Stretchable electronics let you look like a futuristic superhero in this wearable tech jacket

Technology and fashion have moved a little closer together with the launch of a responsive LED jacket with an integrated soft, stretchable electronic system.

Dubbed Sporty Supaheroe, the jacket has been developed by Austrian wearable tech startup Utope.

Described by the company as a “high-tech jacket for the urban nomad”, Sporty Supaheroe features a soft panel of electronics that contain LEDs, sensors and microcontrollers, as well as a rechargeable battery and the typical on/off switch.

The jacket’s electronics are based on something pretty revolutionary for wearable tech: a stretchable circuit board.

Ordinarily tech is based on printed circuit boards (PCBs) that are rigid and lumpy, resulting in large hard lumps in the wearable that have to be hidden with pockets or clever tailoring.

But Utope – in collaboration with microelectronic heavyweight Fraunhofer IZM – has designed it so that only individual electronic components in the system are hard: the connections between them are soft and flexible. And even the components have been reduced in size, with an ultrathin switch, tiny but bright LED lights and a controller board the size of a €2 coin (or a US quarter).

Developed with white LEDs along the front of the jacket and red LEDs along the back, Sporty Supaheroe is designed to increase your visibility at night, and is particularly useful for cyclists, runners and pedestrians.

The jacket even comes with sensors to enable it to react to body movement and direction changes. But unlike other visibility wear employed by late-night travellers, Sporty Supaheroe wouldn’t look out of place in a bar or nightclub.

Not only is the jacket designed to boost your safety by making you more visible to traffic at night, but Utope has spent a lot of time ensuring that it is safe in itself. Short circuits and overheating are prevented through the use of a smart fuse and reverse polarity protection, and all electronics are embedded into a flame-resistant non-woven material.

This also means that the electronics are protected from moisture – normally a potential problem for wearable tech- and the system has built-in resistance to electrostatic charges from the textiles.

Utope is looking to take the jacket into mass production, and has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $69,000 needed for an initial manufacturing run.

But with an eyewatering retail price of €1,500 ($2,000), this is hardly wearable tech for the masses. The company says that the high price is largely down to the stretchable circuit board, which is why Utope started with premium sportswear to get its product out there.

Given time, we could be seeing this sort of tech in high street fashion, as Utope believes that with demand rising production costs could fall considerably.

Images courtesy of Utope. Via the Sporty Supaheroe Indiegogo page.

Best Foot Forward: the Haptic Shoes that Tell You Where to Walk

The world’s first interactive footwear has been launched in India by Ducere Technologies. Known as Lechal, the footwear uses haptic feedback to provide what the company is calling “complete eyes-off and hands-off navigation”.

Available either as a shaped, rigid insole or a shoe that resembles a soft Ferrari, Lechal works with an iPhone or Android app to provide accurate guidance on where to walk, run or cycle. The user inputs their destination and the app works as a satnav, running in the background on their phone to feed instructions to the shoes.

When its time to turn a corner the shoes buzz to let the wearer know. The direction of the turn is indicated by which shoes buzzes – right shoe for a right turn and left shoe for a left turn.

These shoes could prove a brilliant way to explore new places – no more hastily checking maps or smartphones to figure out where you’re going. Instead, you’d be able to confidently stroll around enjoying the sights without the fear of getting lost or looking like a gullible tourist.

The accompanying app plays well into this; it has the option of saving and sharing routes, which could lead to a global database of great sightseeing, cycling or running paths that can be accessed by any Lechal owner. For any tourists the app can also serve as a personal tour guide, providing info about notable sights as you pass them.

The shoes also have some appealing extras for fitness fans, including a pedometer, calorie tracker and the option to create personalised goals and workouts. The app has been developed to recognise different activities’ calorie counts, and the obligatory sharing options are here so users can brag about their achievements.

One of the shoes’ coolest features is the ability to record gestures. A certain movement with your foot –  such as lifting your heel – could be set to mark a location, allowing you to record places of interest with little effort. Or you could even become Dorothy; tapping your heels together could set you on your way home.

Of course gestures like this need to be relatively subtle to become popular. If you need to do wildly exaggerated movements in order for it to register then few users will be prepared to make themselves look foolish to save a bit of time.

Unlike many wearable tech products that quickly become vapourware, Lechal is actually on its way to market, with the insole version pegged for launch on 7th March. Better yet, its actually going to be affordable, with a target price of less than $100. No word yet on when the shoe version will follow, but it is expected soon after.

The purchase of a shoe will also do some good. Lechal was originally designed for use by blind people and has a lot of benefits for the visually impaired, so Ducere plan to use some of the profits from each pair sold to subsidise a pair for someone in need.

Image courtesy of Lechal.