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It's News To Me

Smart Clothing, Drone Regs, and Apple’s Electric Car

February 19, 2015          

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life we discuss recent news in emerging technology.

Big fashion houses and experimental designers alike are flocking to smart clothing as the latest expression of wearable technology. Sensors combined with online connectivity, are enabling information flow directly from our clothing — whether it’s measuring heart rate for sport, flexibility for rehabilitation, or Tweets for fun.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed new regulations for commercial drone flights.

And Apple might be taking on Tesla and General Motors by venturing into one of the most complex product areas: the electric car.

Join us as we dig into these topics from a UX and design perspective.

Jon:
Welcome to Episode 90 of the Digital Life. A show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett and with me is founder and co-host Dirk Knemeyer.

Dirk:
Hey Jon, what’s new in the world of design and technology this week?

Jon:
This episode we’re going to take a look at some emerging tech news and I think we should start off with an event that we noticed is very close to some of the predictions you were making at the beginning of the year around drones. Do you want to lead off with that Dirk?

Dirk:
Sure, yeah. There’s been a couple of news bits in the last couple of weeks. One that was actually showing all of these different communities around the world where drones are being prototyped in public. I don’t know if any of the projects had started yet, but certainly some of them were slated to start over the next few months. Yeah, that spoke directly to one of my predictions, which was kind of fun to see. It’s always good to be right.

More recently relating to a conversation you and I had, maybe a few weeks ago. There was a story that the FAA is sort of reaching some conclusions from a legislative perspective about the rules that will govern the flying of drones, the licensing of flying them or you know all of the different particulars therein, which I thought was kind of timely and interesting given the conversations you and I have had.

Jon:
The first story you were talking about I think there was some prototyping of services in Australia. I recall that one of the criteria we’d mentioned around drone service was, “Hey it’s probably going to be prototyped in a area where there aren’t quite as many people.” You’re not going to hopefully see drones being prototyped in New York City. Australia seems, with the less dense population in that country, seems like a quality area to run these tests and prototypes around drones.

Secondly, on the FAA as they are determining what the rules will be, it’s very interesting that the rules that they have in place now are actually very restrictive in terms of people actually needing pilot’s licenses in order to fly the drones, even though it doesn’t appear that they’re going to be flying them from a plane. These new rules that they’ve got in place are much less restrictive and sort of plays into that fear that you had that there are going to be all sorts of problems as they get these services up and running.

Dirk:
Yeah for sure. We’ll see how that extends to consumers and hobbyists. This is all dealing with professional deployments. Yeah, they’re definitely at least taking it seriously. Although I don’t know, I’m still skeptical and I’m guessing that there’s going to be some high profile disasters that make thing even more sort of conservative and tamped down before we get to sort of whatever the final manifestation is going to be.

Jon:
They’re already having problems with drones running afoul of aircraft. I mean already even without any of these rules being passed for professional use. I guess it’s hobbyists that are ending a buzzing other airplanes with their drones. I think we can expect a lot more of that in the future.

Dirk:
It’s not good. Especially if you consider the terrorist element. I mean these are presumably just people who aren’t trying to cause mayhem. Yeah, it’s a can of worms.

Jon:
The second news story that I think is worth touching on today is the uptick in smart clothing and smart clothing products that are coming to market. In particular, this trend towards integrating wearable technology into the actual fabric and structure of the clothing that you’re wearing. There is a news item in the Guardian around London fashion week and there’s a number of sort of silly things that you can do with these garments that are sort of beautiful and connected, right? There’s a Twitter dress that allows you to tweet, which seems rather odd to me that, that would be a high fashion item.

There are other things that like Ralph Lauren is working on for release this year. A sport shirt that will let you measure things like heart rate and stress. That seems a little bit more useful to me. The idea that we carry these smart phones in our pockets, maybe you’re going to end up with or someone will end up with the Apple watch. You’ve got your Fitbit, you’ve got all of these things that you can sort of put on or put in your pocket.

