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The social network that you can wear



Once was a time when finding out if you were compatible with someone involved a complex social interplay of body language, conversational nuance and good food and wine.

Tomorrow it could simply be a matter of reading someone else’s T-shirt.

A joint venture between design teams at MIT’s Tangible Media Group and the Fluid Interface Group have incorporated the social network into a garment which signals to other wearers your interests, associations and even if people are compatible organ donors.

The group of MIT students behind the project – Viirj Kan, Katsuya Fujii, Judith Amores, and Chang Long Zhu Jin – wanted to look at ways of seeing how social media worked outside the confines of the computer screen.

“We wanted to examine more tangible ways of representing ourselves in social media,” Kan told CNN.

“While what you wear is very public, social media is able to show who you are to thousands more people and this creates really big social consequences but it often doesn’t feel that way.”

She said the idea behind the wearable was to probe this question further.

“Current technologies are very good at connecting people over great distances but they’re not so good at connecting them in the same environment,” Kan said. “There’s this gap and we wanted to explore that through what we’ve built.”

Sporting a chic alphabet design on the front, the T-shirt’s pattern is printed in thermo-chromatic ink with a thin circuit membrane under the weave.

Accoyding yo her, “We wanted to examine more tangible ways of representing ourselves in social media. The T-shirt uses Bluetooth to pair with your phone and all your critical data”.

After that, all the T-shirt has to do is detect another T-shirt within 12 feet of a receiver in its collar and the wearer is alerted through a haptic motor which literally ‘taps’ the wearer alerting them to the fact there’s another wearable device in the room.

As with all social interaction, the experience is graded.

After the T-shirt has alerted you to the fact there’s another wearer in the room, capacitive sensors in the shirt read either a handshake, touch or high five before the T-shirt starts transmitting your data and you begin wearing your heart on your sleeve.

“We’ve got a working prototype but we’ve yet to test it on users — that’s definitely the next step,” Kan said.

She said the ability of the shirt to transmit data is only limited by the imagination of the designer.

Groups that need to find each other in a crowd — from industry conferences to people who are part of a niche interest — are likely to want to use the clothing to find like-minded souls.

“Perhaps if you need to know other vegetarians — or those with a vegetarian lifestyle — so it helps to know if I was at a burger place who around me is a vegetarian,” Kan said.

While the shirt is still in the research and development phase, the group says that commercial sponsors have a growing interest in the product.

“We’re testing its capabilities — it’s hard to say what its limits are,” she said.

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