Wearable technology and smart materials

Wearable Designs by Paola Tognazzi from paola tognazzi on Vimeo.

Paola Tognazzi wearables projects phisolosophy and practice. 

Since 2008 Paola Tognazzi develops interactive electronic wearable,  embedded with movement data capture sensors, for public use. Her expertise is capturing, analyzing and filtering movement dynamics data to create interactive wearable systems that give the super power to make our body speak, learn to listen the silence, your body and the other.

These systems show that the identity of our movements is defined by the internal structure of the body: ligaments, muscles, skeleton and how they coordinate with each other.

These mechanics laws are only seen at the moment when the body begins to move.

The philosophy running her work is that the body is our machine, our interface to the world and we need to speak and communicate with it, to tame it, know it and understand it.

Trailer_Por que tenemos organos pares y solo un corazon? from paola tognazzi on Vimeo.

Later on, integrating electronics and 3D printing technology,  she started to concentrate on the development of  living systems to feel the movement and energy of the body on the skin. They are systems capable of capturing the kinetic energy of the movement of the human body and transforming it into electrical energy that re-powers the body itself in real time.

  • On one side she develops interactive tools to feel, listen, measure and analyze the movement of the human body.
  • On another she applies her tools to develop her prototypes of future skins, that enhance our self awareness, our senses and body’s ability to communicate, express, feel and empathise with others.

Paola Tognazzi devotes her research on wearables that do not just track your heartbeat or put your email on your wrist, but enhance ones strength, hearing, artistry expression, but above all that are controllable by the wearer.

She understands «Smart behaviour» as the reaction of a material to some change in its environment, that no material can be Smart in isolation, it must be a part of a structure or system. 

That is why in her designs, she analizes the whole system of interconnection between the wearable, the structure of the body and the emotional sensual and dynamics desires driving users.  To her technology means to enhance our physical ability to continue to move and engage with the world, physically, socially and emotionally.

Why is it important for bodies to speak and why is it very important to listen to them?

Up until now the technosphere has homogenized bodies and this is the problem we need to avoid and solve.

We need to accept that the human being is much more computable and predictable than a machine and it’s exactly the unpredictability, playfulness and freedom of machines what we desire for us.

Freedom from the conditioning we are vulnerable to, because of our submission to our fleeting emotions (rage, envy, jelousy, hate, love) . The question is not to neglect and erase emotions, but to understand them, listen to them and free ourselves from patterned bio pre programmed impulsive reactions, so we can  discover new outcomes, solutions, and experiences.

As humans we need to accept that AI and human beings are different things that must be appreciated and respected for what they are.

Short history of Wearables introduction:

Up until this point, wearable technology has been stuck in the information age. Our devices have counted our steps, measured our heart rates and brain waves, and tracked everything from our sleep habits to our breathing patterns. This data-focused phenomenon, known as «The Quantified Self,» was crystallised by Wired editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly when they coined the term in 2007. The rush to translate the human body into data sets that can be processed by our machines has resulted in an explosion of hardware devices – many of which do the same thing and aren’t always that technologically interesting.
If we make a correlation with the evolution of the internet first there was The Information Age marked by «increasing efficiency in the dissemination of information via the internet from producer to consumer.» Then it followed, the Social Age which is marked by «a fundamental change in the way we communicate and socialise.»
This model can be useful in thinking about the evolution of wearables. The wearable technology we’ve seen up until this point belongs to a kind of Information Age – data-driven, aiming to be as efficient as possible and primarily one-to-one in its focus to deliver wearers information about their bodies.
The next wave of wearables promises to usher in a Social Age, which is not marked by a movement away from information, but towards communication and self-expression.

In the year 2006 arrived the smart phone.

The modern smartphone has already given us the opportunity to fly through space (through maps or video conferencing), travel through time (through our photos or social networks), and increase our data access (through omnipresent Internet access).
Wearables will just be «more literal extensions» of these powers. They’ll offer us everything from more coordination to improved hearing. And it’s the quest for these powers that will drive user adoption.
Yet the problem for this field of investigation and development is that for many years the technosphere has homogenized bodies and people. To do this, they have obviated data that are very important for the development of functional wearables.

The reason why it was possible to obviate important data, it is because the human being has lost bodily perception, resulting in being subdued users of technology, but the consequences and the need for remedies are already beginning to show.

In the I+D technology field, the fact Humans are loosing sensitivity, the ability to caliber and balance their physical efforts and to feel the repercussion gadgets have on their bodies, has become a big problem.
If the users cannot feel themselves, they cannot give proper feedback and information to the researchers.

Definition of Smart Materials:

For a discussion of the present/future of wearables we first need to provide a definition of Smart Materials.

To define a Smart Material we really need to understand what is meant by Smart behaviour.
 Smart behaviour occurs when a material can sense some stimulus from its environment and react to it in a useful, reliable, reproducible and usually reversible manner. A really Smart material will use its reaction to the external stimulus to initiate or actuate an active response, e.g. with an active control system.
At this point is when we realize most of all so called smart wearables produced, during the Quantified self period, failed to fulfil the definition, of smart.

Useful, reliable, reproducible, reversible and controllable behaviour.
Achieving these qualities is towards what the wearable industry needs to work on.

The field of wearables investigation must re-territorialize the geography of our physical and desiring identities. It has to to be humble, acknowledge our ignorance about our bodies, listen to them and take into account their reactions when in contact with wearables, in order to evolve in a useful direction.

Technology has to work with and for the idiosyncratic body, to prevent injuries and side effects. The wearable industry needs to reverse the process, first think about hot couture custom made wearables, in order to develop interesting and useful technology. Only once materials, algorythms and functionalities work together in simbiosis with the body of the wearer, analize how is it possible to go for the cheaper standardized production process.