How much nicer would it be if some of that functionality is just integrated into the fabric of your clothing and it’s no longer such a separate object but is really part of your style, right? For me it would be wonderful if I just had a phone somehow embedded into my shirt or a hat or something and I didn’t have to quite root around in my pocket and pull out the phone and sort of fumble with it. That seems … I mean it would be very nice to get a little voice prompt, “Hey, Dirk is calling,” and I can say, “OK, accept the call,” and just talk to you through my hat or through my shirt. I love this idea of integration.

On the health side there’s some fascinating stuff with sensors being built into … I saw a project with … It’s being built into a cardigan sweater for older patients who need rehabilitation and it can … The sweater sort of measures their range of motion and sends that data over to a tablet device for the caregiver or the clinician. That’s just another great way that sensors could be used, sort of built into this everyday material and make it so much easier to measure things like that.

Dirk, what’s your take on the integration of wearables into fashion?

Dirk:
I think it’s definitely progress. I mean as I’ve said before on the show, I think that we’re inevitably heading down a path where what the solution will be and the correct solution are things that are embedded into our bodies, things that are affixed to us in some semi-permanent way. This is better than strapping a band around our arm or having some other external device that’s directly attached to our body. Integrating into clothes is certainly an upgrade.

There are other issues that it raises, right? When I wear a button down shirt, I put collar stays in the collars. You know the collar stays the shirts come with are crappy, so I’ve bought some more expensive collar stays. They’re not outrageously expensive, but 10 bucks for stays is a lot more than the 2 cents that they normally cost. I frequently forget to take them out of the shirt, even though they’re expensive. I’ve no desire to buy another pair of $10 collar stays.

In the routine of getting changed and the routine of transitioning from my work mode to my home mode or whatever the context within which I’m getting undressed, it’s common that I don’t remember to take them out. Those shirts get dry cleaned so they’ll be in a pile. Sometimes later I’ll remember and I’ll go and fish them out. Most clothes that people wear go into a washing machine. Washing machines and digital electronics don’t work real well together.

There’s definitely that question of lifestyle of making the clothing and making the devices embedded in the clothing operating in a way either that they are going to be safe if they’re thrown in the washing machine or sent to the dry cleaner or whatever other context of cleaning there is or they are something that we are remembering with regularity to take out, to remove.

You talked about the health aspects of some of this stuff, I’ve been doing a lot of research into cyborgs actually in recent weeks and what I’ve learned is that the cyborg community is really … 99% of it is driven by people with disabilities. It’s driven by people who are missing an eye or are missing a leg or who in order to function in a way that approximates normalcy, they have to get these very radical augmentations. That is where the innovation and the really interesting things so far for the most part have come from.

In a embedded clothing perspective, I think similar holds true. If you need to be monitoring something or else you might die, I mean you’re going to really be aware of the device that’s doing that monitoring. If you’re just passively dumping a lot of data into a database that you could look at periodically and interact with, but frankly most of us just won’t have a reason to most of the time. Then annually or however frequently we go to the doctor, the doctor can have access to it. I mean that’s just not the kind of thing that is essential. It’s not the kind of thing that will be easy for us to integrate into our routine of what we’re doing every day.

Maybe it won’t prove as difficult as I think, but using my collar stays as an example, I mean I forget those things all the damn time and I’ve dealt with them long enough that it should have been a habit by now, it should be, “Hey, you take off the shirt, you take out those damn stays.” I already have to take off my cuff links. I always remember to take those off because without taking those off I can’t take the shirt off. Maybe there’s a lesson in there for the designers of the embed-able clothes.

I’ve meandered a little bit but the net is embedding clothing is better than strapping stuff to our body in the very crude ways we’ve done, but there are some challenges there still to be solved for it to be really useful and usable. Ultimately I think we’re headed down the embed-able path, meaning embedded into our bodies come hell or high water.

Jon:
I think you really touched on one of the aspects that’s going to be a problem in rolling out some of these designs for the wearable embedded into fashion. The durability, the … In software we call it the hardening of the code for production, the equivalent for the hardware aspects of the clothing. I too have had similar experiences, as you, washing things that maybe I shouldn’t have.

