity is in how you manufacture”.  Evidence in the form of the Adidas Speedfactory and the mass customisation by NIKEiD support her comments, as do the advances in digital knitting that have led to a complete transformation of the entire footwear industry through the creation of Flyknit and Adidas Ultra Boost, amongst many other digitally knitted products with simplified supply chains, local manufacturing and short lead times.

Image:  Adidas Ultraboost

When I asked Vanessa which designers or brands that she feels are doing exciting things fusing tech and fashion she is of the leaning that there is a giant gap in this area.  She defines it as “A problem that no-one has quite figured out, between technology companies that can make gadgets, and they are trying to make them ‘fashiony’ – and fashion companies that make fashion and are trying to make them ‘techy’.  You need a third point of the triangle, which is someone who is going to figure out how to meaningfully combine the two”.  Enter a number of innovative cross-disciplinary labs and incubators emerging for the express purpose of making this happen, including Plug and Play and Mira Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab

On the subject of ‘wearables’, Vanessa pulls no punches: “I think ‘wearables’ is the most ridiculous word I have ever heard – everything is a ‘wearable’ – my jacket is a ‘wearable’ and it has no tech in it at all.  I don’t think ‘wearables’ has figured out what it is yet.  It’s a catch all word for techy gadgets you wear, but that’s not really a sector”.  To a degree, we may be talking semantics here, but based on the abandoned Fitbit and Google Glass, amongst others, it’s true that the gaping divide between where tech provides clever capabilities and fashion provides aesthetics and desirability to create life-enhancing products, remains wide.

Image top:  Google Glass       Image bottom: Fitbit

Reflecting further on the state of wearables, Vanessa reminisces about the iPhone and iPod “changing the way that everybody interacted with music”.  She says that in contrast, “there has been nothing like that with fashion – no wearable has achieved that”.  Considering the outcome of our discussion and my questions about sustainability playing a bigger role in fashion, it seems that to Vanessa’s mind, there is a tension between fashion and tech, but not between fashion design and sustainability.

As I wrap up this article, an invitation to the launch of Nadi X by Wearable X – the first Wearable yoga pant to ‘communicate with the user to ‘aid alignment’, hits my inbox.  Perhaps our ‘Wearable’ future is about to take a new life-enhancing turn towards the perfect fusion?  Stay tuned for the verdict.

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Wired 2016 Presents What’s New in AI, VR and Tech Activism

Despite an absence of fashion tech at Wired 2016, the annual conference (too dull a word for the excitement served up) demonstrates fashions in tech, of a sort.

It’s that time of the year pre-christmas when many a head is full of ideas, swarming with information from dozens of conferences, meet-ups, launches, talks and exhibitions when it’s time to cut through the noise and find out what to focus on – some of which you may have heard of and some you definitely won’t have.  Welcome to Wired 2016.

Those with true passion for innovation know that the most exciting ideas and creations arise from special situations involving special people.  Whether they be from tech, medicine, art, music, engineering or social sciences.  Ideally, they’ll be a mix of these fields.  I look forward to seeing fashion added to this mix as the fashion tech sector grows on the back of the launch of Plexal and other cross-disciplinary hubs.

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Before the talks kicked-off I browsed the demo area and was struck by the COLLAPSE SCULPTURES (above) by ScanLAB Projects, who gave a fascinating talk at Wired 2015, and are a team specialising in large-scale 3D scanning in architecture and the creative industries.  COLLAPSE is a collaboration between ScanLAB projects, dance company New Movement Collective and composer/cellist Oliver Coates.   This series of sculptures features digitally fabricated fragments of dancer’ limbs which are suspended, lingering where their performer once created them.  Traces of movement are solidified and stand as physical echoes.

From art to tech, standout talks at Wired 2016 included Hike, the Indian messaging app that works offline (useful in a country where connectivity is patchy and data is bought in packages) and transcends the dozens of languages and avoids complex keyboards by using digital stickers as tools of communication.  50% of households in India share smart phones, so the privacy app allowing hiding of selected conversations is a hit with young family members.

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Mustafa Suleyman co-founded DeepMind, now owned by Google, and is forging ahead with the application of AI to solve some of the worlds biggest problems.  The use of AI diagnosis in medical imaging can speed up treatment times for cancer and improve patient prognosis.  DeepMind are attempting to solve the problem of most NHS data currently being written on paper, and therefore largely inaccessible.  Mustafa says “In life, data is pushed to us.  In the NHS it’s passive”.

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Syrian human-rights activist Abdulaziz Alhamza is the co-founder of RBSS – Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently – a defiant broadcasting platform that exposes the devastation and brutality caused by ISIS in his home town.  RBSS covertly captures images and videos, sharing them on social media and acting as a news source for news organisations.

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Philip Rosedale is CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity – a shared VR experience that has global users sharing experiences by meeting in VR “locations” around the virtual world.  It’s like creating your own avatar, hanging out with other avatars and socialising with them, like you might do in real life.

