Despite the emergence of popular brands into the wearable tech market – Fitbit, Apple Watch, Google Glass, and others – I suspect when most average people hear the term, their minds inherently conjure images of blinking t-shirts. You have to admit, you thought they were cool when you first saw the colorful graphic equalizers dancing to music on the front of a Fruit of the Loom top.
But that was about the extent of it; they provided a few moments of entertainment, until they were behind me. But, several times upon seeing such attire, I wondered how long it would take for someone to create something more useful – or personalizable – that would not only appeal to a greater audience, but could also penetrate the business market as well. After all, they are merely mobile forms of digital signage.
Canadian firm MeU has something in the works, a wearable, programmable LED display that comprises 256 LEDs, a microcontroller, and a BLE radio. A smartphone app allows users to choose from existing display content or create their own.
Initially, the MeU team is focusing on biking, urban informatics (using data to create more efficiently functioning cities), marketing, and fashion – the latter two are certainly the most obvious and broadest use cases. But, conceptually, such a connected display could be used in countless vertical markets. In fact, CEO and founder Robert Tu intimates as much, noting that the open source technology on which MeU is built will allow developers to create any applications they can imagine.
Currently, the displays units are one centimeter thick at its thickets point, but as technology advances – especially battery technology – that dimension will decrease and the displays will be able to be sewn into fabric without any impact on wearability or design.
It creates an interesting marketing and advertising dynamic for the sports and entertainment world, for instance, where sponsorships already are a factor. Eventually, apparel real estate can be segmented by duration or time of day. Could it eventually reach the point of freelance marketing, where consumers are paid to promote products on their shirts – as opposed to paying for a logo shirt or hat?
Or, leveraging voice recognition, imagine ordering a beverage from a poolside waitress while on vacation, this interface woven into the shirt not only places the order at the bar, but calculates the cost, displays it on the shirt, and allows you to wave your wristband to charge the beverage to your room. And, if you need a signature, we are right back to the voice recognition.
We’re a long way from that – it’s not even waterproof yet (though HzO might be able to help with that), but MeU is headed in the right direction. Developers and other interested individuals can check out its Indigogo site.
Edited by Alisen Downey