As electronic components continue to shrink in size and cost, they are finding their ways into more and more aspects of our daily lives. One of the application areas benefiting most from this miniaturization is wearable devices. These compact gadgets have evolved from basic fitness trackers to sophisticated companions that seamlessly integrate with our lifestyles. Whether it is tracking our steps, monitoring our heart rate, or providing notifications from our smartphones, wearables are quickly becoming an indispensable part of modern life.
One might expect that a rapidly evolving segment of the technology industry like wearable devices could still be largely unexplored by innovators. Perhaps the true utility of these devices extends far beyond logging data and providing the wearer with notifications. Maybe they can be deeply integrated into our lives, becoming an extension of ourselves that we can present to the outside world.
FashionTech designer Anouk Wipprecht has been pushing the boundaries of what wearable technology can — and should — be for two decades, frequently surprising an onlooking world with fantastic creations. Wipprecht’s latest creation, the ScreenDress, is no exception in this regard. In a unique way, the sense of personal expression afforded by fashion was blended with the utility of technology, giving rise to a thought-provoking canvas that exposes the inner world of the wearer.
The mesh-like pattern and the waist cutout shape of the ScreenDress might be found in garments on racks at boutiques around the world. But that is where the similarities between this 3D-printed dress and all others that have come before it end. An elaborate, six-pronged neckpiece, printed in a lightweight nylon material, hosts outward-facing round display screens driven by Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W single-board computers.
Where Wipprecht’s dress really gets interesting is in the way that the display screens are controlled. An electroencephalogram (EEG) sensor, mounted in a headband, is worn to accompany the dress. EEG measurements are continually captured by this brain-computer interface, and a machine learning algorithm converts the signals into an indicator of the wearer’s present level of cognitive load.
Factors like stress, fatigue, and frustration can increase an individual’s cognitive load. Normally, these feelings are an internal experience that is invisible to outside observers. But the ScreenDress uses this information to control a set of animated eyes displayed on the screens of the neckpiece. As the wearer’s cognitive load increases, the iris and pupil of each digital eye dilates, giving others a window into the wearer’s present emotional state.
Wipprecht’s goal for this project was to start conversations around what it might mean to wear expressive garments that expose our emotions. Many such dialogues are sure to be sparked while the ScreenDress is presented at the Ars Electronica Festival, which runs between September 6th and 11th, 2023 in Linz, Austria.