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Adding to the Indian flavour running through the two days of Wired, Gingger Shankar told a beautiful story of her experience in the musical family made famous by Ravi Shankar and the plight of her mother who broke out of domesticity to sing on a global stage.  The gems of Wired are in the unexpected, and I captured her playing the ten-string double violin and sharing with us her five octave voice.  Enjoy, and stand by for part two of my coverage of Wired 2016.

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Plexal is set to be Europe’s Beating Heart of Health, Sport, Fashion and Tech Innovation

News to lift the Brexit blues.  Plexal, Entiq’s new venture at Here East is a shining beacon of not just the future of tech businesses in London, but a coming together of arts, design, culture, education and technology.  Uniquely positioned in what was the media centre for the London Olympics, Plexal, benefits from an expansive river-side space with access to world-class facilities including the data centre that powered the global broadcasting of the Olympics.   

It’s a bold vision delivered passionately by Claire Cockerton, CEO and Chairwoman of Entiq and serial entrepreneur, a title oft overused, but in Claire’s case describing her immense experience and ability to establish and grow businesses.  She founded Aesthetic Earthworks, a sustainable architecture firm, whilst at University in Toronto, Canada, and grew it into a multimillion dollar company before selling it to a competitor in the industry.  Following a subsequent MBA in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design (with a strong focus on accelerators, technology transfer institutions and business incubation) she helped establish Richard Branson’s ‘Centre for Entrepreneurship’ in Johannesburg before co-leading the launch of Level39, Europe’s largest technology accelerator for the fintech and smart cities industries in Canary Wharf.  She also founded Pivotal Innovations, a firm specialising in corporate innovation and accelerator programmes in the fintech sector.

The purity of the vision for Plexal arises from the stunning blank canvas and expansive space occupying the 68000 square feet ground floor of Here East, nestled into a corner of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park overlooking Hackney Wick and bordering the canal, with impressive terraces looking out across London city. The philosophy at Plexal, and more broadly Here East, is one of work/life.  The Here East plans extend beyond business and education (it will be home to Loughborough University, UCL and London College of Fashion Universities and faculties) to cultural experiences at the soon-to-be-established V&A at E20 and Sadler’s Wells, just across the park.  Artist pods will be housed in the Here East facade, facing the canal.  Boutique bars and restaurants (not a chain in sight) are setting up alongside shopping and civic spaces which conjures up the notion of a dynamic city within a city.  All of this will contribute to a creative and tech-driven Plexal.


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At the heart of Plexal is the aim to bring small business and corporates together for mutual exploration and benefit, on equal terms.   Flexible, adaptable spaces – all with facilitation and dynamic business development in mind.  Plexal presents a striking opportunity to build, found and establish businesses seeking to work across disciplines to truly innovate.  It will provide a wide range of services including practical ‘intrapreneurship’ and entrepreneurship education courses, a state-of-the-art testing and prototyping lab, acceleration and incubation programmes, events, networking opportunities and a range of funding alternatives. With an initial focus on technology innovation applied to sports, wellbeing, fashion and mobility, the centre will have capacity for 800 members, becoming the home for corporates and startups that are designing and creating the connected products that will improve our lives.

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I have been based in neighbouring Bethnal Green for well over a decade and the project at Here East feels like both a solidification of a scene that’s been steadily growing throughout that time, and the recognition that the vibrant art and design community, which I belong to, has a wealth of insight and inspiration to help propel Plexal into a multi-disciplinary, dynamic and exciting future.  Having been on a personal tour of the site with Claire, I can see the potential for a flexible layout incorporating a number of different business sizes and types, at various stages of development.

The choice of the Olympic site, of such ground breaking achievement beyond our imaginations, is a fitting and poetic home for this ambitious space.  Where better to set about tackling some of our trickiest problems in the sectors of health, sports, fashion, IoT, all under one roof?  Tech dreams by way of Olympic ones.  It’s all to strive for.

Plexal launches in May 2017, but an Innovation Forum and soft launch was held on October 27th, for which I curated a fashion tech showcase demonstrating the depth of creativity and talent in the fashion tech sector in London, including Modeclix, Headworks, Skinterface, Vegetarian Mushroom Leather by Kering Award finalist Irene-Marie Seelig, Holition’s virtual makeup app, the Bionic Toolkit by Jason Taylor, Village communications London Fashion Week VR experience and my own label, Brooke Roberts medical scan knitwear.  

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At the Innovation Forum, compered by Oli Barrett, Claire Cockerton delivered Plexal’s vision as discussed above, and Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, explained that tech business represents 10% of GDP in the UK versus 8% in the US and is the largest single sector, growing at a rate 32% faster than the next fastest growing sector. With GBP 45 billion in exports from the tech sector, we are best positioned to grow our tech and digital economy compared to other industries.  Other speakers, including Liam Maxwell, the self-proclaimed ‘CTO of the UK Government’, were also there to share their belief that this sector really is the economic future of the UK for the coming decades, and panel discussions including industry leaders from Team Sky, Centrica, Autodesk and the Open Data Institute added their voices to this rallying cry.  By the end of the presentation, I was buzzing with the belief that Plexal will be at the heart of this burgeoning growth driving the sector forward, with its vision of co-creation across the creative and technical sectors.

