SPESA: Textile technology is LEDing fashion
Remember the earlier entry on LEDing fashion? We found a supplier in the same space. The company is called King’s Metal Fiber Technologies; they’ve developed a variety of useful and fun applications. I don’t see the two enterprises as competing, Leah Buechley’s kit is appropriate for one-off DIY projects while King’s is geared to commercial application. I intend no criticism in saying I like King’s (hereafter abbreviated as KMFT) controller much better than Buechley’s Arduino kit. KMFT has more resources and Buechley has other priorities.
One cool thing about tradeshows is that you get to see the newest stuff, often prototypes of what’s to come. Suppliers will develop samples of what their product will do so manufacturers will buy it. In this case, KMFT supplies “smart” textiles, a combination of various fibers some of it stainless steel with a variety of electronic capabilities. Unless you are already looking for that and know what it is, that doesn’t excite anyone. So KMFT made a few product samples using their fiber technology to illustrate its capabilities. All the samples are ugly but who cares? KMFT gives you function and you provide the gloss.
One such proto-application was a pair of iPhone gloves (above). Yes really. The photo on the right isn’t going to convince you to buy a pair -it’s a prototype- but the differently colored fingers are functional. Ever tried to use your iPhone wearing a pair of gloves? The screen won’t respond, you have to remove your glove. Not so with these gloves. It’s pretty cool. It will be up to designers to design attractive glove products using the fiber technology. People will buy these just because they’re cool. Geek gloves for everyone!
Another product KMFT has is LED piping which can be sewn into collars, cuffs and other seam lines to increase visibility. You can have the LEDs spaced at given intervals (1″ etc) -which reminds me of something else. With all new technologies, there are restrictions. Meaning, there’s not nearly as many off the shelf products as we’d like which would permit low volume purchasing. Currently, the LED piping is custom as are the controllers and configured to customer requirements. Once product demand ramps up, the availability of stock products will increase. The sales rep (Ethan) says they’ll have stock controllers in a few months.
The other products they have are for heated garments. Other people were looking at those so I had to pass on getting a closer look and orientation. These are pliable and withstand repeated wash and wear. Eric made note of their built in sensor products. Maybe he’ll explain more in comments. The interesting thing about the sensors (with LED display) is that these are visible and conspicuous. You might think this a downside but it’s a perfect opportunity for branding. Photo at right shows a heart rate sensor attached to a polo shirt sleeve cuff.
Yet another cool prototype they showed was a cyclist’s glove. Eric shot a video so you can see how it works. Bring index finger and thumb together and the extra large LED on the glove face starts flashing.
I asked Ethan which products are currently selling best for them. He said their EZ-Safer products are hot. These fibers are electrostatic shielding materials. These fibers are being used in maternity clothing to protect babies as part of their Tex-Ray division. Ethan says women in Japan are crazy for it. At that point I asked Ethan if the company was publicly held and could we buy stock. He said no to both. KMFT is privately held and that he got some shares as part of his benefits package and that even he can’t buy any but would if he could.
So there you have it. KMFT is successfully bridging industrial applications (automotive, military, clean rooms etc) to develop products that the average consumer would like. See why we wanted to buy stock? These guys are smart in many ways. Check their site later for updates. Hopefully the prototypes I mention will be included later on.
Off topic: KMFT had the best booth visitor tracking form I’ve ever seen. With a bit of customization, it would be perfect to use for any kind of exhibitor. They let me have a blank form to share with you.