I like to run, so I have running headphones that get sort of incorporated into my … The shirts and the jackets that I use when I’m running. Inevitably, I find as I pull out the shirt that I was running with that I left the headphones in there because I was just … I got home and I’m like, “I’m getting out of this gear and I’m going to the shower.” I just throw it all in a pile and inevitably I end up washing my headphones. Now, luckily the headphones that I have are the athletic headphones that are meant for sweat and moisture so they actually survived in the washing machine. Don’t know about the dryer. I think that would really do them in.

The point is that the durability, it’s going to be important for these products and you’re going to find a lot of disappointed folks who initially get it because they think it’s sort of the latest thing. Then they’ll find out they spent a lot of money on something that … So now you have your Twitter dress that doesn’t tweet anymore, how very sad that will be for whoever buys that.

Dirk:
You’ve got it brother.

Jon:
The last news item, emerging tech news item that we’re going to touch on today is from the Apple rumor-mill which we all love. If the rumors are true, then perhaps our friends at Apple will be venturing into the electric car space. Who knows whether that’s going to be a self-driven car or we’ll actually have a manual drive-ability, but regardless the rumors are building. That’s a great way for the tech press to attract attention, but do we really think that Apple is going to want to compete with the likes of Tesla or I guess Google’s self-driven car?

It seems to be a area that’s ripe for innovation in both the power source for the vehicle and the method for which it’s driven. I can see Apple wanting to be in that space. Oh boy, there are a lot more rules and regulations there and a much longer time to market than anything that Apple has sort of delved into before. They got in the telephony business with the iPhone and I imagine that this is going to be at least an order of magnitude more difficult, although they are sitting on that huge cash pile, so maybe that solves some of the complexity difficulties. What’s your take on the Apple mix and electric car rumor?

Dirk:
It raises really interesting questions about what the biggest most powerful business conglomerates are going to look like in 20 or 30 years. If Google is correct, then the top tech companies, the Google, the Apple, Amazon, companies like that are going to be in the transportation business. I’m not sure yet if that will be the case. I think it’s very possible.

Apple, because they have so much cash, they need to, in trying to keep up with Google, be involved in that business. They need to be paying attention to it, they need to be making investments. They don’t have a choice, because if things fall in a certain way, and if they’re the ones on the outside looking in, it won’t be pretty for them. Now Apple has so much money, they’re in a position where in theory they could pass on it and things could move forward and they could be left behind and they could just go out and buy General Motors or some major automotive company and close the gap and get back in the game. They have that luxury.

The very fact that they’re the follower, the very fact that Google is the one kind of out there already. Apple’s not there, maybe they’re heading there. Maybe they’ll miss the boat and have to buy into it later is ominous, because Apple’s success over the last … I don’t know when the iPhone or the iPod rather was first released, but over the last 15 or 20 years it’s been about being ahead. It’s been about pioneering and opening and as we’ve talked about they’re falling behind. That brand is becoming less and less what Apple’s about.

The Apple of 2015 is more like Microsoft of 1995 in a lot of different ways. That’s not the Apple that we’ve come to know, and for many people love, from the 1970’s until the mid-2000’s. I don’t know what Apple’s going to do. I think that they probably should be dabbling at a minimum and thinking about the future. The future may be one where the top technology companies are also the primary transportation companies. There’s a lot of good reasons why that should be the case. I mean if I were Tim Cook, I would be investing intelligently in transportation.

Jon:
We’ll leave it there and see if we glean a little more knowledge form the tech press over the coming weeks on Apple’s rumored electric car.

Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to the digitalife.com. That’s just one l in the digital life. Go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody. It’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you are listening or afterword if you’re trying to remember something that you liked.

If you want to follow us out side of the show, you can follow me on twitter @jonfollett. Of course the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s goinvo.com. Dirk?

Dirk:
You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer or email me at Dirk@goinvo.com.

Jon:
That’s it for Episode 90 of the Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett and we’ll see you next time.

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