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 In the wake of Brexit, and the election result in the United States, Here East and Plexal provide a positive focal point for how our creative and tech-driven future can grow and propel us forward towards a brave new connected world and I am looking forward to following the journey.

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Superhuman – The Ravensbourne Postgraduate Show

Off the back of a frantic London Fashion Week I attended Superhuman, an exhibition of work by the MA and MSc graduates of Ravensbourne, spanning the degrees Communication Design, Interactive Products Features, Fashion, Wearable Futures, Applied Technologies (rapid prototyping and digital technologies), Interactive Digital Media, Moving Image and Environment Design.  The titles of these degrees alone fills me with wonder and optimism and gives anecdotal support to a claim I saw in a tangential teaser video by Future Hub, claiming that ‘40% of the top jobs in 2027 have not even been invented yet’, suggesting that the old educational silos and linear career paths of the past will not fit the bill of the future.  Step up Ravensbourne…

With the work of 29 graduates presented in a compact exhibition space it was a great deal to review and as such, my overview focuses on fashion and digital technologies.

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Farid Bin Karim is the first student to graduate from the MSc Wearable Futures degree and has created a body of written work entitled “Couturier and the Art of Survival: a Technologist’s Guide”.  This work is the result of Farid’s ambitious attempt to explore the appetite within the ‘closed-shop’ of couture for current and future technologies.

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His guide looks into the hypothetical future of the aesthetic embellishments of couture and the couturier in their struggle to remain relevant in an ever-changing and digital future.  Farid seeks to explain how technology can aid in this endeavour and affect the human perception of adornment as a wearable. It is an exploration in updating crafts and disciplines to add dimensionality for wearables of the future.

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MSc Applied Technologies graduate Jason Taylor’s  project “The Bionic Toolkit” explores the idea of changing the way amputees interact with the design world by creating intuitive design tools.  It begins from the basis that the human hand has shaped the way we use traditional tools to design, meaning that such design tools are difficult to use with a prosthetic limb, as these devices are not kinematically accurate.

Taylor began by deconstructing an MRI scan of his own arm to create a 3D digital model. This model then served as a template in which myoelectric sensors, servos, and microprocessors were inserted and arranged so as to preserve kinematic function.  Using an open source robotic arm by InMoov (created by friend of Techstyler, Gael Langevin) for initial testing allowed Jason to explore how tools could be incorporated directly into the arm, reducing the need for sensors that would usually grip an existing tool.

Jason explained that “Rigorous testing has allowed me to explore the most efficient ways in which an amputee could draw, write, paint, sculpt etc… typically by attaching existing tools to each phalanx and recording the level of control, and ease of use. This allows for varying DOF’s (degree’s of freedom) depending upon the tool being used”.  “Using Ravensbourne’s state of the art prototyping facilities has allowed me to 3D print many iterations of mechanisms and prototypes, using a combination of FDM and polyjet 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D CNC machines.”

He plans to continue with the project now that he has graduated, and wishes to design more tools that amputees can attach to the Bionic Toolkit.  “The next step would be to make my project open source, so that other designers can freely edit my designs, and improve the quality of lives of others.” 

Update: 13/10/16 “The Bionic arm now allows the user to not only draw, sculpt, paint etc… but also to interact with digital environments (great for 3D modelling, VR and AR), sculpt dense materials (acting as a dremel-like tool), and 3D print direct from the ‘finger tips’.  Actions and movements can now also be recorded and repeated for iterative designs – lots of improvements since we last spoke!”

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Siyue “Lulu” Xu’s designs propose that denim’s prevalent, cheap, fast fashion reputation can be reshaped by elevating denim design through craft.  The collection challenges the perceptions of environment-friendly fashion design and aims to show that smart design can both be aesthetically sleek and pleasing and at the same time reduce the rate of pollution from industrial manufacturing in a post-humanist future.

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Lulu prints, embroiders and enhances new and second-hand denim fabrics and garments, transforming them from ubiquitous items into rare collectibles.  Her re-worked denim seeks to challenge the polluting reputation that denim carries and is inspired by rebellion and anarchy, taking its manifesto from punk and 1980’s western club culture.  For more of Lulu’s work check out her collection book and Instagram antics.

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Zoe Alexandria Paton Burt’s work in progress is “Neither/Nor” (she is due to graduate from the MA fashion degree next year) and looks into the gender divide in clothing and how it perpetuates inequality amongst different genders.  She is seeking to highlight modern day use of language that is ingrained in western society that she feels undermines individual behavioural traits, expecting men to behave in ‘masculine’ and women in a ‘feminine’ ways.

Zoe’s collection synopsis goes on to explain that “the collection will encompass the use of 3D modelling and printing, textile manipulation, embroidery, a broad range of fabrics from the traditional to the techno”. The final outcomes will be a collection, fashion film and a documentary aiming to raise awareness of the fight for equality.

