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VIDEO CLOTHES: 'BRAND' NEW IDEA
by Leander Kahney
Jun. 7, 2000
SAN FRANCISCO -- An inventor has created a wearable computer that he hopes
will turn people into mobile billboards playing TV ads, movie trailers, and
Stephan Fitch, a graduate of the MIT Media Lab, which is well known for its
research into wearable computers, has sewn a diminutive but fully functional
Windows computer into the lining of a leather jacket.
But instead of putting the display on the jacket's sleeve or a head-mounted
eyepiece, Fitch put the machine's 6-inch LCD screen on the back of the
jacket, which allows everyone but its wearer to see what's going on.
"Instead of having a Puffy Combs patch on the back of your jacket, you could
play a Puffy Combs video," Fitch said as he showed off the jacket in a hotel
suite here last week. "It allows people to use video as a form of
"It is a very thought-provoking product" said Jop Van Beurden, VP of
marketing for flat display systems at Philips. Van Beurden said his company
is working on flexible display technology, which will "open up a whole new
realm of applications," such as handheld computers that can be folded like
wallets, and large screens that can be rolled up like newspapers.
But Van Beurden said flexible displays probably won't be built into clothes
for three to five years.
Fitch's jacket was commissioned and built to order for MSN, which debuted it
at last month's ad-tech interactive advertising conference, where it was
used to play Microsoft ads as the wearer strolled the show floor.
"It got a fantastic response," Fitch said. "A flock of people were following
The jacket will be on display at this week's Web Attack show in New York.
The jacket is a fully featured Windows computer with a 233-MHz Pentium III
processor, a 1 Gigabyte IBM micro hard drive and a broadband wireless
Fitch, who formed HardWear to sell the technology, said the jacket is the
first of a number of built-to-order wearable video jackets for companies
eager to make similar splashes at trade shows and exhibitions.
But he hopes it will eventually be built in mass quantities, allowing the
general public to rent out their clothing the way some people today have
turned their vehicles into mobile billboards.
The jacket has an added benefit for advertisers: a built-in infrared motion
detector that can tell how many people have seen it close up by sensing
their body heat.
Hollywood has also shown an interest in the jacket as a way to play movie
trailers at public events and movie premieres. Fitch said the jacket was
recently used in New York to show the trailer for the blockbuster film
Fitch is looking forward to the wide availability of Organic LED, or OLED,
screens. The bright, colorful screens are flat, light-weight, and low-power
like LCDs, but are very flexible. The OLED screens are set to debut this
year on cell phones and handhelds.
With OLEDs, it should be possible to make whole articles of clothing capable
of playing video, Fitch said.
"You could have a handbag that changes its pattern or flashes when your cell
phone rings, or displays flames when a fire truck goes by," Fitch said.
The possibilities are endless, he said. Not only could people rent
themselves out to advertisers, but video clothing could open up new kinds of
reward programs for special deals on Britney Spears merchandise if fans wear
the pop star's videos on their clothes.
"I believe display technology will be incorporated into our lives as a form
of personal expression," said Fitch, who is working on a line of video
jackets for kids, as well as lunchboxes, handbags, and hats with displays.
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