Right now We need Rebel Machines / Subversive Bodies to Unlearn automated behaviours.

Paola Tognazzi wearable workshops for i+D Technology Companies and Design Academies.

Workshops for I+D technology companies and fashion academies.

FUTURE SKINS: Push the little red button and I belong to you. The sensuality of the nature of electronics.

Through her background as an expert body centric designer, choreographer and 10 years experience developing physical interactive systems, for software companies and artistic projects, Paola Tognazzi gives workshops, to I+D technology companies and design academies, to analyze solutions to the problems that occur when introducing sensors, smart materials and exoskeletons in direct contact with the body and develop ideas of wearables prototypes that enhance human powers.

Wearables work only when Electronics and garment comnunicate and listen to eachothers, the movement of the interaction has to be negotiated within the whole design and not forced upon by individual elements.

In these workshops she teaches:

  • basics of electronics
  • programming logic,
  • process development strategies,
  • how to create tools for physical movement data analysis,
  • Games and theatrical practices to translate choreographic methodologies into interactive physical environments and experiences.

Designing a concept consists in the formulation of rules and limits.

Technical digital machines are handy but do not compensate lack of ideas and secuential logical thinking. The difference between a design that has an idea behind and one that does not it’s that the former can be prototyped for testings hand crafting with basic elements like paper pencils and tape.  Electronics cannot compensate the lack of meaning and purpose.

Like in math, solving a problem requires analizing the variables and developing a logical secuential development process leading to the solution. I love The honesty of coding and logic, as they show that without process there are no results.

Games and theater are based on rules, they are the most powerful tools to teach concepts and logic of coding and technology.

The workshops process development are custom designed specifically to find artistic and practical solutions of the company objectives.

Based on these objectives, she designs specific tools to give to the participants critical awareness of the useful data collection, analysis and filtering needs, in order to inform, code and test effectively the prototypes.

Paola implements physical methodology and choreographic techniques to teach the principle of electronics and the concepts of capturing filtering and calibrating data, to develop wearable tools to learn to know and trust our own embedded sensory system.

She applies her interactive tools Wearable_SuperNow, Dancing with Sheldon and the Microbit BBC board that allow the participants:

  • to understand and learn how to translate physical movement codes into programming codes, to implement and articulate their ideas.
  • to study and explore the physical structure and dynamics of the human body, to learn how to apply smart fabrics.
  • Test how to use them and coordinate together with them, without injuring oneself.

The key values ​​her workshops practices focus on, are

  1. to learn to listen and understand how the body works. In the movement of the body are all physics motor dynamics laws and mathematics we will need for the coding.
  2.  to understand and experience in practice what does it mean to work in fields like the wearable technologies, where many different expertiese need to interact together and results only arise, out of well informed communication and teamwork.
  3. How designing true data detectors can support and coach our own sensory system, till it gets the confidence to trust itself. 

They are extremely participative action based workshops where the attendants learn from each other and extrapolate the necessary data for the results desired.


Concepts Summary on which is based Paola Tognazzi wearable production and research:

1 the definition of what is smart material
2 the definition of what is communication.

The meaning of communication for Paola Tognazzi
1- Communication is Transformation rather than informative
declaration. Communication exists when participants transform each other through the transference of information.
2- Communication is Desire to be seduced.
3- Seduction is to be chosen by something that is alien to you. The distance between you and the other is fundamental for seduction to exist. Electronic devices – technology can create the possibility of a distance to create systems for self communication and consequent seduction.
4- To seduce is to appear weak to the seducee. Vulnerability can be perceived as weakness, which create a possibility of being act upon, touched. This can be translated with the importance of tangibility in the process of communication and seduction. if you can’t reach something this something is not vulnerable to you, to seduce needs tangibility.
5- Tangibility is the quality of being reachable (in that sense touchable) thus perceivable.


History: The relation of technological development with textile crafting.

Year 1939
‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves,’ declared Raymond Loewy, one of the Vogue contributors.In 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future: many of their designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.
They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten: that textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires.

The story of technology is in fact the story of textiles. From the most ancient times to the present, so too is the story of economic development and global trade. The origins of chemistry lie in the colouring and finishing of cloth. The textile business funded the Italian Renaissance and the Mughal Empire; it left us double-entry bookkeeping and letters of credit, Michelangelo’s David and the Taj Mahal. As much as spices or gold, the quest for fabrics and dyestuffs drew sailors across strange seas. In ways both subtle and obvious, textiles made our world.
Most conspicuously, the Industrial Revolution started with the spinning jenny, the water frame, and the thread-producing mills in northern England that installed them. Before railroads or automobiles or steel mills, fortunes were made in textile technology. The new mills altered where people lived and how they worked. And the inexpensive fabrics they produced changed the way ordinary people looked.
Then, a second conspicuous wave of textile innovation began with the purple shade that francophile marketers named mauve. The invention of aniline dyes in the mid-19th century made a full spectrum of colour – including newly intense blacks – universally available. The synthetic-dye business gave rise to the modern chemical industry, and yet more technology-based fortunes.
The visionaries of 1939 knew this industrial history. They knew, too, that a third round of textile breakthroughs had begun. Cellulose-based synthetics such as rayon were already common, and just months earlier, DuPont had patented its first polymer and heralded the nylon stockings to come. Like the dyes before them, 20th-century fibres would not be wrested from living nature but designed in labs. Once again, fortunes would be made and, once again, the textures of daily life would change.
As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.
This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts. As understandable as it might be, forgetting about textiles sacrifices an important part of our cultural heritage.

It cuts us off from essential aspects of the human past, including the lives and work of women. It deprives us of valuable analogies for understanding how technology and trade transform economies and culture. It blinds us to some of today’s most pervasive innovations – and some of tomorrow’s most intriguing.