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The garments presented by Zoe under the name “Alexandria Paton” contain components that have been 3D scanned and modelled using Rhino, then realised with large format 3D printing.  Zoe is also experimenting with 3D printing directly onto fabric using the Ultimaker 2 and Faberdashery PLA. She prints on to both Velvet and PolyUrethane fabrics and plans to further experiment with 3D modelling and printing, incorporating traditional textile techniques to create a new and unique amalgamations of the two.  

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For more information on the Ravensbourne MA/MSc graduate show visit superhuman2016.uk

More information on Ravensbourne courses can be found here.

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Fashion Tech and Speculative Wearables in Imminent Space Travel

A recent visit to Ravensbourne has catalysed a shift in my opinion of ‘fashion tech’ as a discipline and led to an animated discussion around the reasons for the aesthetic gulf between fashion design and technology.  The reason for my visit was the European Space Agency initiative, ‘Couture in Orbit’ – a fashion show at the Science Museum in May, featuring the work of five fashion colleges in Europe: ESMOD Paris, ESMOD Berlin, Fashion Design Akademiet Copenhagen, Politecnico di Milano and Ravensbourne London, which set about planting creative seeds for what will become a necessity – fashion in space.  The colleges worked to a brief set by the ESA to present ideas and prototypes for fashion and accessories in the coming age of space travel.  In response to a number of nasty and aggressive comments on their YouTube page in response to a video of this initiative, the ESA wrote this:

Couture in Orbit is a student outreach project. The students are using materials and technology in their designs that are a spin-off from the space industry. Each school had a theme linked to an astronaut’s mission, such as environment, health, sustainability, and their final designs had to have practical benefits for life on Earth. No funds were exchanged and material and technical support was provided by Tech startups.

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Yes, the designs could be seen as somewhat ‘amateurish’ and ‘costumey’ in their concept and presentation and describing them as ‘couture’ and ‘fashion’ is not strictly accurate, however the idea here is key.  Fashion’s robust approach to design and creation of cohesive, refined collections does not allow for this kind of playful theatrics, but if fashion and tech are to advance there has to be some latitude where the end result is concerned. It makes no sense to judge this by the same standards as a show at London Fashion Week, for example, which exists for an entirely different purpose and is part of a totally different creative and commercial conversation.  The YouTube comments demonstrate an attitude that demeans the validity and power of fashion that I have seen previously hinder cooperation between fashion, science and tech sectors, but we will forge forward regardless.

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‘Couture in Orbit’ designs

‘It is inevitable’, said Ravensbourne students Farid Bin Karim and Sam Martin-Harper of the fusion of fashion and technology in clothing to come.  Their view was the same of space travel – we know for certain there will be inhabitation of other planets and commercial journeys to space, so we need to design clothing fit for space life.  The brief provided to the students by the ESA included an array of materials for them to use in their garments and accessories, including Sympatex, woven fabrics by Bionic Yarn and 37.5.  Being presented with a fixed set of materials is challenging from a design perspective, as fashion design often begins with selection of a fabrics to complement an aesthetic or theme held by the designer.  Removing this from the designer’s creative point of view throws up further challenges and provides experimental opportunities.  Karim leads me into a discussion about Design Fiction, a framework based on critical design which is the foundation of his speculative design approach on the Wearables MA course at Ravensbourne.  The modelling of future scenarios using design fiction provides a robust outline for predicting what fashion design could be in an age of commercial space travel, for example.  Karim selects three modes of technology – one that exists but he can’t access, one that exists that he can access and one that we can reasonably deduce will exist in the future – with which to begin to form a fashion tech product design scenario.  This Design Fiction framework and critical design, attributed to Julian Bleecker and Dunne and Raby respectively, and adopted widely in London as a modelling tool, begins to give me insight into how design for a future that we can’t yet imagine is conceivable and believable.

Farid explains that his self-closing helmet and kilt are inspired by sojourners travelling to space and creating their own exoplanet.  His concept hinged on the sojourners creating protective barriers around themselves that responded to atmospheric changes to give visual notifications allowing them to react and adapt.  His self-closing helmet is powered by muscle wires and his kilt, printed in collaboration with print designer and MA fashion student Laura Perry, has heat responsive ink which disappears at certain temperatures – a useful visual notification when things are hotting up.  Farid also used a UV responsive pigment – another useful visual alert.  Karim’s work is inspired by an array of creatives including artist Lucy McRae, writer HG Wells and movement artist and coder Nicola Plant.

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Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and reactive ink kilt, in collaboration with Laura Perry

Sam Martin-Harper presented an altogether more nostalgic proposition in which she expressed her belief (and hope) that we will always remain rooted to earth.  Her love of biology and particular interest in the techniques for growing plants on the International Space Station, including the work of astronaut Tim Peake, drove her to create a 3D printed neck piece containing plant life.  Admitting this is a conceptual piece, Sam explained how she used inspiration from the ingenious folding joint sections of space suits to inform the shapes and details of her design.  Sam is completing her BA and is still exploring career options.  One thing is for sure, she cannot see a future of fashion without the integration of tech.

