Designing with Life

3 min read

Extending your skin with Biological Wearable Interfaces.

Amy was woken up by her Synthetic Immune System; it was programmed to nudge Amy every time her water level was running dangerously low. She got out of bed and put on her Deep Learning Insoles to monitor her vitals during her workout. Back from the jog, “Today is a bio-fashion day at work. Should I wear the cellulose suit?” Amy thought to herself. The cellulose suit was made with fermented cellulose but her favourite part was the gene-patch that reflected her gut health by sensing her gut microbiome data.

Though this may sound like a scene from one of Isaac Asimov’s futuristic novels, you may be surprised to know that the prototypes of each of the bio-wearables mentioned above have already been tested by various designers and biotechnologists. Oh yes, let the possibility of living in a world of bio-wearables in the near future sink in. The Synthetic Immune System is designed to outsource metabolic processes to external micro-organisms such as yeasts that can sense and diagnose problems like vitamin deficiency and deliver chemicals accordingly. Similarly, Deep Learning Insoles are powered by the Biorealize Studio that uses silicone-based disposable inlays containing microbial cultures to monitor the wearer’s biochemical vitals. Also using cellulose is the Cellulose Suit, a part of the ’Biological Tailor-Made’ project as conceptualised by bio-hacker Kazuya Kawasaki.

Creating bio-wearables has opened up a world of opportunities for designers. This world is filled with challenges never experienced before leading to the rise of a new breed of designers called the science-designers. Even with the advent of “smart material” performance and functionality are still to be delivered to the highest standards. Consequently, smart materials, technology and new design methodologies like biomimetic design are now catalysts for innovative design processes resulting in fresh user experiences. Think of the haptic suit developed by Tesla. The Teslasuit is specifically designed for virtual reality games that carry a neuromuscular electrical stimulation system under the fabric. 46 thermo-controlled haptic sensors are located on the front and back of the body that provides a smart sensory experience like touching and feeling objects inside the VR. This inspired designers at the Royal College of Art in London to create the WIM, a dress that delivers haptic sensations across the body. Electric-driven artificial muscles are embedded in the dress that delivers sensory simulations to the joints and skin while supporting the larger social cause of motor learning and rehabilitation.

Bio-smart dresses are also beautifully explored by the bioLogic of MIT’s Tangible Media Group Lab and the Royal College of Art. The designers and scientists collaborated to create a new performance textile that use bacteria as live sensors. Atmospheric moisture led the humidity-sensitive bacteria to expand and contract, which was studied and implemented into living interfaces between the body and the environment. A bio-printing system infused the bacteria into the fabric to create a dynamic material that responds to the body heat of a dancer or an athlete and expands to provide ventilation.

As bizarre as some of these innovations may sound, the Director of MIT’s Self Assembly Lab goes on to say that code will become the “language of materials” in the same way it is the language of machines today. And with “live material” made of bacteria and fungi, the possibilities for creating smart bio wearables are endless.


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