The 1960s cartoon The Jetsons depicted a future of flying cars, jet packs, and children wearing antennas on their baseball hats.
More than 50 years have passed, and still no flying cars or jet packs. But tech-heavy headgear has arrived.
Kate Hartman studies Wearable and Mobile Technology at OCAD University. Her experimental prototypes explore the relationship between humans and technology. She investigates two main areas: “amplified technology” and “subtle technology.”
“The amplified technology is fun and exploratory,” says Hartman. “It is usually silly and disarming, so that people will engage and play with it.”
Hartman’s “Muttering Hat” for instance, looks like a cross between a felt toque and a Teletubbies costume. The built-in microphone and mp3 player allow the user to pass recorded sounds and messages to another person, who listens to them through earmuff-speakers.
Hartman’s other prototypes include a “Talk-to-Yourself Hat” which allows the wearer to speak out loud to themselves and hear it privately; an “Inflatable Heart” which lets the user visibly communicate feelings of admiration, lust, and anxiety; and an insulating “Glacier Embracing Suit” which lets the user hug a glacier without getting cold or warming the glacier.
“We really want to get people involved with what they want to experience and what occupies their body space,” Hartman says.
Many of Hartman’s devices have garnered attention internationally; the “Muttering Hat” and the “Talk-to-Yourself Hat” are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Hartman’s newest field of research goes in a different direction. Her subtle-technology prototypes try to blend technology in with regular clothing.
“The Nudgeables project takes everyday articles of clothing and allows the wearer to use the device ‘nudge’ a person within a short distance,” says Hartman.
The other person’s article of clothing receives the signal and vibrates, which is able to “facilitate communication in a crowded room or across an office.”
Hartman’s seemingly fanciful prototypes – which can take the shape of neckties, garters, bras, and broaches – are part of a growing trend that blurs the line between technology and fashion.
“Now that [wearable technology] has become more commonly available, what five years ago was considered outside of the box technology, like Google Glass, is now commonplace” says Hartman.
Hartman’s experimental creations explore issues of privacy, attention span, and technology-mediated social interactions – the very same issues that bedevil companies such as Google and Apple.
Her work allows commercial designers to deal preemptively with these issues, and create devices that address consumers’ concerns before the public is even aware there is a problem.