IMG_1283DSC01973Sam Martin-Harper’s 3D printed plant-filled neckpiece at ‘Couture in Orbit”

A discussion on the future work of Farid centres on his passion for data as a tool for creating responsive and adaptive design.  He has been learning coding and electronics as part of his Wearables MA and sees future fashion as an extension of the individual – as ‘body centric’.  On graduation, Karim is hoping to work with a multi-disciplinary research facility to conduct collaborative research and design.  When I ask if he would consider a traditional design job (he is a fashion graduate, after all) he reflects on how he has had to unlearn and relearn aspects of his design approach through his Wearable MA training in order to realise his part industrial, part fashion creations.  It’s clear he’s happier in unchartered territory.

The discussion turned to couture and obsolescence.  Karim is curious about the possible inclusion of technology in couture techniques in order to aid their survival, but this is completely at odds with the fact that couture means made by hand.  This meaning of couture would therefore need to change for this to happen.  I ponder a possible alternative in the form of technologies so specialised, rare and unique that they create a techno-couture instead.  Here we begin to think about fashion and design being driven by technology, rather than the other way around.

In these discussions, as Alexa Pollmann, Course Leader of the MA Wearable Futures course, points out, it is important to consider the designs of Sam, Farid and the other students from Ravensbourne as proposals and prototypes – not final ‘fashion products’ per se.  Ask any fashion designer working in the industry today their opinion of fashion tech and they will overwhelmingly tell you that it is gimmicky, ugly and not desirable.  Herein lies the chasm between tech and fashion.  Looks really count, and so does magic.  Fashion designers bring an ephemeral quality to their creations, says Alexa.  Fashion designers dream up and articulate experiences better than any other design discipline.  They create magic in a way that is often so difficult to define it just feels ‘right’.  Fashion is entirely subjective and indisputably powerful.  For these reasons, Clive Van Heerden, co-founder of vHM Design Futures studio in London, which develops materials and technologies for a host of Wearable Electronic business propositions in the areas of electronic apparel, conductive textiles, physical gaming, medical monitoring and entertainment, insists on having a fashion designer in his creative team on all projects.

DSC02070DSC02181Designs by students from Politecnico di Milano

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But why are fashion designers resistant to incorporating tech into their designs and what is slowing down the advancement of the fashion tech fusion?  One factor is that the development of tech-enabled/collaborative products takes considerable research and development, and therefore time.  It requires dedication to solving specific problems related to firstly a single concept or product, which is at odds with designing, sampling and creating whole fashion collections which are visually cohesive within a strict time frame (weeks or months at most), which then have a finite sales period before the next collection is created (making the current one obsolete, for want of a better word) and the cycle continues.  The traditional cycle of two main collections per year for high end fashion labels has switched to four in recent years, meaning there is even less time for research and development.  Knowing this, it is easy to see why the work of fashion designers is at odds with the research and development required to incorporate tech, and vice versa.  In a previous interview with designers Fyodor Golan, they pointed out that fashion tech collaborations often have a required fixed outcome within a tight time frame, limiting the amount of integration possible.  This goes some way to explaining why sometimes fashion tech looks more ‘stuck on’ than cohesively and meaningfully designed and produced.

Read more about the technologies involved in the Couture in Orbit project here

Header image: Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and adaptable ink kilt at ‘Couture in Orbit’

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The Athletic-Tech Garment Making the Virtual Real : Introducing Skinterface

We are fully versed in the realm of our physical world and increasingly dipping into the virtual world through virtual reality experiences, but what of the space in between?  What of the transition realm – a corridor, if you like, that lies next to the real world in which we transition through before arriving at a state of VR immersion?  Think about the experience of entering the virtual world and the need for all of our senses to be stimulated in order for the virtual experience to feel real.  Drill down even further to consider the organ through which we physically feel – the skin.  Herein lies the connection and transition area of real to virtual.


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The Matrix corridor – a representation of the space between the real and virtual worlds

Skin is a powerful tool that allows us to communicate on a highly intricate level.  It also communicates who we our biologically and culturally, making it a potent social and physical organ.  What happens when a team of curious minds consider the meaning of skin and how skin can transition us from a physical to virtual experience?  Skinterface is born.

Skinterface is the work of RCA students Andre McQueen (Footwear designer and trend forecaster) , George Wright (Engineer), Ka Hei Suen (Kitchen Product Designer) and Charlotte Furet (Architect) who embarked on their MSc / MA Innovation Engineering Design course out of curiosity and a desire for collaboration outside of their immediate professional realms.  An admiration for each other’s individual project work led them to work together as a team of ‘sensory architects’.  The initial exploration for the Skinterface project was broad and posed months of questions about the sensory experience and perception of touch, but began with a very simple test.  The test was wearing a plastic bag on the hand and immersing it in water and noting the sensory experience.  Although the water doesn’t touch the skin it is still felt – the sensation of water on the hand is experienced.  This underpins the working nature of the very human and very wearable piece of tech that is Skinterface.

