On-Skin Wearable Technology Combined With Traditional Weaving

The Cornell University team aims to make wearables of the future more individually expressive.
Chris Young

A team from Cornell University, called 'Hybrid Body Lab,' has started a project called 'Wovenskin,' which explores the link between on-skin interface technologies and cultural aesthetics.

The team's ultimate goal is to create wearable technology that can be seamlessly integrated with fashion and take the design of devices back from a select few of the world's biggest tech companies.


Combining textile artistry with state-of-the-art tech

Imagine if your clothing could express your personality and culture at the same time as connecting to your smartphone. That's the future envisioned by Cornell University's Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, who is director of Hybrid Body Lab.

On-Skin Wearable Technology Combined With Traditional Weaving
A textile artist’s woven on-skin interface, with a touch sensor, created with the fabrication process developed by the Hybrid Body Lab, Source: Hybrid Body Lab

The project combines centuries-old craft techniques with state-of-the-art technology to advance the research, design, and fabrication of on-skin interfaces.

The research, presented at the online Association of Computing Machinery Designing Interactive Systems Conference, is detailed in a paper titled, “Weaving a Second Skin: Exploring Opportunities for Crafting On-Skin Interfaces Through Weaving.” 

On-Skin Wearable Technology Combined With Traditional Weaving
Source: Hybrid Body Lab

The work earned an honorable mention for best paper, as well as the best demo award at the conference.

“Our paper introduces this new design space that offers any engineer, designer or maker a way to create on-skin interfaces through weaving,” Kao said in a post by Cornell University.

“I think the community is really excited at the possibility of bridging this craft that has so much legacy and artistic quality with these new wearable devices.”

A renewed focus on cultural relevance and aesthetics

Kao's work draws inspiration and techniques from a traditional weaving workshop in Japan that she attended in 2018, which has been in business for 1,000 years.

On-Skin Wearable Technology Combined With Traditional Weaving
Source: Hybrid Body Lab

Her project, which combines weaving and textile art with mechanical engineering, is an effort to move away from a "nerd aesthetic" as Kao calls it — she highlights the fact that advances in wearable technology have largely been made by engineers with little focus on cultural relevance, aesthetics, or individual expressiveness.

On-Skin Wearable Technology Combined With Traditional Weaving
Source: Hybrid Body Lab

“My long-term goal is to think about how we can democratize on-skin interfaces, so that anyone can make them and decide what they look like,” Kao explains, “rather than a few people in Silicon Valley or in advanced labs deciding our future. Engaging craftspeople is the first step of that.”

With wearable technology set to form an integral part of our lives in the future, we're glad that someone is taking a deep dive into the role it will play in expressing who we are.

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