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High-Tech Knitwear Is Coming

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AFFOA, http://go.affoa.org/
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Leggings that light up, developed by Advanced Functional Fabrics of America.

The words "knitting" and "high-tech" may not sound like they go together, but the latest generation of knitting machines is enabling some pretty futuristic stuff. It’s a new world of wearable technology that we might actually want to wear.

“What's the future of our Fitbit, Apple Watch technology -- the things that are measuring how we move around the world?” said Julian Goldman, a designer who focuses on new materials and manufacturing processes. Goldman has written about the history and future of knitting for GizModo.

“These things don’t have to be worn on the wrist anymore. They can be knitted straight into a t-shirt,” he told Living Lab Radio.

Goldman said such a thing will first show up in high-performance athletic wear, in the military, or in a medical application. Later, it will make its way into our hands. 

But when your t-shirt can report your heart rate to the internet, it raises a big question about control over data. Goldman said he likes the approach of one company that is developing a system to do biometric data accumulation and store it on a blockchain system. It also opens up the possibility that a person could donate his or her data to a scientific study, Goldman added.

Other research includes creation of a library of haptic communication, which is communication done through touch. Right now, the only haptic communication available with our cell phone is a vibration when we get a call or text message.

“I like the idea of knits that change form,” Goldman said. “What if your t-shirt gave you a tiny squeeze on the arm?”

Another idea: a knit hat that can translate light from LEDs into sound or language. A prototype was revealed by the group AFFOA last year.

“Say you’re walking through a museum and the lights themselves are beaming audio information to your hat, which then, through headphones can tell you about the exhibits around you,” Goldman said.

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Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.