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Mood board images and the initial plastic bag test

The first question posed at the beginning of project related not to creating a defined product, but how to create something that was very human, integrated with technology.  Touch is a powerful human tool and to relay this using technology seems a powerful new dimension in communication in a digital age.  Skinterface is a one way communication tool – the sensory experience is delivered according to the location of the skinterface garment within a 3D mapped space by tracking its coloured surface details and delivering the sensory experience accordingly.  An extension of this is a dual tool using the same tech, but allowing pressure on one part of the tool to effect the sensation delivered by the other. The implications of this are potentially to touch someone in another location, even in another country. 

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Skinterface at Milan Design Week, 2016

The set of garments created by the team deliver sensory pressure by essentially using a speaker in reverse, so that sounds create a varying electromagnetic field, which in turn is calibrated to produce varying sensations on the skin.  These sensations are delivered via a coil and magnets encased in 3D printed caps, created at Imperial College London and adhered to the garments, which require close skin contact to accurately deliver the sensation.

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Imagine the sound of a bird flying past you and the sensory experience induced by the change in air pressure caused by the bird’s movement – that’s what Skinterface delivers.  In a virtual world, the sound of all manner of objects can be programmed and delivered via the coil and magnet-driven modules that apply just the right amount of pressure to mimic that same sensory experience as though it had happened in the real world. This skin beyond skin is poetically demonstrated in the video below, from beginning to end.

When asked about the aesthetic component of the design, Andre cited the current athletic lifestyle (or athleisure) sportswear evolution and brainstorming about what clothing will look like 40 years from now.  Andre is a Cordwainers graduate who launched a streetwear fashion label then moved on to fashion forecasting, working extensively with global brands to evolve their trend-driven products.  His curiosity for exploring the technical side of fashion and design led him to the Innovation Engineering Design Masters at the RCA, but he still has a firm grip on where the fashion market is headed.

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A selection of Andre McQueen‘s design work

When I ask the team about their view of this exciting innovation could be used they mention the sex industry, gaming, entertainment and fashion.  The sex industry is an obvious one, as is gaming and entertainment, but fashion?  Andre sees an opportunity to translate the sensation of wearing a multitude of different fabrics into a sensory ‘digital library’ that can be felt by wearing Skinterface.  Wonder what your cotton trench coat would feel like in felted wool?  Skinterface can give you that sensation.  There is as much scope here for customer-led retail experiences as for fashion designers considering the weight and drape of various fabrics when designing garments.    

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A library of sounds could be created to induce all manner of sensory experiences through the Skinterface suit.  The team talks about a dream open source library of thousands of compositions, and even whole scores for feature films that could be felt while they are watched.  Theoretically, the score for each character could be written according to what they experience in the film and as a Skinterface-wearing viewer you could experience it too.  The thought of experiencing a film dozens times from a different character’s point of view is mind-blowing. 

I leave the team with just five weeks remaining before they complete their studies and exhibit the work arising from two intense years of exploration, research and experimentation.  On my way out of the Darwin Building at the RCA, Andre and I muse about a common paradox in fashion design – final design decisions are often made at the beginning of the design process, leaving little room for curiosity, exploration and design evolution.  Educational institutions including the RCA are a unique breeding ground for such curiosity and I look forward to seeing where this has taken the IED students, both physically and virtually.

The RCA MA/MSc Innovation Engineering Design exhibition is in June at the Royal College of Art

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Fashion Mannequins Transformed Through 3D Printing

To chat to Paul Sohi is to geek out over all things 3D printed.  He takes me on a journey from 3D printed mannequins (the subject of his PhD) to a new polycarbonate composite prosthetic leg he is developing with a team spanning half a dozen countries but centred at Autodesk in San Francisco, for an Olympic cyclist bound for Rio later this year.  It’s a helluva ride, so buckle up!

What initially prompted me to get in contact with Paul was a question I’ve been pondering whilst working at the fringe of fashion and technology for some time.  Why aren’t there robot models?  And why don’t I create the first robot modelling agency?  It makes sense for so many reasons, but more on that in a later post.

Paul’s research and development at the Royal College of Art in conjunction with the Makerversity at Somerset House centres on solving an immense problem in mannequin manufacturing.  Mannequins are currently sculpted by hand before being moulded and cast – a time consuming process which imposes mass standardisation.  As someone who has hired mannequins for London fashion week I can attest to the limited offer currently on the market. Consider a museum requiring a custom-sized mannequin to display historic clothing, and then consider a new technology allowing such a mannequin to be 3D printed in days rather than laboriously hand made in months.  Then consider that currently, the best way of creating mannequins to display such costumes is to 3D scan the clothing to determine the volume inside of them when worn on which to then base a mannequin shape – requiring reverse-engineering of the mannequin to mimic someone that did actually live and wear those clothes at a point in historical time.  It’s on consideration of these weird truths it’s possible to begin seeing the benefit of Paul’s creation of an algorithm designed to transform actual body (or garment) measurements into 3D printed mannequins, rather than relying on artistic creations inspired by – but anatomically untrue to – the human body.  The key here is that measurements entered into Paul’s program are manipulated and represented visually in line with actual metamorphic landmarks.  For example, height has an impact on body proportions.  It is incorrect to simply scale a mannequin up or down directly proportionately – there are intricacies in height ratios that Paul’s rigorous algorithm takes into account so that the mannequins he 3D prints are true to the human form, rather than a sculpted representation of an imagined ideal.  Shorter people’s legs are proportionately longer than their torso compared to taller people, for example, but you would not detect this by looking at them – both body proportions simply look ‘right’.  Herein lies the difficulty in artistically interpreting the human form where size and fit are concerned.  

IMG_1749DSC01633Paul’s 3D printed scale mannequins being printed in parts for later assembly

The motivation behind Paul’s PhD was to find out if he could create a 3D printed mannequin using mass customisation algorithms built upon an immense amount of research underpinned by the International Standards.  These standards provided all the necessary body measurements to create a digital mannequin which can then be 3D printed.  

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An important point made by Paul during our conversation is that mass customisation via 3D printing is now possible on a production scale – it has evolved beyond prototyping.  This means that standardisation of mannequins is no longer necessary and the skilled work required for each fashion retail market does not have to be localised.  Since a ‘standard’ size small in Asia is nothing like a ‘standard’ size small in Europe, mass customisation shatters geographical boundaries and means standardisation – at best badly sized and limited in terms of body shape and at worst pushing damagingly unrealistic body ideals – is no longer necessary.  The mannequins Paul is developing can be tailored according to cultural specificity.  Regional cuisine radically effects body shape, size and proportion and genetics also has a considerable impact.  These factors can be taken into account in Paul’s algorithm.


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A complete 3D printed scale mannequin

From an aesthetic point of view, every fashion brand has its own ideal mannequin which in some cases may be seasonal.  These are made from master moulds and if done by hand using current methods, take months.   3D printing takes a fraction of the time, allowing greater flexibility and mannequin diversity.

Components of a scale model printing whilst Paul and I chatted at the Makerversity

Paul describes his work as creating avatars and body forms.  He is currently working with the Victoria & Albert Museum, London to find rapid solutions for mannequin making for display of historic costumes.  As an extension of this revolutionary development for display mannequins, Paul is looking at how the current mass standardisation of garment making mannequins relates to sizing within the fashion industry.  There is no datum on mannequins – no system for sizing and no standard approach to it across the industry.  When creating clothing, we have anatomical landmarks (nape to waist, for example) but the way this is measured is still variable.  Paul is determined to standardise measurement taking and sizing to put an end to what is a slow, laborious and repetitive process.  He makes the point that, for example, three people in the fashion industry will measure the same dress and get three completely different sets of measurements .  Compare that to Architecture – or any other creative industry – and you would be laughed at for not having and applying a set of standards.  He makes a strong point and I have personally dealt with this often painful aspect of sampling and production in the fashion industry.  Paul is confident that a set of standards can be extrapolated from the points mapped in his algorithm.

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Interestingly, Paul tells me that the standard nape to waist measurement of garment making blocks used routinely in the fashion industry came from 1920’s military uniforms.  Today’s approach to garment sizing and pattern proportions has only marginally evolved since then.  ‘Standard sizes’ are in truth specific to each individual fashion house and are not related to any actual standard, which to me makes sense because each fashion house/brand has it’s own silhouettes and ‘fit’ which are part of its aesthetic, but I can see how this isn’t customer friendly and how in an increasingly e-commerce driven industry sizing standardisation would reduce returns and help consumers make better style choices.

Returning to museum mannequins, the Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was one of the most successful exhibitions of all time but despite this, when it ended it was not picked up immediately by another institution.  The hand-sculpted mannequins, made specifically for the garments they displayed were destroyed.  Shortly after, the V&A took on the exhibition, and set about hand-making the mannequins all over again.  Almost a year later they were complete.   If these had been created using Paul’s 3D printing method this would have been simpler, quicker and less expensive.

main_imageSavage Beauty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

The exception within the Savage Beauty exhibition was the Plato’s Atlantis 3D printed mannequins which closed the exhibition.  See the 3D rendering by Asylums FX and a photo I took at the exhibition below:

IMG_0999Plato’s Atlantis, Savage Beauty, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When I ask Paul about the response so far to his work he says it has been met with distrust and caution from a number of museum curators and fashion designers who feel things are working just fine as they.  The fashion industry is famously and paradoxically resistant to change (the out-of-synch seasonal cycles and some luxury brands still refusing to sell online are just two examples) but why isn’t the way things are done being challenged?  Why can’t we do things better?  Why can’t we explore technology to do things in a better way?  As long as we pose the questions, it appears technology will provide the answers.

Paul and I leave the Makerversity disagreeing over the recent Batman V’s Superman film (he’s a fan, I’m not) and agreeing on the amazingness of The Hulk.  I wish him well on his bumpy but worthwhile journey to fashion mannequin disruption.

Header image: Paul Sohi

For more about Paul’s work, click here and follow him on Twitter

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Martha Lane Fox’s Women Warriors, 3D Printed Sound and ‘Laughter Art’ in Outer Space. It must be Wired 2015!

Jam packed. Back-to-back nuggets of our tech-driven future being dispensed by the world’s game changers. That’s how if feels to sit in the front row at Wired 2015.

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Advances in technology are set to drive healthcare, music and art. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is enabling us to begin to explore healthcare based on individual’s biology and behaviour (sensors record this information and use it to create a personal health map, which is then used to assess how multiple factors combine to tell us whether or not a drug will work for that individual, for example). When you look at this information on a large scale (and using AI, we can effectively process this big data) it can then be used to shape drug trials and cut down the usual 10-15 years and 20+ billion dollars it takes to develop a drug, which for many people, may not even work. This is powerful stuff and it’s what BERG is all about. Speaker Nivan Narain had me at the Salvador Dali-like graphics, but once I got to understand the implications for not only treating, but preventing disease I was fully inspired.

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Gabor Forgacs is taking this concept a step further and asking what a world of bio-printing would be like, where we can 3D print tissues and organs. To be clear, the printing of organs is not yet possible (there is currently no way to provide nutrients and blood supply to 3D printed organs so they can’t be kept “alive” whilst they are being printed, but what is possible is the printing of small areas of tissue that can then be used to perform drug (or other) trials on and determine effectiveness of a drug on an individual (in the most specific sense), or humans (in the broader sense) rather than on animals. This would far improve current drug testing methods which, partly because they are carried out on animals, unsurprisingly result in hit and miss effectiveness for humans. It’s the dawn of a new and exciting era for healthcare, with money-saving (maybe it can help slash our NHS bills and slow down privatisation? – wishful thinking perhaps) and improvements in treatment. I am willing Gabor to develop this technology – and fast.

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In the creative space, Eyal Gever is an artist whose “palette is code”. He develops visual representations of sound, as demonstrated by animated graphics responding to beatboxer Reeps One’s voice. It’s a blast of auditory and visual stimulation, making it hard to imagine the sound without the graphics and vice versa. Eyal has also created a water simulation piece that captures the movement and physiology of a dancer in real time. The result is a digital rendering of a liquified dancer exploding into droplets and reforming as if orchestrated by the sound. It’s enthralling.

Eyal’s work extends to 3D printing moments in time captured digitally then created physically and installed amongst great and revered artworks including those of William Turner and Matisse.

His current next project revolves around a project with NASA aimed at 3D printing in micro gravity on the International Space Station. This continues on nicely from a talk I attended the night before held by Pint of Science at King’s College. The headline speaker was NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox and Eyal’s work helps complete a narrative Ken began about collaboration, cross-disciplinary work and how creative the teams are while working on the International Space Station. They spend a huge amount of time devising and performing informal experiments and photographing space and the earth below.

Eyal’s earlier sound sculpture work

The mandate for Eyal is to create art in space. He decided to capture sound, create it’s shape digitally (an extension of his previous work) and 3D print it before releasing it into space. The sound he felt captured the spirit of humans best was the laugh. Want to send your laugh to space? The Laugh app is available to download (but is apparently well hidden) so you can record your laugh, or the laugh of those around you, submit it for selection and potentially send your laugh in physical form to space!

One of the day’s most highly anticipated speakers was Martha Lane Fox. The mild irritation I felt as she sat a few seats for me and chatted to her assistant during the talks before hers (she was no doubt doing last-minute (sorry, couldn’t help the pun!) prep turned to disappointment when she failed to offer any solutions to the myriad of problems we face as women in tech (or rather resulting from not enough women being in tech), which she duly reminded us of during her talk. Yes, we know there aren’t enough women working in tech. Yes, we know women are just as capable/intelligent/resilient as men. We also know that people like Sue Black, Emma Mulqueeny and Anne Marie-Imafidon are doing great work to encourage girls to study STEM subjects and enter into STEM careers, but there has been a decline in the number of women entering into the professional world of science and technology for years.

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Martha’s impassioned analogy of wanting to create a warrior hoard of women inspired by her journey to the Altai mountains in Mongolia, while she studied its women and how they removed their breasts so as not to impede their use of a bow and arrow (and therefore perform their duty equally alongside men) is a poetic one, but does it help our current debate? Martha’s rhetoric sticks in my throat. I wish she had come at this topic from a current standpoint, with a little more reality and a little less fantasy. On the ground, London-based Founders and Coders are training women to code in four months, for free. Two of them (Michelle and Claire) are currently in Poland competing with their ModeForMe colleagues to win investment for their ‘kickstarter for fashion’ app. In their spare time they run a group called Prosecco JS (girls who love Prosecco and Java Script) and teach coding to other women (for free) at Founders and Coders. I wrote a full blog post on Michelle and Mode for me, and they are just one example, but you see there is movement in the right direction and it’s inspiring. Martha’s talk does such startups and groups a disservice. Offer solutions, Martha. You’re preaching to the converted.

Header Image, Wired.co.uk : Martha Lane Fox

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